After the 1995 Tokyo Sarin gas attacks that killed 13 people, severely injured 50 and caused temporary vision problems for nearly 1,000 others, President William Jefferson Clinton decided the United States needed a force capable of responding to an attack, should a similar situation happen in the U. S. The president then directed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to establish a response force and the 31st Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Charles Krulak took on the task, creating the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force.
CBIRF is the reaction force comprised of Marines and sailors created to respond to an attack or threat of an attack in the U. S. National Capital Region.
“We respond to a credible [Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High-yield explosive] threat or actual attack,” said Sgt. Chad Umbach, an extractor with CBIRF. “We will be the first responders to go in and find anyone who is still alive, render proper treatment and try to save as many lives as we can.”
The Marines in this unit have been called into action four times since its creation.
“Their first initial response was to the anthrax attacks in 2002,” said Patrick Higgins, head CBRNe instructor with CBIRF. “Their next major response was to the small town of La Plata, Md., when an F4 tornado rolled through it in 2002. In 2004, they helped with the Ricin attacks in downtown DC. Their latest response was in 2011 with Operation Tomodachi [in Japan]. The tsunami rolled through and affected the Tomchma Nuclear plant.”
CBIRF is a first responding force. Once called, they can be on the ground helping local authorities within 24 hours.
“Within 24 hours, we can have one of the Incident Response Forces on the ground,” said Col. Steve Redifer, commanding officer of the CBIRF. “Twelve hours after the incident, we can have a CBIRF assessment team on the ground.”
With the unit’s unique mission and fast pace, large portions of its members are infantry and crash, fire and rescue Marines.
“The Marines in this unit are strong and fit,” Redifer said. “They have a “go get’em” mentality. If you compare the number of casualties a CBIRF unit will pull out of a disaster site to the average number other units or agencies expect to extract, CBIRF estimates and experience shows that we can save more victims in the same amount of time.”
The unit contains multiple entities designed to enhance success: decontamination, technical rescue, search and extraction, explosive ordnance disposal, and medical platoons.
If an incident occurs, an assessment team will meet with first responders and decides what equipment and manpower will be used.
Search and extraction will find casualties and assess any medical needs before sending the victims to medical and decontamination. Before anyone can leave the site of a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident they go through decontamination.
“When most people think of Marines, they think of combat,” Umbach said. “We actually do more than that. We are very versatile. I think it’s good to have a unit like this to help with natural disasters, help the Federal Emergency Management Agency and help the National Guard.”
All Marines are trained to encounter, close with, and destroy the enemy, but this unit’s mission shows the versatility of the Corps.
“We are here to save people,” said Lance Cpl. Kaitlyn Burke, a radio operator with CBIRF. “You have to put other people before yourself,”
Like other units in the Marine Corps, CBIRF is also a quick reaction force.
“Marines are used to deploying on a moment’s notice, going into an expeditionary environment, and kicking the door down, supporting themselves in austere conditions and completing the mission – consequence management fits in well with this mentality,” Redifer said.
In order to be able to respond on a moment’s notice, the Marines spend most of their time training.
The unit maintains readiness through exercises such as Scarlet Response and Vibrant Response annually. These two exercises have strengthened the abilities of the Marines by giving them real-world experience in locations such as subways, freeways and cities. This helps keep them in shape should an incident occur.
All Marines and sailors in the unit train to pull casualties out of an incident zone and know how to decontaminate them. This includes everyone from the commanding officer to the administrative Marines.
“Give us the mission we will execute, and we will accomplish it,” Higgins said. “We are here for the U. S., the forces over seas, and the combatant commanders.”
execute, and we will accomplish it,” Higgins said. “We are here for the U. S., the forces over seas, and the combatant commanders.”
The CBIRF Marines primary function is to search through damaged buildings, vehicles and anywhere people may be and find casualties. They direct them to safety or, if needed, carry them out to seek medical attention.
When the CBIRF Marines encounter unsafe structures or wrecked vehicles, they call in technical rescue to secure or remove any obstruction. This ranges from using the jaws of life on cars to bracing a collapsed parking garage so extraction Marines can safely help victims.
Navy corpsmen and medical personnel go along with CBIRF Marines to provide immediate medical attention. They also set up a triage center outside of any contaminated zone to continue treatment until victims are sent to a hospital.
If there is a nuclear, radiological, biological or chemical attack, the CBIRF Marines are responsible to clean victims and themselves before leaving any decontaminated area. They do this by setting up different zones. The hot zone is where the contamination is, the warm zones are where they decontaminate people and animals before sending them to the cold zone for further treatment or evacuation.