News: Small CBRNE teams pack large capabilities
Story by Lt. Col. Carol McClelland
SOUTH KOREA - Consisting of highly specialized small teams, they have a big name with an even bigger mission.
Called CRTs, a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high-yield explosives response team is made up of only 15 soldiers but its mission is to do field presumptive identification, which means detecting bio-weapons while donning protective gear and entering sites deemed too dangerous for others. This mission isn’t for the squeamish. It’s dealing with germ warfare—when the enemy commits a war act by using biological toxins or infectious agents like bacteria, viruses or fungi with the intent to harm or kill humans, animals or plants.
Bravo Company from the 110th Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort) deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., to South Korea and participated in Foal Eagle, a monthlong, annual, joint/combined field training exercise that concluded, April 30.
CRTs were created to deploy within the U.S. or overseas and can conduct CBRNE assessments, disablement, elimination, escort, site remediation and restoration in support of combatant commanders and other federal agencies.
During Foal Eagle missions, the CRT worked together with CBRN specialists from 2nd Infantry Division and the Republic of Korea. Each had a responsibility. While some soldiers remained outside establishing decontamination lines, guiding communication flow, or directing the course of events, others entered a dimly lit tunnel to safeguard it from explosives or other possible hazards and provide an initial assessment, followed by a different set of soldiers who gathered and packaged samples for analysis.
“The missions vary from six minutes to 12 hours, said Capt. Robert Bone, CRT commander, who stood outside and relayed information by radio between soldiers working in the tunnel and his lieutenant who logged all events taking place.
Members of 2ID’s 4th Chemical Company are CBRN specialists. They include medics, engineers, mechanics and communicators. Covered head-to-toe in safety gear, to include air tanks on their backs, three soldiers are anxious to enter the tunnel on a reconnaissance mission. But they’re going to have to wait a bit longer. One of them has a problem with his communication equipment.
After a short time and some technical assistance, the problem is resolved and the team goes inside. In order to give the most accurate account of what they saw, they’ll take photos, draw maps and relay detailed information to help the next team – the samplers. But they’ll need to be quick. The tanks hold less than an hour of air.
“The bigger you are, the more air you take in,” Spec. Matthew Harris, from Wild Peach, Texas explains. “It’s important for us to give a back brief on what we saw. It could be liquids, solids, powder or could be any kind of chemicals or nerve agents. It could be anything really,” Harris said. “We’re supposed to go narrow down the possibilities.”
A heads up display inside the mask will help the recon team track remaining air time. The team surveys make-shift rooms inside the tunnel while checking the air quality outside their suits. There are stairs to navigate through fogged up face masks and a laboratory with chemicals still brewing in beakers. The team also discovers six shells that represent chemical munitions and two are leaking. The three end their survey session and head down a steep hill to go through decontamination procedures before providing information that will help the next team.
The survey team from Bravo Company gathers necessary equipment based on information learned from the 4th Chemical Company’s initial assessment and loads it into a wagon for the long trek up the hill and into the tunnel.
“This is the first time we’ve worked together so we’re starting off to form a good partnership,” said Bone. The CRT commander also said he and his team talked to their ROK counterparts and they both look forward to building a good working relationship.
CRTs include explosive ordnance disposal capabilities. Maj. Young Pyo, a chemical officer with 7th Corps, a command at Jung Won approximately 64 miles (103 kilometers) from Camp Stanley, observes two EOD soldiers double and triple bag the “leaking munitions” for safe transport following sampling during the Foal Eagle exercise scenario.
“The ROK army has studied and learned from the U.S. for several years so our procedures are similar,” Pyo said. “But I’m impressed by U.S. procedure because the U.S. specifies following the manual step-by-step. ROK procedures are kind of loose compared to U.S. procedures.”
Inside the survey team continues to bag samples, fill out paperwork and radio back the sample number for checks and double checks during a procedure that’ll last more than five hours today. Samples are split for ROK and U.S. lab analysis. The process is tedious, meticulous and time consuming.
“You have to know what you’re doing,” said Private 1st Class Jazmin Lopez Perez, a sample team assistant from Los Angeles, Calif. who’s been in the CRT for nine months. “You have to have chemical, biological and nuclear knowledge so to be part of that makes me feel special.”
The CRT deployed to Korea not only to participate in Foal Eagle, but also to build a strong relationship with its Republic of Korea Army counterparts. It will continue do so by being permanently reassigned to the Korean peninsula.
The CRT is the first to occupy the peninsula in support of Eighth Army and 2nd Infantry Division. By the end of this year elements of the 110th as well as the 23rd Chemical Battalion, also located at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, will be restationed in Korea.