FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- Soldiers from the 63rd Chemical (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) Company, stationed at Fort Campbell, along with troops from the 10th Chemical (CBRN) Company stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, and the 181st Chemical (CBRN) Company stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, participated in Stryker gunnery tables that started Nov. 28, 2016, and will last until Dec. 3, 2016, at Range 55.
The units are part of the 2nd Chemical Battalion, 48th Chemical Brigade, which has the mission of supporting operations to combatant commanders or other governmental agencies by countering CBRN threats. The Stryker gunnery will culminate with gunnery table six, which certifies the crews' proficiency in engaging targets with the M1135 Stryker Nuclear Biological Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicles' remote weapon system in a simulated contaminated environment. The live fire training will culminate with multiple days of Company Combined Arms Live-Fire Exercises in order to increase combat effectiveness of the company while conducting CBRN missions.
The Stryker is a 19-ton, eight-wheeled armored fighting vehicle available in variety of configurations from medical evacuation, to the mobile gun system that features a 105mm cannon, to the NBCRV. The 63rd Chem. Co., is the only unit that operates Strykers on Fort Campbell and the unit provided three M1135 NBCRVs for the training. The NBCRV mounts a M2 .50 caliber machine gun and modifications that make it effective in areas contaminated by CBRN threats.
Sergeant Dustin Duckett, a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear specialist and vehicle commander, assigned to the 63rd Chem. Co., said the NBCRV is an effective platform for carrying out the company's mission.
"It gives us the capabilities to go out and search for contamination and that way we can go into areas and set up areas of operation," Duckett said. "It has an over-pressure system so it pushes everything out that way nothing can get through any possible crack we may have." The Soldiers in the NBCRV also would carry the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology, which provides protections from CBRN threats when donned, in case the vehicle experienced a breech during operation.
Specialist Dallas Peete, another NBCR specialist as well as a driver and surveyor for Duckett's vehicle crew, said it is easy for Soldiers to know when the over pressure system is active.
"We'll know if the over-pressure system is working, because once you apply it your ears will pop," Peete said. "It's like being in a plane. So once your ears pop, you know the over-pressure is working, but if there is a crack in the seal somewhere then your ears wouldn't pop and you'll know that the vehicles is not secured."
The NBCRV crews scout ahead of the main force to map out the extent of a contaminated area and discover routes to bypass the threat and communicates that information so Soldiers will stay safe. Capt. Spencer Hunt, commander of the 63rd Chem. Co., said this allows the unit to protect Soldiers on the battlefield.
"The NBCRV Stryker platform provides a unique standoff CBRN detection capability that allows the Chemical Company to provide contamination avoidance guidance to combatant commanders," Hunt said.
"The mission of the Stryker platoon is for us to definitely go out there and to perform reconnaissance," Peete said. "We are the first people to touch ground. We ensure that it is safe and if it is not we'll find the outer limits of the contaminant and mark it off."
While chemical warfare has been a threat since World War I, in recent years chemical attacks have returned to the battlefield in the Syrian Civil War and Iraq. The Syrian government has been accused of using chemical weapons on civilians and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has employed chemical agents on multiple occasions.
"Chemical warfare is not pretty," Duckett said. "It's being used overseas and some of the pictures that you see and what it can do to your body is terrible and of course you never want to see a battle buddy get hurt or anything like that. So anything we can do to prevent injury to other people that is what we're going to try to do."
The gunnery table will help the unit demonstrate its proficiency to complete its mission by qualifying vehicle crews on accurately hitting targets with the remotely fired M2 while the NBCRV crews have sealed their vehicles. Graders use score sheets generated by the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Antonio Mariscal, the master gunner and the CBRN warrant officer for the 63rd Chem. Co.
"My main concern with the crews is to be sure they are able to acquire to the target as quick as possible, identify it, kill the target based on threat so you kill one before the other based on threat," Mariscal said. "And [to obey] basic commands of execution to ensure they do the right thing and they are following all of their progressive commands before actually pulling the trigger and engaging the target."
During the live fire, the crews positioned their NBCRVs behind cover and then fired from defilade for the defensive engagements and fired on the move during the offensive engagement. During the exercise, targets of various shapes and sizes popped up from cover and the crews had to identify and engage those targets.
"So we're going to pull up to our battle position," Duckett said. "We will get a call from the tower on what to expect to see out there and what intelligence has seen. Then they will pop up, where it's trucks, troops, or whatnot. We will call up what we see, tell them that we are about to fire and then continue our way down our path until we are complete."
During an engagement, the NBCRV crews' M2s roared with short staccato thumping sounds. The Soldiers shot controlled bursts at the targets, many yellow cutout made to look like vehicles. Puffs of white smoke spewed from the machine gun's barrel and some of the bullets, which left the muzzle at 3,050 feet per second, were red as embers as they impacted in and around the targets.
"We score based on time of engagement," Mariscal said. "So the target pops, the crew identifies target, the crew shoots on target. Time starts when the gunner says on the way. So we start the time there and the time stops once the target goes down or the tower sees and registers hits."
The gunnery tables occur every six months. Eight crews participated in the training throughout the week and the Soldiers fired about 10,000 rounds during the training. While the exercise is a week long, a large amount of training, planning and preparations occur before the live fire to make it successful.
"We've been training for gunnery for at least a month to two months," Duckett said. "We have classes we have to take we have tests that we have to take before we even come here."
Peete said the Soldiers also trained on roll over drills, fire evacuations and performing nine-line medevacs.
"Table one is just basic skills, weapon skills, assembly and disassembly of weapons mounted on their remote weapon station," Mariscal said. "Table two is virtual gunnery, which we used the [Kinnard Mission Training Complex] for that. Table three is more of a dry fire and we'll load up a scenario that will go through it. … Table four is a blank fire, same targets. Table five will be live-fire three quarter scale targets. So they are not full on targets, so it's a little more difficult for them in table five. In table six is full-scale targets day and night fire and we have CBRN fire throughout and just graded fire, manual engagements."
Upon completion of the training the crews will have earned their certifications and will have demonstrated their proficiency in recognizing and engaging the most dangerous hostile targets first, engaging targets both moving and stationary with a remotely operated M2 fired from inside a sealed Stryker from both defensive and offensive posture during day time and night, while operating in a simulated chemical environment. Although the goal for the future is to help leverage a somewhat unrealized asset of the 63rd Chem. Co. proficiencies into the 101st Airborne Division's operational capabilities.
"I really appreciate the support of 1st Brigade Combat Team in providing medics for our training," Hunt said. "Having served in 3rd Brigade Combat Team and 159th Combat Aviation Brigade here at Fort Campbell before, I know that we can find mutually beneficial training opportunities with the brigades across the 101st from recon to decon."
Hunt has started to reach out to the 101st Abn. Div. with the intent of working the unit's capabilities into air assault training operations such as clearing the CBRN threat from landing zones or working into brigade field training exercises or gunnery tables.
"This is a great event," Mariscal said. "We do it every six months. The future for us is to try get to get units from the 101st to join us or us to join them to provide our CBRN reconnaissance capabilities. …. We just need to expand ourselves to the 101st in order for them to understand what kind of capability we bring with this system."