JBSA-FORT SAM HOUSTON –
Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Just the mention of either of these harkens back to thoughts and memories of past and recent nuclear disasters.
If such an event occurred in the United States, the ability to respond would most likely be beyond the capacity of local responders.
This would likely result in a request for the U.S. military to provide specially trained teams of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear disaster professionals to aid the federal response.
The mission of U.S. Army North's Civil Support Training Activity is to help units train up to standards in the event they are called upon to provide that support.
CTSA-Central traveled to Fort Hood March 22 through 25 to support the readiness field training exercise of the 2nd Chemical Battalion, which is based at Fort Hood.
While CSTA frequently conducts training and evaluations of civil support teams, the training event marked the first time they helped support the training of a Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Force unit.
"We are providing the unit with observer-controller training as well as providing feedback to the battalion," said Ted Lopez, a team chief with CSTA-Central.
"CSTA has put together an excellent trailing venue for the 2nd CBRN Battalion to operate as a task force working with the incident commander to increase their experience with consequence management."
While each state has a local civil support training activity manned by National Guard Soldiers and Airmen, the Department of Defense also tasks specific active-duty units to serve on call for one fiscal year, in the event a CBRN emergency occurs in the United States.
Such is the mission for 2nd CBRN Battalion, which has been identified as one of the units in support of Department of Defense's DCRF. The battalion, along with two of its companies, is based out of Fort Hood. One of its companies, the 21st Chemical Company, is stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.
When directed by the DOD, the DCRF's 5,200 assigned personnel deploy as part of the federal response to assist local first responders.
They provide support by assessing a CBRN incident, providing search and rescue operations, and decontaminate emergency medical support as well as security and logistics support.
"CSTA is providing vital sustainment training for the 2nd CBRN Battalion to continue to develop their commander's concept plan on how to support the DCRF mission," Lopez said.
"This will be the first time the battalion task force has had the opportunity to train, as such, in a DCRF mission set that includes the battalion mission command and command and control elements."
While those in the battalion said they hope they'll never be called on to perform their DCRF mission, they said it is important to be ready if needed.
"The purpose of the exercise is to sustain our proficiency for our DCRF mission," said Maj. Mathew Kelly, operations officer for the 2nd CBRN Battalion.
"We don't get to train as a battalion very much because we are spread out at two different locations."
During the first three days of the exercise, CSTA-Central personnel provided feedback to the battalion on its ability to successfully conduct sensitive site exploitation route reconnaissance, mass casualty decontamination and conventional decontamination. Each of the companies underwent an event each day.
On the final day, the three companies conducted the same vital task: decontaminating mass casualties and conducting a relief in place.
Throughout the training, the Soldiers worked within a scenario where hundreds of people, who reside in the Fort Hood's Comanche Village housing area, displayed the signs and symptoms of chemical agent exposure.
In the exercise, area hospitals requested the battalion set up a mass casualty decontamination site to decontaminate the victims before sending them through to the hospital.
The Soldiers were told to expect approximately 800 people, who suffered from mild to severe signs of chemical agent exposure.
"Today is the day that everything comes together," said Pfc. David Anderson, a CBRN specialist with the 21st Chemical Company.
"The incident has taken place, and now we have to decontaminate and process everyone."
A mass decontamination process looks very much like an assembly line, Anderson said.
Victims are brought over, sent through the line for removal of the chemical agent, and their names and condition are then recorded by record keepers at the end.
"Normally during a mass casualty decontamination process, the affected people are led through a wash area where their clothing is removed, and they are scrubbed of the agent," said Sgt. 1st Class John Robles, also a CBRN specialist with the 21st Chemical Company.
"Then, they are given a blanket and new clothing." Robles added. "However, because it is so cold outside, we only got the dummies wet and the role players left their clothes on."
One of the more difficult parts of the day was during the relief in place, partly due to people being processed through while a shift change was taking place.
The training went very well, said Lt. Col. Richard Dunbar, Army North CSTA.
"The Soldiers are learning more each day," he said. "The relief in place is difficult because the equipment is staying in place, and the role players are still there, but the unit is changing shifts. Everything has to keep going."
The 2nd Chemical Battalion Soldiers said they welcomed having Army North trainers assisting them.
"They have been giving us good feedback on how we have been doing each day," said Warrant Officer Elliott Ritchey.
"They have lots of experience in dealing with this type of scenario, and they are legitimately giving us a true assessment on our capability."