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Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF)

The mission of the Marine Corps Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) is to, when directed, forward-deploy and/or respond to a credible threat of a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high yield explosive (CBRNE) incident in order to assist local, state, or federal agencies and Unified Combat Commanders in the conduct of consequence management operations. CBIRF accomplishes this mission by providing capabilities for agent detection and identification; casualty search, rescue, and personnel decontamination; and emergency medical care and stabilization of contaminated personnel.

The CBIRF was activated on 4 April 1996, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In response to Presidential Decision Directive 39, the Marine Corps created the CBIRF to counter the chemical/biological terrorist threat. The establishment of the CBIRF was one of the first tasks sent from the Commandant of the Marine Corps to the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab. The unit was initially assigned to the 2nd Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Intelligence Group (2nd SRIG), and then to the Warfighting Development Integration Division, II MEF. The force was completely self-contained and self-sufficient, capable of deploying anywhere in the world on short notice. CBIRF was created to respond on short notice to chemical biological incidents worldwide. They were also created to provide consequence management, minimize effects of a chemical or biological terrorist devices and reduce potential threats of chemical biological terrorists. CBIRF was a consequence management force dealing with chemical, biological, nuclear threats and incidents.

After the CBIRF was formed, it trained in a variety of environments across the country. During the 1996 Summer Olympics, training paid off. CBIRF had been designated as a rapid reaction force for the event and was on standby about one mile away when the pipe bomb exploded in Centennial Park. Following the incident, the CBIRF conducted a training exercise. In less than 10 minutes the unit was ready. The exercise allowed CBIRF to work along side local fire and hazardous materials as they would in a real world situation. The Warfighting Lab also conducted an experiment at the Citadel, in Charleston, South Carolina, where CBIRF played an extensive role in controlling chemical agents from a mock chemical weapons plant. During the exercise, Marines from CBIRF arrived on the scene wearing white biological suits and air tanks, looking like something straight out of a classic science-fiction movie.

The CBIRF was designated again as a rapid reaction force for the presidential inaugurations in Washington, DC in January 1997 and January 2001. It was also designated as a rapid reaction force for the joint sessions of congress held for the state of the union addresses in February 1991, February 1999 and February 2000. During Summer 2000, the unit relocated from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina to Indian Head, Maryland. From its new location, the unit participated in the Anthrax Crisis in Washington, DC in October 2001.

The CBIRF was reassigned in October 2001 from being under the direct control of II MEF to the control of the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Anti-Terrorism) (4 MEB). The CBIRF, as part of 4 MEB, was capable of rapid response to chemical or biological threats. Should an incident occur, the CBIRF would immediately deploy to the affected site and provide a number of significant capabilities to include coordinating initial relief efforts, security, detection, identification, expert medical advice, and limited decontamination of personnel and equipment. Though the force did not have a direct counter-terrorist role, its personnel were highly trained in dealing with the consequences of a terrorist chemical/biological attack. The CBIRF trained to deal with "G-series" nerve agents, like sarin gas; "H-series" blister agents, like mustard gas and other chemical-burn causing materials; and some 25 biological threats, like anthrax and typhoid.

The CBIRF could provide expert advice to the on-scene commander via the Electronic Reachback Advisory Group. The Advisory Group, which included 8 nationally and internationally recognized civilian experts in science and medicine, was also chartered to assist with the development, training and operations of the CBIRF. The CBIRF would deploy to incident locations by the most expeditious means possible, where they would coordinate initial relief efforts, provide security and area isolation at the affected site; detection, identification and decontamination; expert medical advice and assistance to local medical authorities; and service support assistance as required.

The CBIRF was a complete unit and by the early 2000s contained about 350 Marines and sailors, with the potential of increasing the strength of the security element by 200 additional Marines. The CBIRF consisted of 5 elements: reconnaissance, decontamination, medical, security and service support. The Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) reconnaissance element was responsible for detecting the location of an incident site. The decontamination element decontaminated personnel and equipment exposed to any chemical or biological agents. The medical element was capable of providing triage support to casualties during and after decontamination. The security element provided security for the contaminated site, as well as assets operating within the area. The service support element provided shelter, food and water so the CBIRF could operate in a contaminated site.

