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From our CBRN foxholes: how do we support the fight?

Since the beginning of the Global War on Terrorism in 2001, the chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) skill set of non-CBRN Soldiers has diminished. With the country fighting multiple wars for an extended period, CBRN training has taken a backseat to other mission-essential tasks in most warfighting units. As a result, the Chemical Regiment will face significant challenges to "re-blue" Army CBRN readiness in the immediate future to ensure preparedness for the next conflict, national disaster, or emergency.

At the "How We Support the Fight" Seminar, held 24-25 June 2015 during CBRN Regimental Week at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, key leaders within the Chemical Branch assembled to address specific challenges and propose solutions. The group discussed how CBRN assets should support the fight and how the Army CBRN skill set could be returned to a higher level of readiness.

CBRN commanders and leaders from around the world were invited to the seminar by Brigadier General Maria Gervais, the commandant of the U.S. Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School (USACBRNS). The assembled group included Major General Lucas Polakowski, deputy director for the Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction, U.S. Strategic Command; Brigadier General William King, commander of the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Support Command; Brigadier General James Blankenhorn, deputy commander of the 335th Signal Command; and Mr. Daniel Klippstein, deputy director for the Headquarters, Department of the Army, Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, Plans, and Training (G-3/5/7).

Colonel Casey Scott, director of the USACBRNS Department of Training and Leader Development, noted that it had been many years since so many senior CBRN personnel had gathered to discuss the future of the Chemical Corps. The group identified problems that need to be solved to improve CBRN readiness. After considerable debate, the group generated a set of due-outs that must be achieved to reach the regimental mission of protecting the force and the Nation from weapons of mass destruction and CBRN threats and hazards.

One of the more imposing tasks identified by the group was that of educating and influencing maneuver commanders. CBRN personnel must educate maneuver commanders on their organic CBRN capabilities (and other CBRN units and resources) within their task organization and operational environment that are available to assist during their training or mission set. CBRN personnel must also influence maneuver commanders to train CBRN tasks throughout the year and during validation training at combat training centers. For most seasoned CBRN professionals, the lack of CBRN emphasis among non-CBRN commanders is an old problem that has been alleviated, only to return many times throughout the years. Now, this problem must be solved during an era of no growth and reduced personnel and funding--a considerable challenge.

Determining the long-term future of the remaining Biological Integrated Detection System units is another significant task that was identified during the seminar. There are Biological Integrated Detection System platoons and companies in the Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve. The Chemical Regiment must determine if it should maintain the M31A2 Biological Integrated Detection System platform (since the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle now has the same biodetection capabilities) or discontinue the equipment and repurpose the units to more relevant or probable mission sets.

Also, Army reductions have systemically affected the ability of the Chemical Regiment to provide decontamination to the overall force. Since the Cold War, Army maneuver units have been manned, equipped, and trained to conduct operational decontamination for their own elements, as needed. This intrinsic capability enhances freedom of maneuver by enabling a contaminated unit to decontaminate itself and get back into the fight faster than if it needs to coordinate with outside assets for decontamination. This was primarily accomplished by assigning one CBRN sergeant to each maneuver company. Within the last 6 years, the CBRN sergeant position was downgraded to an entry-level position; then shortly thereafter, the CBRN position was eliminated and replaced with a Soldier from another military occupational specialty.

Consequently, maneuver units have lost the ability to decontaminate themselves. Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Lovell, 1st Infantry Division CBRN chief, explains, "Tactical commanders do not understand the scope of responsibility maneuver units are now incurring while conducting decontamination operations. Downsizing and limited resources have forced CBRN subject matter experts out of our formations in lieu of technical reachback capabilities. Tactical commanders have been convinced that a school-trained 11B or 19K has the ability to conduct and organize decontamination operations as proficient as a 74D. Unit decontamination teams are minimally trained and exist more on paper than actual practice. Additionally, tactical units are now expected to perform decontamination operations previously conducted by CBRN decontamination platoons. We must maintain this critical capability to conduct decontamination operations because the CBRN threat has not decreased or diminished."

