22nd MEU Marines practice search, rescue in confined spaces

1 Feb 2011 | Sgt. Josh Cox

Take complete darkness, minimal oxygen, tight spaces and the risk of falling debris – it’s all a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare.  However, this sort of environment is a Marine’s playground. 

Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Marines with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in technical confined-space rescue training during a specialized course aboard the Center for National Response, in Gallagher, W.V., Jan. 30-31, 2011.

Randy Hall, a lead planner and instructor at the facility explained, the course material was developed to train CBRN Marines on rescue operations in environments with hazardous materials.

“In this particular instance you have a team that is capable of going downrange into a ‘hot zone’ that would involve chemicals,” Hall said. “In that same ‘hot zone,’ you might have to conduct rescue efforts.”

During the course, Marines and Army National Guardsmen received instruction on the equipment needed for a confined-space rescue, and learned exactly how to safely conduct a rescue operation in tight areas.

After a brief classroom instruction on confined-space rescue fundamentals, the students practiced crawling through the CNR’s complex, confined-space trainer. The trainer included small tunnels, false walls, stairs, low ceilings and various obstacles including rubble, wires and construction debris.

Using the buddy-system, two men entered the tunnel together with oxygen tanks, masks, gloves and helmets.  The students found complete darkness in the trainer, and at first, weren’t authorized to use flashlights to navigate through the facility.  The rescuers used audible and physical signals and applied search methods to find their way through the maze of obstacles.

“I thought it was realistic,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph A. Incarnato, a CBRN defense specialist and New York, native. “It was probably some of the toughest training I’ve ever done … it was hard to breath; hard to see.”

Incarnato, said the confined-space training conditions were tough, but the time spent inside the trainer gave rescuers the confidence and know-how needed to conduct life-saving rescue operations.

Later in the course, the students conducted a rescue operation to test their ability to locate, stabilize and extract victims from inside the confined-space trainer.  Pulling 180-pound mannequins out of a confined-space presented many challenges, but the students used teamwork, rescue techniques and common sense to safely recover each notional victim. 

The confined-space rescue course supplemented a specialized two-week training package in advanced chemical familiarity and technical rescue to prepare the CBRN Marines for an upcoming deployment with the 22nd MEU this summer.

While deployed, the CBRN Marines will operate as an assessment and consequence management team trained to perform missions in unique environments.  If dispatched, the CBRN Marines will quickly respond to crises aboard ship, during humanitarian and relief operations, or while in a combat zone.

In addition to the confined-space course, this training evolution certified the Marines in rope rescue and collapsed structure entry and rescue.  The certifications were awarded by officials representing the University of West Virginia and Wisconsin’s Regional Emergency All-Climate Training Center.

The Center for National Response is a facility of the Army National Guard used to train emergency responders in a variety of skill sets.

The Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU are in the early stage of their pre-deployment training program, which is a series of progressively complex exercises designed to train and test the MEU's ability to operate as a cohesive and effective Marine Air Ground Task Force.

The 22nd MEU is a multi-mission capable force comprised of Aviation Combat Element, Marine Tilt Rotor Squadron 263 (Reinforced); Logistics Combat Element, Combat Logistics Battalion 22; Ground Combat Element, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment; and the Command Element.

Marine Expeditionary Units are the Marine Corps' smallest permanent Marine Air-Ground Task Force, commanded by a colonel and comprised of approximately 2,200 Marines and sailors ready to provide immediate response in a hostile or crisis environment.  While deployed, each MEU also incorporates two KC-130 aircraft available to support the unit's operations abroad.

22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit