The curtain closed and capped off what seemed to be a perfect ending to a concert. The crowd wanted an encore, but instead of more music, terrified screams and confusion amplified into a chaotic melody. Mass hysteria ensued along with a chemical attack on the audience.
The Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville set this grisly scene for medical troops of Fort Bragg, and Soldiers of the 20th Support Command CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Environmental), Fort Stewart, Ga., Feb. 25. The mindset was that it was just an exercise, but there’s no way of knowing what tomorrow holds.
These units, assigned to the Defense Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Response Force mission, are responsible for providing medical and CBRN response to homeland CBRN attacks, natural disasters and major environmental incidents in the event they are too large for local government to handle independently.
“This is under the immediate response authority,” said Keith Clear, a medical evaluator for Army North. “This means the senior mission commander on Fort Bragg has the ability to lend the civil support of the United States military to a local infrastructure in their time of need.”
Clear added that the first scenario quickly overwhelmed the capabilities of the local responders and hospitals. If this were real, the mayor of Fayetteville would have already contacted Fort Bragg and requested assistance. At that point this is where the Soldiers would have responded.
Prior to the units assuming this role, they have to be certified by Army North. This is done by successfully handling the scenarios that Army North designs for units on the DCRF mission.
The scenario that took place on Feb. 25, was the first of three that the units participated in.
The units worked together in a process called mass casualty decontamination. A site is set up where the casualties are washed and cleaned from the chemicals of the attack. The injured are organized by precedence for treatment and the CBRN troops identify the chemical that was used and the amount that had been released.
“The chemical units are in charge of decontamination of casualties. And we’re in charge of initially treating them,” said 1st Lt. Kaitlin Rayburn, executive officer, 36th Area Support Medical Company. “Our medics are trained to treat both military and civilians and react in high- stress environments. For them, it’s just another day on the job.”
Capt. Josh Causey, 36th ASMC commander, added that there’s another medical unit with them on this mission. Causey’s company is responsible for the initial assessment and treatment of causalities. If a patient requires immediate, life-saving surgery, there’s a forward surgical team just a tent away.
“We’re able to facilitate critical care, crash and resuscitative type surgeries,” said Maj. Adam J. Peters, 274th Forward Surgical Team detachment commander. “Our mission is to get the patient stabilized and to make sure they’re able to survive the evacuation trip.”
Peters also said that along with emergency surgeries, the FST is fully capable in providing trauma care, post operation and limited lab services.
Collectively, the units were impressed with the reality of the scenarios. The location and structures where the training took place are generally targeted for CBRN attacks.
Lt. Col. Michael Kepner, battalion commander, 83rd Chemical Battalion, said this scenario, the training sites and role players did an excellent job to make the training as realistic as possible.
Along with 83rd, the 51st Chemical Company, one of their subordinate units, convoyed from Fort Stewart where they’re stationed, up to Fort Bragg. The trip showed that on short notice, the unit could respond quickly and effectively.
Although most of these units were certified last year, these scenarios also provided sustainment training and possibilities of improvement.
“The MCD mission came to our unit last year,” said Sgt. Ahmed Alsaaede, a squad leader in the 51st Chemical Company. “As chemical Soldiers, most of us are familiar with these situations, but we still train and work to improve our skills every week. If it’s a factory explosion, chemical attack or even nuclear; we make sure we’re ready for anything.”
With this training complete, the units will hold down the DCRF mission for half a year more.
The scenarios were made possible by local, privately owned properties at no cost to the military.
According to Charles Barkley, team chief of the Army North instructors, this training may not have even been as real or even possible without the generous offerings and resources from the different organizations including the Crown Coliseum, J.P. Riddle Stadium and the Cassidy Turley Factory.
These Soldiers are training for the worst. Whether it’s a freak accident, the unpredictability of Mother Nature or even a terrorist CBRN attack. There are Soldiers prepared to lend a hand when needed.