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IMEF: prepared for chemical attacks

USMC

Story Identification Number: 200322614336
Story by Sgt Joseph R. Chenelly

CAMP COMMANDO, Kuwait (February 26, 2003) -- President George W. Bush recently declared Saddam Hussein has authorized his military field commanders to use chemical weapons in the event American forces take military action to disarm the Iraqi regime. I Marine Expeditionary Force is ready to fend off any such attacks, according to Marine officials.

The MEF nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialists are applying detailed contingency planning, state-of-the-art technology and comprehensive training to maintain the highest possible state of readiness amid the heightened threat.

"If we are given the order to go into Iraq tomorrow, we're ready," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Stacey D. Jeambert, 1st Marine Division's NBC officer. "If Saddam Hussein employs [weapons of mass destruction], it will not slow down our momentum. We will deal with it and continue on."

Decontamination capabilities are at unprecedented levels, according to the 35-year-old Gulf War veteran from Huntington, Texas.

Each battalion in 1stMarDiv has the ability to decontaminate itself, Jeambert said. Army detachments specially trained in battlefield decontamination have been embedded with Marine infantry units.

The unique setup is designed to keep the momentum typically lost in a "decon" process, he said. The specially attached units can move ahead of the infected troops and set up an expeditionary decontamination facility.

The Division also has at least one 30-Marine decontamination platoon ready to respond in case a chemical attack takes place. The leathernecks, who are from 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion out of Twentynine Palms, Calif., will be able to travel over the battlefield in armored track vehicles.

"We've set it all up so our decon teams can catch the contaminated on the fly," Jeambert said. "This plan will keep Marines in the fight. We have sufficient assets to mitigate any effects of WMD."

Technological advancements are being used to alert Marines at the earliest possible moment if an attack occurs and to protect them after.

First Marine Division will employ, if ordered, armored German-made troop carriers that have been modified to detect 60 different chemical agents. The inside of the six-wheeled vehicle, also known as a Fox M93A1 Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance System, is over-pressurized to continuously keep chemicals off personnel inside. They operate wearing just masks.

The highly mobile, rolling "laboratories" will be sent ahead of Marine forces to take air, water and ground samples, according to Jeambert. They will provide commanders with a "detect to warn" capability, rather than the long-used "detect to retreat."

"It'll save lives - big time!" he said.

Each Marine encampment is monitored by an electronic sensor system. It measures nerve and blister agents, which are considered by I MEF Headquarters Group's NBC specialists the main threats. A system is placed around concentrations of Marines, so it can sound an alarm before the agents reaches them.

The sensors "sniff a vapor," according to Sgt Michael L. Cerda, the NBC chief for I MHG. "If it senses anything funny, it'll let us know so we can suit up in time.

"Technology in the Gulf War was primitive compared to what we have now," the 24-year-old Las Vegas native said. "We use to send teams out with handheld sensors to detect chemicals."

For Marines on the move, M9 paper, which is adhesive, can be stuck to vehicles and gear. It changes color instantly when it detects chemical agents.

Even the basics have been improved through technology. Leathernecks in the Persian Gulf now are wearing the military's latest field protective mask, the M40A1. It has larger eye lenses and a silicone rubber nosepiece, according to Cerda.

"The new mask can be worn longer than the old M40," he said. "We hear Marines trading the old masks for the new ones talking about how much more comfortable they are. The old ones would push on the nose and give Marines headaches."

The hood on the Saratoga protective suit has recently been modified as well. It now is permeable so that the head can "breath" better, said Cpl Benjamin A. Riggs, a 31-year-old NBC defense specialist with I MHG. "It's more like a sweatshirt hood. It used to be like a raincoat hood."

A Marine's body heat index will on average increase by about 10 degrees with the suit on, Cerda said. "The more your body can breath, the better you can function."

The specialists charged with preparing the rest of the Corps for chemical attacks take their responsibility seriously.

"The last thing in the world I want is for Marines to die on my watch," Riggs, a San Diego native, said. "That's why we're doing everything we can to make sure everyone has the best gear and training possible."

The I MHG NBC staff has spent most of its waking hours conducting classes, answering questions and checking gear for serviceability.

"We're the big stopping point now," Cerda said. "Everyone has been coming by with questions or just to have us check if their masks fit right. It's very encouraging to see how interested everyone is."

The NBC defense Marines said they have trained thousands of Marines and sailors from I MEF already. They continue to provide instruction on changing out of a contaminated suit into a new one. They demonstrate how to administer a nerve agent antidote to oneself and others.

All of the NBC specialists have been through extensive training themselves. Each of them has been in a chamber with live nerve agents. They are using that experience to prepare and protect the Marines of I MEF and its subordinate elements.

"We can say with the utmost confidence that this gear and training will save lives if an attack happens," Riggs said. "Hopefully that won't be the case, but we're prepared if it is."



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