CBIRF secures "State of the Union"

27 Feb 2001 | Sgt Victoria G. Gross

The President of the United States spoke at Capitol Hill recently to address the joint session of Congress for the first time since taking office -- and II MEF Marines were there to provide consequence management response in the event of a terrorist incident involving a nuclear, biological or chemical weapon.The Chemical, Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF), II Marine Expeditionary Force (II MEF), provided more than 100 specially-trained Marines to quickly react should a situation arise, according to Lt. Col. Scott Graham, executive officer of CBIRF.The unit is capable of providing chemical and biological extraction of casualties, decontamination, medical treatment of mass casualties and agent identification. They are also there to provide command and control, technical rescue and explosive ordnance disposal for force protection. For this operation, CBIRF was in support of Joint Task Force Civil Support whose role in this event was to provide Department of Defense (DoD) assistance to the U.S. Capitol Police, according to Graham of El Dorado, Kan. Joint Task Force Civil Support is a standing, joint-task-force headquarters, assigned to U.S. Joint Forces Command. It would provide command and control over DoD assets in a consequence management operation following a weapon-of-mass-destruction incident anywhere in the United States.Maps of Capitol Hill in all shapes and sizes and from all angles, lay across the planning room, as CBIRF Marines absorbed every possible avenue of approach for rescuing America's decision-makers should the need arise. With most of the Marines standing by in a secret location near the Hill, teams of CBIRF warriors were much closer to the site, 'half dressed' in level A protective gear, waiting for any sign of attack. Their purpose was reconnaissance. Their mission was primarily there for agent identification, according to Sgt. Joseph G. Parsons, Recon Team Leader, 1st Platoon, React Company, CBIRF. "MOPP (mission-oriented protective posture) gear is minimal compared to Level A," he said. "The fully encapsulated suit and re-breather system increases the temperature by twenty or thirty degrees, so it's really hot in there." Parsons also mentioned, the suit is bulky making it more difficult to maneuver and hard to talk or hear. "We have radios so we can talk to each other but we also maintain constant eye contact with our 'buddies.'"The unit had a plan for many possible situations -- how to get the CBIRF Marines into the building, extract victims out of the building and get them through the decontamination process as expediently as possible. Every detail is fine-tuned, right down to what to do with personal valuables of the victims."The success of the mission depends on our ability to quickly respond to an incident site because time is life. This means we have to be prepared for a multitude of potential situations that would require us to act and be able to adapt to those variables that we cannot anticipate," stated Capt. John Mulkern, a CBIRF officer from Hudson, Mass. All the preparation and planning for this real-world operation didn't slow the excitement for the Marines going to Capitol Hill - even one who has done this before. "It was awesome. Most Marines never get a chance to go to the Capitol Building and work with the Capital Police. I think it's great," said Parsons. "Even now, it's still exciting and I know my guys are ready, more than ready to do this. It's what we've been training for." His "guys" are a five-man recon team led by Parsons, which has stuck together through thick and thin. "We are a really close team. We've been on a number of deployments and they always make sure they keep us together," he said.If teamwork, trust, and commitment are important values in combat, CBIRF needs it two-fold. "In an infantry unit these traits are important, but an infantryman could pick up his weapon and fire as an individual if necessary to accomplish his mission. We can't do that." Parsons said. "One of us is useless without the rest of his team -- we completely rely on each other." This tight-knit camaraderie doesn't stop with the recon team. According to Parsons, the whole unit is extremely close. "We perform cross-training so everyone knows how to extract and decontaminate. We all help each other and I know if anyone were hurt or in trouble there would be another CBIRF Marine or Sailor there to help."All of the preparation, planning, teamwork, trust and commitment were needed for this operation as the II MEF Marines stood by to defend and protect Congress and the country's leader. "CBIRF is not an elite organization, however we are a group of dedicated Marines and Sailors who are prepared to dedicate our lives to the defense of the United States against the threat of terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction," said Mulkern. "The job can be tough, demanding, and time intensive, but it is worth the effort."