CANADIAN FORCES BASE SUFFIELD, Alberta, Canada – A multinational NATO chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear live-agent exercise concluded on Canadian Forces Base Suffield in Alberta, Canada, July 29.
Exercise Precise Response brought together highly trained units from the United States, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and the United Kingdom to conduct mission training for the NATO Response Force’s CBRN Defense Battalion.
Since Precise Response began in 2004, more than 4,000 troops have trained with live agents at Canadian Forces Base Suffield, except for 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19 restrictions.
American Soldiers from the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives (CBRNE) Command deployed for the exercise, including troops from the Fort Bliss, Texas-based 22nd Chemical Battalion; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based 11th CBRN Company (Technical Escort); Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 21st CBRN Company; and the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland-based 1st Area Medical Laboratory.
Soldiers and U.S. Army civilians from 20th CBRNE Command routinely deploy from 19 bases in 16 states to take on the world’s most dangerous hazards.
Canadian Armed Forces Cpl. Shannelle Adam said working with other nations gave her a chance to learn new ways of accomplishing CBRN missions.
“The highlight for me was being able to gain knowledge from other nations and now being able to go back to my unit and create some ideas to try to implement positive changes,” said Adam, a six-year military medical technician who is originally from George Town, Cayman Islands. “Working with live agents made the training feel a lot more real.
“Here we always like to practice training how we fight,” said Adam. “In case there is any CBRN threat in the future, we now feel more confident that we worked with live agents in training.”
Adam said her team learned new ways of running a thorough decontamination line on both the ambulatory and non-ambulatory side.
“We’ve learned how other nations operate so that if there ever is a CBRN threat in which we’re called to go to, we now have the confidence to be able to assist other nations,” said Adam.
Maj. Joshua M. Carmen, the chief of the 1st Area Medical Laboratory’s Biological Threat Assessment Section, said Exercise Precise Response enabled his Soldiers to validate their capabilities in an austere field setting.
A one-of-a-kind U.S. Army formation, 1st Area Medical Laboratory deploys to perform surveillance, laboratory testing and health hazard assessments of environmental, occupational, endemic disease and CBRNE threats to support force protection and Weapons of Mass Destruction missions.
Carmen said his 1st AML team worked with NATO Sampling and Identification of Biological, Chemical and Radiological Agents (SIBCRA) teams from most of the nations involved in the exercise.
The 1st AML team received every biological sample during the exercise, including 112 distinct samples, and saw a variety of techniques for sampling and packaging. The 1st AML team also conducted its first successful genetic sequencing of a sample in a field training environment.
Carmen said his team gained experience receiving and processing samples and engaging the SIBCRA team leads to prioritize processing based on their description and assessment of the site.
“The more information we have, the better analysis we can perform to provide a complete picture of the threat,” said Carmen. “We learned as much as we could about new techniques we saw and provided real-time feedback on our assessment of their effectiveness as well as passing on tips and advice for improvements.”
Carmen said the NATO SIBCRA teams were receptive to making adjustments and were thankful for the feedback.
“We were overwhelmed by the camaraderie with the teams and many of them came to the lab before, during and after missions to seek advice, discuss our findings and thank us for helping them to improve their knowledge of biological threats,” said Carmen.
A native of Phoenix, Carmen has served in the U.S. Army for 19 years and he has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the international live-agent training exercise provides a higher level of realism for his team.
“Live-agent training for CBRN is the equivalent of a live-fire maneuver exercise for the Combat Arms branches,” said Carmen. “It is the epitome of training and tests your trust in the equipment you train with and the procedures you have developed in your organization.
“The NATO component adds another layer to it by developing that same trust across multiple nations in each other’s equipment and techniques,” said Carmen. “Regardless of whether your place on the battlefield is investigating and sampling potential CBRN agents, cataloguing, recording and transporting them or testing and evaluating them, the safety of the forces you support depend on you at every step. Live-agent training allows us the luxury of practicing our skills in a controlled environment so we can succeed in a potentially deadly situation.”