CENTER FOR NATIONAL RESPONSE, Gallagher, W.V. --
The scenario involved a category four hurricane along the coast of Eastern North Carolina. With buildings collapsed, cars overturned and hurricane victims desperately in need of help, a Marine Urban Search and Rescue team descended rope lines to evaluate ground zero.
Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense Marines with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit participated in a technical rescue exercise during a specialized course aboard the Center for National Response, in Gallagher, W.V., Feb. 5, 2011.
During the exercise, Marines and Army National Guardsmen practiced skills acquired during a two-week training package in advanced chemical familiarity and technical rescue. The CBRN Marines conducted the specialized training to prepare for an upcoming deployment with the 22nd MEU.
After the Marines received a brief assessing the hurricane’s path of destruction, the team moved swiftly to begin reconnaissance and rescue efforts.
The Marines descended ropes to evaluate the disaster area, and initially searched piles of rubble, twisted metal and a disabled railcar before reaching the first major obstacle of the day.
Collapsed walls prevented the team from pushing forward, so the rescuers temporarily stabilized the structures with wooden braces, called shores. While constructing the shores, the team began to hear role players scream for help from a massive rubble pile beyond the compromised walls.
Corporal Orin S. Colegrove, 21, a CBRN defense specialist and native of Las Vegas, reassured the victims from afar, and shouted questions concerning injuries, casualty numbers and possible obstacles in the rubble.
Once the team reached the rubble, a few new obstacles emerged, including collapsed steel sheeting and concrete slabs. The team torched a large square opening in the steel panel and used hydraulic hammers and drills to breach the concrete. Then shores were installed beyond the concrete to stabilize a small room, and another hole was cut through the room’s ceiling to access the main rubble pile.
The reconnaissance team searched the pile, reassured the injured and dispatched rescuers to extract hurricane survivors.
With each new development, the team relayed messages over handheld radios to the incident commander and on-site rescue chief. At the same time, the team continued to survey the environment for hazardous materials and dangerous chemicals.
Several victims were found walking who were previously trapped behind debris removed by the team. The Marines carefully escorted the walking wounded out of the disaster area and focused their attention on the remaining immobile and unresponsive civilians.
Two people in the rubble needed to be carried away from the pile, so the rescuers carefully stabilized and secured the injured to medical backboards. The Marines used teamwork to carry the victims to safety, and smartly applied rescue techniques learned from the course.
The final victim recovered was a mannequin hanging from a support beam, and resting under a staircase. The Marines braced the structure, climbed the stairs and descended from rope rigging to rescue the casualty.
Corporal Brandon S. Mettlen, 25, was tasked with rescuing the victim hanging from the beam. Mettlen, a Colmesneil, Texas, native, said the course didn’t cover this type of rescue, but in minutes, his team came together with a plan to safely remove the notional victim from the obstruction.
After more than eight hours in the disaster zone, the Marines completed their objective and finished with a final overview of the exercise, followed by an impromptu class graduation.
“I thought it was very realistic,” Mettlen said. “It presented a challenge. It helped us cover every point we learned during the course. I had a great time; it was fun.”
Randy Hall, a lead planner and instructor at the CNR who monitored the exercise, said the Marines and National Guardsmen surprised the instructors with their teamwork, newly acquired knowledge and effective problem-solving techniques used during the final, culminating rescue operation.
While deployed, the CBRN Marines will operate as an assessment and consequence management team trained to perform unique missions, such as urban search and rescue operations. If dispatched, the CBRN Marines will quickly respond to crises aboard ship, during humanitarian and relief operations, or while in a combat zone.
The recent training evolution certified the Marines in rope rescue, confined-space entry and rescue, and structural collapse entry and rescue. Officials representing the University of West Virginia, and Wisconsin’s Regional Emergency All-Climate Training Center awarded the certifications.
The Center for National Response is an asset of the Army National Guard used to train emergency responders in a variety of skill sets. The center utilizes a decommissioned highway tunnel to conduct specialized training programs.
The Marines and sailors of the 22nd MEU are in the early stages 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.