PERRY, Ga. --
Rasped, metallic breathing echoed down the long darkness moments before being lanced by beams of light. Several bulky, amorphous silhouettes stepped carefully down the aisle, flanked by vertical poles, bench seats and scattered bodies. Red lights snapped into existence and were placed upon the life-sized dummies used to simulate casualties.
Four Marines, dressed in their cumbersome level “B” protective suits, continued to search the subway cars for casualties, marking them for later rescue, and for the toxic agent responsible for the scenario. This was the culminating event of an advanced, weeklong course for the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and used a functioning subway station, four-car train and nearly three dozen dummy casualties.
Eleven chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense Marines completed the custom-tailored course at the Guardian Centers, a rescue and hazardous material response training agency in Perry, Ga., June 21, 2013. The 22nd MEU was the first deployable unit to receive training at the Guardian Centers, which opened in December.
“I built the course with the end state of them being able to operate in a foreign clandestine environment with chemical, biological and explosive elements,” said Nathan Cummiskey, Guardian Centers CBRN and hazmat director. “We specialize in customizing courses for the needs of the units. Once they told us what the 22nd MEU mission set was, we built our props and scenarios around its needs.”
The Guardian Centers’ 830 acres of facilities include a mock town comprising numerous buildings, each realistically furnished and some capable of collapsing on command. Most of the Marines’ training was held in these facilities, where chemical or biological attacks and clandestine labs were simulated with real hazardous materials and even booby traps.
“This was a training venue that used live chemicals, which gave the Marines a chance to see how their sensors and equipment would react,” said Staff Sgt. Joshua Shepard, 22nd MEU CBRN chief and native of Mustang, Okla.
The different training events acted as small-scale response scenarios, teaching the Marines indicators of what to look for and what to sample.
“Every scenario was based off a real, live response, such as the Tokyo subway gassing,” said Shepard, referring to the Marines’ culminating event.
“The best part of the training was the subway exercise,” said Pfc. Pat Cook, 22nd MEU CBRN specialist and native of Chateaugay, N.Y. “It was a real world scenario, as real as you get without going on a real call.”
The Marines also learned new techniques for sampling materials, including the FBI’s 12-step sampling process.
“If we use this process and do it correctly, our samples can be used as evidence to try criminals or even terrorists,” said Shepard. “That’s a change that I’m going to have us make because of this course.”
“My knowledge of the procedures and actual workings of CBRN operations has definitely improved from this training,” said Cook.
The course allowed Shepard to see where the individual Marines’ skills laid, as well as their teamwork and camaraderie. Many of the Marines recently attached to the MEU from its different support elements, making this one of the first opportunities for them to work together.
“For not having senior staff, they were leaps and bounds ahead of my expectations,” said Cummiskey, who also worked for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency as a CBRN and explosives specialist and has trained hundreds of CBRN teams. “They did extremely well given their experience levels.”
This hazmat-centric course followed the CBRN Marines’ technical rescue training, the opposite side of the CBRN coin, at the Center for National Response in Gallagher, W.V., last month. With advanced training in both overarching disciplines, the 22nd MEU’s CBRN Marines will be much more prepared for the unit’s predeployment training and upcoming deployment, said Shepard.
Shepard said he also hopes to bring his team back to the Guardian Centers later in the MEU’s predeployment cycle for further training.