The issues that Lieutenant Colonel Lovell mentions are compounded by the need for maneuver units to include CBRN tasks during combat training center rotations and on their training calendars. USACBRNS is working on one course of action to improve the situation. The program of instruction for the 2-week CBRN Defense Course (offered to non-CBRN Soldiers at most installations to prepare them for CBRN duties) is being rewritten to include more detail. However, regardless of how much the CBRN course is improved, it is highly unlikely that a non-CBRN Soldier would ever be able to provide a company of warfighters with the level of expertise needed to improve CBRN readiness.

With the changing force structure and the fielding of the dismounted reconnaissance sets, kits, and outfits, the Chemical Regiment needs to clearly identify the roles and capability differences between the hazard response (HR) platoons and the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosives response teams (CRTs). Colonel Thamar Main, the division chief of the Requirements Determination Division, Capabilities Development Integration Directorate, USACBRNS, stated, "TEU [technical escort unit] and HR units need to know what's expected of them. HR equals site assessment; CRT equals site exploitation. HR platoons have not been trained to be CRTs without EOD [explosive ordnance disposal], [but] that's not the major difference. If [it was the only major difference], the EOD community could argue that they don't need to be organic to a CRT and could opt to provide any HR platoon with an EOD slice for a specific mission. That would be a huge mistake based on my observations commanding a TEU battalion. It took a lot of effort to get the EOD teams within CRTs functioning as part of the CRT, especially in exploitation tasks. Once we decide what tasks belong solely to CRTs, we can think about more fully institutionalizing what has previously been contractor-provided training for CRTs."

This clear delineation between the two CBRN elements would help alleviate the confusion of maneuver commanders who have these assets assigned to their task organization for specific missions. For example, a non-CBRN commander who previously had a CRT assigned for a mission may expect an HR platoon to be able to destroy munitions discovered during reconnaissance or provide site analysis and chain of custody for exploitation. Unlike a CRT, the HR platoon is not equipped to handle munitions or to conduct exploitation operations.

Although the ability to provide smoke (obscuration) is an Army capability, given the history of the Chemical Regiment as the primary provider of smoke on the battlefield, the future of obscuration was a key discussion at the seminar. The need for a smoke capability has been voiced at our combat training centers. We need a holistic obscuration strategy to cover the requirements of the entire scope of Army missions. Driven by an operational needs statement from the XVTII Airborne Corps, the 82d Airborne Division is currently fielding smoke vehicles and it has requested training on the use, tactics, and employment of smoke. The 82d Airborne Division used CBRN reconnaissance platoons within the brigade support battalions to conduct a three-tiered M56E2 Coyote Smoke Generator System training program that included new equipment training, training and licensing of the Driver's Vision Enhancement System, and training on doctrine and tactics (provided by the Capabilities Development Integration Directorate, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri).

Major Robert Heffner, the 82d Airborne Division CBRN officer, believes that this equipment fielding and training will be a combat multiplier for the division. He stated, "The capability that the M56E2 Coyote Smoke Generator will bring to the 82d Airborne Division and their global response force unique mission set will help achieve positive effects for protection of both forward operating base operations and tactical maneuver when properly synchronized with intelligence data. I believe that, based on the constraints and nature of the operational needs statement, which was fulfilled with the M56E2 fielding, the brigade engineer battalions are best suited to possess the obscuration capability. The brigade engineer battalions are organic units to each of the 82d Airborne Division brigade combat teams that will be tasked with the global response force mission and will conduct the majority of the operations that will require obscuration. I also believe that, given the talent and ingenuity of the paratroopers within the division, there will be many new uses and standard operating procedures developed over the course of the next few years."

The successful "How We Support the Fight" Seminar mostly exposed what we already knew: Difficult challenges lie ahead for the Chemical Regiment. The Chemical Regiment needs to ensure that the Army has an expeditionary CBRN capability covering all aspects of detection, defense, mitigation, exploitation, and elimination across the force. Bringing these challenges to the attention of senior leaders and commanders across the Regiment will assist in codifying solutions for the current CBRN readiness capabilities gaps across the Army. If visibility remains on the due-outs that were generated from the discussions and if resources are committed to the solutions, this seminar could prove to be a monumental success for the Chemical Regiment and a turning point for CBRN readiness across the Army.

Major Wright serves as a training developer at USACBRNS, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He holds a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Pikeville, Pikeville, Kentucky.
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Author:Wright, Glen A.
Publication:CML Army Chemical Review
Date:Dec 22, 2015
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