JUNE 8, 2016, MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan – Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Element Marines from 3rd Marine Division, CBRN defense platoon, Headquarters Battalion, III Marine Expeditionary Force, tested their operational capabilities during exercise Habu Sentinel 16 at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, from May 30 to June 8, 2016.
As the annual capstone exercise for the division’s response element, this event encompasses multiple objectives specific to CBRN response and validates unit standard operating procedures in an unfamiliar training environment.
“Habu Sentinal is a 3rd Marine Division CBRN exercise specifically tailored to the CBRN response element, which is a small 15-man team within the platoon that is tasked with handling events that are beyond the scope and scale of traditional CBRN capabilities . . . [including] support of combat operations and humanitarian and disaster relief efforts,” said Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Joy, CBRN defense officer with 3rd MarDiv. “The CBRN response element this year has been reinforced with members of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing . . . and when we came to Iwakuni, we incorporated the Marine Aircraft Group 12 CBRN Marines as well.”
The initial stages of the exercise reintroduced Marines to the assessment and consequence management equipment, hazardous material operations and CBRN response element mission sets that range from combat operations to installation support.
Provided to each major subordinate command for their platoons to utilize, the Marine Air Ground Task Force ACM set provides the division with enhanced CBRN proficiencies above those available to subordinate units, including CBRN technical rescue and the necessary response capabilities to support national military strategy for countering weapons of mass destruction and other contingency operations.
“Although MAG-12 does not have an ACM set, as CBRN Marines, they are required to know how to utilize and employ this equipment; so we folded them into the unit and they’ve been training with us,” said Joy. “ACM equipment goes beyond your traditional mission orientated protective posture gear that’s associated with CBRN defense. This gear is for areas where the gas mask doesn’t work, the MOPP suit doesn’t provide adequate protection, and the equipment isn’t sufficient to detect the hazards in the air.”
Hazardous materials operations were conducted throughout the exercise to give present units an opportunity to employ the ACM set while conducting reconnaissance in simulated battlefields suspected of having CBRN threats.
“First we conducted a radiological monitor survey mission where we obtained background readings in a Tomodachi-like scenario,” said Michael Cox, installation CBRN protection officer at MCAS Iwakuni. “The Marines learned what capabilities they had, how to plan their mission, how to execute their mission and . . . we got real world information back to use in our all hazards threat assessment.”
Marines operated at the station’s Disaster Village and utilized the tower to descend as if entering an underground bunker suspected of containing chemical weapons. Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force also observed this entire evolution to acquire knowledge of their tactics, procedures and technical abilities.
“We observed their gear and training and learned a lot from them,” said JGSDF Maj. Keisuke Eguchi, officer in charge of the Nuclear, Biological, Chemical unit with the 13th Brigade in Kaita, Hiroshima. “Our anti-chemical training that we have conducted focuses on how to deal with mass casualties in huge areas. However, this training showed us how to conduct a mission in a dangerous location, with a small group of personnel and in a difficult area to enter . . . We want to adopt these things into our training in the future.”
Units later responded to a simulated hard landing crash site involving a static display Japanese Shin Meiwa PS-1 aircraft located near the station’s harbor. In the scenario, the plane reportedly flew through a haze of radioactive clouds and is carrying contaminated casualties from the combat area.
This scenario allowed III MEF personnel to provide CBRN response, emergency security measures, casualty assistance, hazard mitigation, and also illustrated MCAS Iwakuni’s strategic location in the Pacific theater as a staging area for forces during contingency operations.
“The end result behind all of this cross training between the installation, the division and the MAW is they understand our requirements, we understand their capabilities and how they can fit them into our installation protection management program,” said Cox.
Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152, stationed at MCAS Iwakuni, assisted in scenarios as well by providing a taxiway combat off-load. Pallets suspected of radiological contamination slid from the cargo bay of a KC-130J onto the taxiway where CBRN Marines were staged nearby in order to respond swiftly and effectively.
“We found the contamination and decontaminated the cargo as necessary,” said Sgt. David Gale, CBRN response element team leader with 3rd MarDiv. “That scenario specifically was something that happened during the Tomadachi event . . . and definitely helped us practice for possible real-world situations, so it’s good training.”
At exercise conclusion, coordinators included multiple CBRN threats to ensure Marines were tested on a variety of subject matter specific to CBRN response and mitigation.
Marines responded to a simulated call from infantrymen clearing a structure where they came into contact with a list of laboratories containing chemical weapons such as ricin and botulism.
”We changed it up a little bit this last scenario to supporting an infantry unit on the ground during an engagement,” said Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan B. Davis, CBRN officer in charge with MAG-12. “All throughout the week we worked through different scenarios, including missions that support WMD sites on the peninsula, support of the installation and support of airfield operations.”
As situations ranged from simple issues to complex threats, CBRN personnel gained experience, knowledge and broader perspectives that could be applied in operations world-wide. Additionally, exercises such as Habu Sentinel allow individuals from other units to cross-pollinate information and create a synergistic approach to combating CBRN threats.
“I’ve learned how to work with different teams, which is pretty refreshing,” said Cpl. Chelsea Roy, rigging team leader with 3rd MarDiv. “We learned how others operate and got better ideas of how to do things in the CBRN community . . . it’s a pretty awesome opportunity.”
Habu Sentinal 16 is the third iteration of this exercise and is expected to become more complex with new training locations and new participating allies from the region.
“It has been a fantastic learning experience for us and a great way for operational forces to support the installation,” said Joy. “If something were to happen, we would need to be able to plug in with the tenant organizations here and the host nation emergency responders, and that’s what we’re proving to be effective while we’re here.”