Hazardous response platoon trains at unfinished nuclear power plant
August 25, 2011
ELMA, Wash.-- The rotor wash from two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters sends dirt, dead vegetation and small rocks flying in every direction as the aircraft land. Soldiers loaded down with gear and weapons rush to dismount and take up a secure defensive position at the base of one of the nearby nuclear power plant's 480-foot tall cooling towers.
With the personnel insertion complete, the Soldiers turn their faces away as dirt kicks up again as the Blackhawks depart. Moments later, the Soldiers move toward their next objective: a chemical weapons stockpile located in a nearby lab.
This was the scenario for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear operations specialists assigned to the 23rd Chemical Battalion Aug. 16 at the Satsop development project.
While many key structures remain intact, Satsop was an unfinished nuclear power plant located southwest of Olympia. Several businesses are located on the grounds which have been turned into a unique office and industrial park. With the available facilities, it has also proven its worth as a site to conduct elaborate training for CBRN units.
In the days leading up to the air insertion exercise, the 23rd Chem. Bn. trained for vehicle recoveries, conducted Raven unmanned aerial vehicle operations, fought back "opposition force" attacks and handled enemy prisoners of war.
"Coming here (to Satsop) is a unique way for us to finish out the past week of field training exercises, and see what our Hazardous Response Platoon can do," said Lt. Col. Sean Kirschner, commander of 23rd Chem. Bn.
After the successful insertion, the HRP moved to the objective. On the way in, the platoon encountered training scenarios-- enemy contact, treatment of casualties, and medical evacuation.
"For this training, we've got use of a Stryker, an M1135 CBRN Reconnaissance Vehicle. It's got a Joint Biological Point Detection System, that replaced the BIDS (Biological Agent Detection Systems)," said Spc. Matthew Thornton, a CBRN operations specialist assigned to 61st CBRN Co.
"Those of us in the vehicle will monitor the sensors, and confirm or deny the presence of biological agents. We're also used for security support. When our Soldiers took contact we rolled in to provide support and took out a sniper with our .50 cal.," said Thornton.
The vehicle was also used as a casualty evacuation vehicle to bring wounded Soldiers to a MEDEVAC site during one of the training segments.
The HRP is broken down into four elements: an initial entry team, a team that conducts hazardous material sampling, a decontamination team and a rescue team.
During one scenario the teams acted on reliable intelligence to secure locations outside their target building and set up their equipment. A robot equipped with multi-IMS (Ion mobility spectrometer), and able to detect all current weaponized gasses and toxic industrial gasses, was sent in for initial reconnaissance.
"Some of the training we've gotten here involved Sensitive Site Assessment, Sensitive Site Exploitation and decontamination procedures," Sgt. Juan Salas from Ralls, Texas.
For the training scenario, the battalion made use of the Satsop facility's unique characteristics which included mazes of five-foot thick concrete walls that hinder communications and a 1300-foot complex tunnel network.
After each of the teams had its gear set up, the HRP was ready to investigate the target facility. On approach, the chemical agent detectors went off. The Soldiers then had to assess, sample and package any hazardous material. The initial entry team's job is to draw up diagrams of the room or target facility, make a list of what's in the room with notes on anything unusual found, then photograph and take samples of suspected hazardous material.
"It's tough work…with the added stress that comes with the environment they're placed in, because it's so realistic. We want to show these guys the kinds of places they'd work in if we were to go to war with a country that might have CBRN weapon capabilities," said Salas.
"The air assault is a fairly new capability for us. We also wanted to focus on training Soldiers, getting them to build confidence in their equipment and work as a team," said Col. Maria Zumwalt, the 48th Chemical Brigade commander visiting from Fort Hood, Texas.
The idea behind this is to take the training out of the motorpools and up to the next level. The training has got to be as realistic as we can make it, and it has to be challenging," added Zumwalt.