The CBIRF's reconnaissance element consisted of 20 Marines, 10 corpsmen, and a medical officer. Each Marine had the Military Occupational Specialty of 5711, NBC Defense Specialist, for which they attended a 9-week school in Fort McClellan, Alabama. Additionally, more than 25 percent of the reconnaissance element had gained experience in NBC readiness during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The element's medical officer and corpsmen were qualified in Medical Management of Chemical Casualties, a course given by the US Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense. The element was capable of detecting, classifying and identifying all known chemical and biological agents. If the element was unable to identify an agent with their equipment, members were able to collect samples for available agencies who could identify the agent. The element had 2 German-made XM93 Fox vehicles, which were NBC reconnaissance vehicles capable of detecting both vapor and liquid contamination. The unit also had Chemical Agent Monitors (CAM), M256 Detection Kits for vapor and M8 and M9 Paper for liquid detection, and the M21 Remote Sensing Chemical Agent Automatic Alarm (RSCAAL) for long-range chemical detection. In addition to detecting, collecting and identifying chemical and biological agents, the reconnaissance element was also task organized to provide emergency casualty evacuation teams of two Marines and a corpsman capable of stabilizing and extracting casualties from the affected area. Being the first members of the CBIRF to enter an affected area, each element member might carry as much as 70 pounds of gear while wearing full protective garments and gas masks. To build the stamina needed to perform in such adverse conditions, the element performed daily tasks in full MOPP gear, and each member ensured fellow members received proper hydration and nutrition. The element also trained in a variety of chemical and biological incident scenarios, in which they were evaluated on their ability to perform their role. The evaluations tested not only their proficiency with equipment and procedures, but also their small unit leadership and reaction to any number of scenarios.

The CBIRF's decontamination element consisted of 27 enlisted Marines and Sailors. The element was responsible for the decontamination of personnel and casualties, which in turn stabilized causalities for further treatment. The decontamination element established itself at the edge of a contaminated area near the medical element's triage station. There, personnel and casualties, whether ambulatory or non-ambulatory, were processed through a series of stations derived from NBC decontamination standards. As contaminated individuals enter the area, their personal effects and equipment are collected, and clothing items were removed. The individuals were then sprayed and sponged with a 0.5 percent bleach solution, and led through a shower system to rinse off the decontaminating liquid. Personal effects and equipment were also processed through the cycle. Individuals were then monitored with a hand-held Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM), to determine whether the contamination was still present. If so, the individual would again be processed through the decontamination cycle. Once casualties were decontaminated, element members would change bandages and dressings if needed, then transport the individual to waiting medical personnel. While the decontamination element contained Marines from a variety of occupational specialties, more than half were NBC Defense Specialists, who had attended the 9-week course at Fort McClellan, Alabama.

The CBIRF's security element was a standing unit of approximately 120 Marines, mostly infantrymen. With an infantry company as a security element, the CBIRF had a force trained in a variety of roles including security patrols, military operations in urban terrain, riot control, and vehicle and personnel search. The element's roles were equally as varied in CBIRF operations. Members could be tasked with providing security patrols for the reconnaissance element, quelling civil unrest, detaining hostile forces, assisting with the evacuation of casualties, securing the contaminated area a providing security to the CBIRF site. The unit was equipped with M870 shotguns, M16A2 service rifles, M203 40mm grenade launchers, M249 Squad Automatic Weapons, and M-240G medium machine guns. If necessary, they could operate heavy weaponry such as the 81mm mortar and Mk 153 Shoulder launched, Multipurpose Assault Weapon (SMAW). While all infantrymen continuously received intense training in numerous areas, including NBC identification and defense, the CBIRF's security element had also received heightened training in operating in a chemically and biologically contaminated environments.

The CBIRF's medical element consisted of 6 officers (3 physicians, one environmental health officer, one physician's assistant, and one nurse) and 17 corpsmen. The element was tasked with treating any chemical or biological casualties, including those suffering from nerve, blister or blood agents. The staff was capable of administering antibiotics and antidotes, as well as treating chemical burns and conventional injuries. Members of the medical element would go into an affected area to provide on-scene life-saving medical attention. There, they would stabilize and evacuate casualties to a predetermined decontamination area. At that point, the element would either evacuate the casualties to available local medical facilities or to their shock/trauma platoon, which could provide 72-hour stabilization for the patients. The officers and corpsmen who made up the medical element had been trained in the medical management of chemical casualties by the US Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense. Additionally, the officers had attended contaminated casualty decontamination courses and had become NBC-qualified by the US Marine Corps Forces, Atlantic, NBC School. The element used a variety of medical equipment to counter the affects of chemical and biological agents. Also in their inventory were 2 997 High Mobility, Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles (an ambulance with an over-pressure system) to allow the protection of individuals in a contaminated area and had the equipment needed to provide advanced life support.

