CAMP HANSEN, Okinawa, Japan --
The sweat soaked through his clothing long ago and the plastic suit that surrounds his body clings to him. Squinting through the fogged lenses of his mask, he focuses on the end of a piece of paper that he just swept over the top of a suspicious barrel. As it slowly changes color his fears are confirmed; materials for the construction of chemical weapons are present.
Marines with the Marine Air Ground Task Force Assessment and Consequence Management Team, part of the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear defense asset of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, investigated and removed the simulated chemical materials here, March 14.
The training was part of the 31st MEU’s Certification Exercise. In the scenario, a humanitarian aid and disaster relief operation was stalled by the reports that indicated a local warehouse was suspected of being a chemical weapons production facility. Village locals were in immediate danger and beginning to feel the effects of the chemicals, showing signs of blistering and irregular breathing. The threat had to be removed in order to begin providing aid to the village.
“When the hostile forces were out of the village, we had to verify and dispose of every chemical threat we found,” said Lance Cpl. Nathaniel Rapercutler, a CBRN defense specialist with the 31st MEU. “A preliminary sweep was conducted the day before to verify what types of chemicals were present. The following day we went in with the proper gear and went to work.”
The team’s mission was to locate any contaminated material, identify the types of chemicals being used to manufacture weapons and safely dispose of the materials.
The first step to any CBRN operation is to establish a decontamination line. This is where CBRN casualties, materials and equipment are cleansed of contaminates. It is established upwind of the target location, allowing the team to safely don chemical preventative suits and approach the building without being exposed to the harmful substances.
“When dealing with any chemical situation with the possibility of casualties, speed is crucial because any stalling could cost lives,” said Sgt. Jeremy Fricke, CBRN chief with the 31st MEU and a native of Lake City, Minn.
The situation at the warehouse demonstrated the necessity of quick action, as four role players lay dying near an open 55-gallon chemical drum. The team carried the casualties to the decontamination line on flexible sleds, cut away their contaminated garments, cleansed them of contaminates and brought them to a corpsman for evaluation.
With the casualties rescued, a two-man team swept the building for traps before entering. A thorough search revealed a room with multiple chemical containers and a variety of weapon-making materials. Chemical tests revealed the contents of the containers to be blister and nerve agents.
“They weren’t extremely deadly chemicals, but there was definitely the capability of making chemical weapons,” said Rapercutler, a native of Bloomington, Ind. “After sweeping the building and identifying the hazards, the next step was to secure everything and transport it to a secure location.”
The team first ensured every corner of the seized containers was properly sealed then brought them to the decontamination line for cleaning. Six 5-gallon containers and two 55-gallon drums were confiscated after being identified as dangerous.
With the CBRN scenario of CERTEX complete, the AMCT used the experience of the training event to maintain their readiness in responding to an unconventional chemical situation.
“Our unit sports a robust CBRN capability, but the (ACMT) is trained in unconventional chemical attack/accident situations,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jonathan Davis, CBRN officer in charge for the 31st MEU and a native of Cleveland, Tenn. “We have enhanced detection capabilities able to identify tens of thousands of special agents, so if an incident like this comes up when we are providing humanitarian aid to a foreign nation, we won’t be taking chances with what we might be dealing with.”
The 31st MEU’s CERTEX is a semiannual exercise where Special Operations Training Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force, evaluates the unit’s full range of capabilities, with the purpose of maintaining the MEU’s proficiency and readiness.
The 31st MEU is the only continuously forward-deployed MEU and is the Marine Corps’ force in readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.