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Engineer Battalion NBC Defense
by SFC Bruce Tayon

No matter what the battlefield and environmental conditions, the engineer battalion must persevere and accomplish its wartime support mission. A battalion that is not prepared to operate where the threat of unconventional warfare is high is not likely to survive an NBC attack. And unless individual and combined training has given the engineer the skills needed to survive in an NBC environment, a lot of good soldiers will be lost.

To sustain operations and ensure force protection of its soldiers, the engineer battalion should place emphasis on the following three fundamentals of NBC defense:

  • Avoidance
  • Protection
  • Decontamination


Reference: FM 3-3, Chemical and Biological Contamination Avoidance, 16 Nov 92.

Avoidance of contamination is obviously the first and best fundamental of NBC defense. Individuals and units must take measures to avoid or minimize NBC attacks. If taken properly, many of these measures will allow the unit to reduce its protective posture and decrease the amount of decontamination the unit would require if it becomes contaminated. This is accomplished by utilizing the following four steps to contamination avoidance:

STEP 1. Implementing Passive Defense Measures

Ensuring your unit cannot be targeted by the enemy is the most important reason for passive defensive measures. Operational security measures, such as good communication procedures, noise and light discipline, and good camouflage, all enhance the unit's passive defenses.

Engineers must always take precautions to avoid being targeted to reduce the effects of an NBC attack. Engineer units must use passive defense measures as part of their normal operations under NBC conditions. These measures include, but are not limited to:

  • planning ahead
  • avoiding detection
  • providing early warning
  • maintaining discipline
  • seeking protection
  • dispersing personnel and equipment
  • remaining mobile
  • covering supplies and equipment with barrier material
  • preventing the spread of contamination
  • following SOPs
  • camouflaging

STEP 2. Warning and Reporting NBC Attacks

All unit personnel must be warned once an NBC attack has occurred. The Army uses the NBC warning and reporting system to notify units of suspected contaminated areas and areas that may be affected by an NBC attack, based on weather conditions at specific times of the day. The NBC warning and reporting system is also used to report contaminated areas found during reconnaissance operations and to report initial NBC attacks on units.

Engineer units are highly susceptible to the hazards of an NBC attack because of the concentration of forces at the breach site. It is imperative that the NBC warning and reporting procedures are thoroughly trained on and understood by all engineer soldiers. This will provide early warning for all soldiers and allow units to protect themselves prior to the arrival of an NBC hazard.

STEP 3. Locate and Identify, Track, and Predict NBC Hazards

Locating and identifying NBC hazards will allow the engineer commander to make timely decisions for operating in or around NBC hazards. Training on basic soldier skills will allow for prompt and accurate identification of chemical agents that would otherwise disrupt combat operations.

Operations in an NBC environment will disrupt normal operations, cause severe cases and forms of casualties, and change the outcome of battles. Leaders at all levels in the engineer battalion must thoroughly understand this.

Many times the easy things are overlooked. A good example is timely identification of a chemical agent by ensuring the M8A1 is operational and properly employed. This one piece of equipment will help warn a unit of a nerve agent attack, the highest casualty-producing chemical agent used on the battlefield. This task is often ignored or not performed to standard during unit training.

STEP 4. Limit Exposure to Hazards

Units will not always have the luxury of deciding if they must operate in an NBC environment or not. Many casualties from contamination transfer can be avoided if proper protection procedures are used. Too many times soldiers are not prepared or trained to react properly to NBC effects. A good example of this is MOPP discipline. Many times a soldier is unaware of the MOPP level or does not know the tactical reason why a certain MOPP level was implemented. In addition, leaders often do not ensure that their soldiers have individual protective equipment.


Reference: FM 3-4, NBC Protection, 29 May 92.

Protection is the second fundamental of NBC defense. Protection is also listed as one of the four dynamics of combat power and consists of actions to counter the enemy's firepower and actions to maintain the health and morale of soldiers. NBC protection consists of three areas: force protection, collective protection, and individual protection.

Force Protection. Force protection consists of actions taken by the unit leader to reduce the vulnerability of his force to NBC attack. MOPP analysis is a primary procedure accomplished at battalion-level commands. This procedure will determine protective equipment to be worn by unit soldiers, alarm emplacement, automatic masking criteria, agent impact on exposed soldiers/equipment, MOPP upgrades (directed and triggered), and means of reducing force vulnerability to enemy attack.

Collective Protection. Collective protection does not affect engineer operations directly, but engineers may be tasked to construct shelters which will provide a contamination-free environment for selected portions of the force, such as airfields and higher echelons of command.

Individual Protection. The main protection given to soldiers against the effects of NBC hazards is the battledress overgarment (BDO). The BDO provides protection against chemical agent vapors, liquid droplets, biological agents, toxins, and radiological alpha and beta particles. Soldiers must be trained on the proper wearing of the MOPP suit, and MOPP discipline must be enforced at all levels once protective levels are imposed.


Reference: FM 3-5, NBC Decontamination, 17 Nov 93.

Decontamination is the third fundamental of NBC defense and is usually the most avoided by units during training. Often during training, decontamination is not a training priority, and if it is trained, it usually is reduced to a platoon training event. In order for units to survive on the battlefield, they must be trained at all levels to conduct decontamination operations, from the individual soldier level to a fully supported division operation.

We focus our training on MOPP gear exchange and often forget that to increase our level of protection we need to thoroughly decontaminate our personnel and equipment. We must focus our training on conducting all types of decontamination, so that soldiers and leaders have a firm knowledge of procedures and steps associated with each type of decontamination.


Overall, the most important aspect to accomplish our wartime mission is to ensure our soldiers are trained and skilled in the tasks that will enable them to survive on the modern battlefield. It has always been the leader's job to do this. NBC training is an essential part of every unit's mission essential task list. If not specified as a separate task, it is implied that soldiers must be capable of performing all tasks in an NBC environment.

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