The CBIRF's service support element consisted of 70 enlisted marines and 5 officers from throughout the 2nd Marine Division and 2nd Force Service Support Group. Its members were assigned to one of 5 sections within the element: headquarters, motor transportation, engineers, embarkation and supply sections, respectively. The headquarters section provided all command functions and acted as a coordinating agency for the element. The motor transportation section provided all ground transportation in support of training and at the affected site, using both light and medium lift. It utilized 5-ton trucks, Logistic Vehicle Systems (LVSs), and High Mobility, Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs). The unit was also capable of recovering and performing most mechanical repairs in-house for their vehicles. The engineer section provided water, utilities and heavy equipment support at the incident site. Its inventory included reverse osmosis water purification units (ROWPUs), a variety of generators and forklifts. The embarkation section provided embark/debark support to all elements from its permanent location to the incident site. Since the CBIRF deployed to a site in the most expeditious means available, the embarkation section had to be capable of arranging airlift, railway, or ground transportation for the unit. The supply section provided supply and warehousing support to the CBIRF, ammunition support to the security element, and assisted in fiscal/contractor support services within the affected area. In supply section included a contracting specialist, who had the capability to procure logistical support from the local community near the affected site. With these respective sections, the service support element was able to provide housekeeping support for the CBIRF, as well as limited support to the affected site. In a deployed status, the service support element could self-sustain the CBIRF for 10 to 14 days, and arrange further logistical support to sustain operations.

The command and control element was the CBIRF's central nervous system, though which all evolutions were coordinated. It consisted of various sections including operations, intelligence, administration and communications.

While other services had the capability to assist in certain aspects of a chemical or biological incident, such as agent identification, the Marine Corps' CBIRF was unique in that it was a self-contained and self-sufficient task-organized unit that could assist the on-scene commander in numerous functions, i.e. detection of hazardous materials, decontamination, medical treatment and security.

The CBIRF initially used "off-the-shelf" equipment to include the Saratoga Chemical Protective Overgarment, also known as the Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) suits and M40 gas masks. The unit had the German-made XM93 Fox, a Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) reconnaissance vehicle capable of detecting both vapor and liquid contamination. The unit also has Chemical Agent Monitors (CAM), M256 Detection Kits for vapor and M8 and M9 Paper for liquid agent detection, and the M21 Remote Sensing Chemical Agent Automatic Alarm (RSCAAL) for long-range chemical detection. For decontamination purposes, the CBIRF uses the M258 Decontamination Kit. Additionally, the CBIRF was a "test bed" for chemical and biological related equipment, techniques, procedures and doctrine in the Marine Corps. When fully equipped, expected costs in terms of equipment were $5 million by the early 2000s and annual operating costs were projected to be $2 million.

When called upon, the CBIRF would respond to chemical or biological incidents affecting Department of the Navy installations and assets, Department of State legations worldwide and, when directed by the National Command Authority, to assist local civilian and military agencies in order to assist the on-scene commander in providing initial post incident consequence management. The CBIRF consisted of specially trained personnel and specialized equipment suited for operations in a wide range of contingencies. Through detection, decontamination and emergency medical services, the CBIRF capabilities were intended to minimize the effects of a chemical or biological incident.

The first CBIRF team to arrive on any scene was the recon and rapid intervention team. It would be their job to go in and see what type of agents were present. They would also determine what level of clothing CBIRF personnel would need to wear to have maximum protection. There were 3 possible levels. Level "C" was a full MOPP suit and M40 gas mask. Level "B" was biological suits with air tanks. Level "A" was a completely sealed environment, similar to a dome. The next team to enter would be the casualty search team that located casualties and assesses them. Finally the casualty extract team would enter to remove the casualties and take them to a decontamination tent.

The decontamination tent could hold 10 ambulatory victims or 30 "walking wounded" and worked like an assembly line. The victim was placed directly on rollers that allow them to be moved to each station in the tent. If the person had a back injury they would be placed in a basket and rolled to each station. All of the victim's clothes would be removed at the first station. Two Marines in full decontamination suits would work together to slowly remove all clothing. The clothes would cut off and placed in proper trash cans. If the victim had received prior medical attention and had a bandage on, the bandage would be left on to protect the wound. The victim would be completely doused in an appropriate decontamination solution with sponges. Once their entire body was doused, they would be sprayed off with water and sent to the last station. A corpsman located at the final station would completely look over of the victim. The corpsman would tag the victim for whatever medical attention needed and the whole cycle would begin again for the next victim.

After being assigned to 4 MEB, the CBIRF continued to perform certain missions. The unit was again designated as a rapid reaction during state of the union addresses in January 2003, January 2004, and February 2005, and during the presidential inauguration in January 2005. The unit also participated in the response to the Ricin Crisis in Washington, DC in February 2004.

4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (Anti-Terrorism was inactivated in February 2006 and the CBIRF was subsequently reassigned back to the direct control of II Marine Expeditionary Force.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 14:41:46 ZULU