NAVAL SUPPORT FACILITY INDIAN HEAD, Md. — "Gas, gas, gas,” the first sergeant yells out. Shortly after that shout, you hear the pulling of Velcro and straps and hard exhales as the Marines and Sailors expertly don their M53 Chemical-Biological Protective Mask.
In less than 9 seconds, members of Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, CBIRF, have pulled their masks out of the carrying case, squeezed it onto their heads, cinched the straps holding the mask tight to their face, cleared simulated contaminants out of the mask with a hard exhale of air and raised their hands in the air to signify they have properly donned their masks.
During these battle drills, Marines and Sailors who fail at this basic defense measure must re-test until successful.
Failure is not an option for the Nation’s premiere chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-explosives response force.
With these battle drills, CBIRF has found an innovative way to utilize their time to hone basic skills required of the unique CBRNE response unit. At any moment, the response force can be called upon to respond to crises ranging from natural disasters such as tornadoes to a 10-kiloton nuclear detonation. The very nature of their response capabilities requires the Marines and Sailors to be intimately knowledgeable about their equipment.
"At the basic level, every member of CBIRF needs to be able to quickly go from no protection in a non-hostile environment to the basic protection from contamination," said Sgt. Kota R. Gorman, an instructor for CBIRF's Downey Responder Training Facility. "We have other equipment such as our [self-contained breathing apparatus] or our [powered air purifying respirators] that can be used depending on the severity of the contaminated area, but the basic for everyone is the M53 gas mask."
CBIRF conducts periodic, random drills during the workday, requiring every member of CBIRF to have their masks and carrying case with them at all times. CBIRF leaders will randomly yell out “gas, gas, gas” as the Marines and Sailors are conducting their regular business.
Shouting “gas, gas, gas” and signaling the immediate need to equip the gas mask is a common command.
What is uncommon is why CBIRF is absolutely adamant about proficiency with CBRNE gear.
“CBIRF is the only unit in the Marine Corps trained to respond to the worst scenarios imaginable here and abroad,” said Dr. Erick Swartz, senior scientist with CBIRF and designer of the CBIRF battle drills. “At any moment CBIRF can and might be called on to save lives.
“There is no room for delay or failure. CBIRF must be ready at all times.”
When directed, CBIRF forward-deploys and/or responds with minimal warning to CBRNE threat or event in order to assist local, state, or federal agencies and the geographic combatant commanders in the conduct of CBRNE response or consequence management operations, providing capabilities for command and control; agent detection and identification; search, rescue, and decontamination; and emergency medical care for contaminated personnel.