USS KEARSARGE, at Sea --
In this day and age chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats are a disastrous risk with potentially devastating impacts. Fortunately, to more effectively limit, defend against, and at times eliminate these threats, a new breed of assessment consequence management team is deployed with the 26th MEU during their 2013 deployment. This story is the last in the series covering the training events conducted by the ACM team aboard the USS Kearsarge (LHD 3).
“While the 26th MEU is not the first MEU to deploy with an ACM team, we are the first to deploy with an ACM team made up of all true CBRN specialists,” said Staff Sgt. Robert I. Manion, 26th MEU CBRN and ACM chief from Pittsburgh. “In the past, MEUs deployed with Enhanced CBRN teams, and more recently ACM teams made up from various military occupational specialties from across the MEU that formed around a small nucleus, usually two or three, actual CBRN Marines.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Scott D. Myhra, a Portland, Ore., native and CBRN defense officer said, three years ago the CBRN community leaders decided it was time to create a CBRN team comprised of only CBRN Marines to better support the commanding officer. There are many qualifications and training opportunities that on-the-job training during a deployment cannot replace.
“Every CBRN Marine has been through the Chemical Defense Training Facility and has operated in an actual contaminated environment: nerve agents Sarin and VX to be precise,” said Manion. According to the Center for Disease Control, VX is one of the most toxic nerve agents known in chemical warfare. He continued to say, “Some members of this team have operational CBRN experience and some are veterans of the Tomodachi incident in Japan. Each member of this team is certified in confined space entry, collapsed structure operations, high and low angle rope rescue, and is certified in Level 1 technical rescue to National Fire Protection Association and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health standards.”
With the first ACM team comprised of all CBRN Marines, their capabilities allow them to use their professional experience and knowledge to write the standards for forthcoming teams.
“Currently we are creating an SOP which is driven by the training and exercises we have conducted, the different experiences each Marine has brought to the team, and by incorporating the tactics, techniques and procedures that have helped us work more efficiently and safely together,” said Myhra. “The key to this has been thorough post exercise discussions and noting what works, what does not work and where we need to refine. This SOP will be passed along to the other MEUs for reference or to build upon during future MEU deployments.”
Their culminating specialized skills provide the commanding officer a very important set of tools that could save countless lives.
“Beyond our basic mission set of enhanced monitor/survey and reconnaissance capabilities, we can conduct entry into confined spaces, conduct rescue operations under any condition, support the MEU missions of tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel and visit, board, search and seizure missions, and conduct assessments of chemical weapons facilities,” said Manion. “Additionally, the team is trained to conduct, sampling of chemical warfare agents, toxic industrial chemicals and materials. If needed for humanitarian disaster relief we are able to conduct breaching utilizing Jaws of Life, metal torch cutters, concrete saws and jackhammers."
The intense training and rigid discipline displayed by Marines on a daily basis makes them yearn for an opportunity to utilize their honed skills, but Manion believes at the end of the day, it is probably best if it never has to come to that.
“Every Marine wants his chance to make an impact, and I think we’d all agree it’s a good thing CBRN Marines aren’t called into operation much for obvious reasons,” said Manion. “However, leading the ACM team for the MEU has the feeling of “game day”. We’re all aware of the serious nature and current geographical climate we’re in. I have an OIC, that couldn’t be more supportive both with tactical and technical knowledge, and a team of Marines that are a joy to lead. Each and every one of them brings unique ideas and perspective to a profession that operates within inherent ambiguity. I find myself in a position I could not take more seriously.”