Priorities of readiness.
Threats are constantly changing and evolving, and the likelihood of facing a CBRN WMD scenario is increasing. It is no longer a matter of if a rogue state or other group acquires the capability and seizes an opportunity, but when. The days of considering a chemical weapon attack to be nearly impossible are gone; such an attack occurred in Syria. Furthermore, concerns about the potential actions of North Korea have certainly not decreased. Iran is also developing nuclear weapons. The total number of terrorist groups and their potential resources is never a finite quantity. The United States has no shortage of enemies around the globe. It would be irresponsible of us not to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Are we ready? Unfortunately, no. Army and Marine Corps training requirements often exceed the available time on the training calendar. Commanders prioritize and focus on what they see as the most likely threats for the mission and the area of operations. Their formations must be ready to shoot, move, and communicate to engage and destroy the enemy. Soldiers and Marines are supposed to be prepared to do this in a CBRN environment.
We encounter similar issues in the U.S. Marine Corps. An infantry battalion has one CBRN officer (chief warrant officer) and two enlisted CBRN noncommissioned officers (NCOs). The CBRN readiness of a Marine Corps infantry battalion is a direct reflection of the work ethic of the CBRN officer and the relationship forged with the battalion operations officer. It takes perseverance and consistency to include CBRN training in a battalion campaign plan. The Defense Readiness Reporting System provides an honest and fair assessment of the CBRN readiness of the current battalion. Additionally, regiment and division CBRN officers are carefully working at each battalion to ensure that they are within standard. The battalion CBRN officer and CBRN Soldiers work diligently in other areas more often than in their own specialty.
Let's fix it. First, we need to take the sometimes under-utilized CBRN assets away from the battalions. This would allow for better prioritization of training. We need to take CBRN resources and put them into a brigade level cell or a stand-alone unit owned at the division or corps level. In the former scenario, brigade commanders would retain closer control and have an internal asset to assist with training in garrison and the CBRN resources could be pushed where they were needed--in the operational environment. The latter would be tasked in garrison as a training resource to be scheduled and used much like a range or simulator facility. Downrange there would be a great deal of flexibility to put these specialized assets to work where they were needed most. Either way, the burden would still be on commanders to integrate CBRN onto the training calendar. However, viewing CBRN as an outside resource may be enough of a paradigm shift to increase the implementation of training. It would certainly increase the productive use of CBRN Soldiers and their specialized skills, and units would be more likely to conduct training when it had been scheduled on the calendar with an outside unit.
With the array of threats facing us now and in the foreseeable future, CBRN training needs to be a high priority for readiness. Our previous efforts to correct the issue as an Army and a Corps have not been successful. A new approach is required. Perhaps one of the approaches outlined here will be the answer; perhaps not. Look around your formations, and talk to your fellow leaders regarding a new way forward. Help is needed to create a more effective model that puts unit readiness where it needs to be--fully capable of meeting conventional and unconventional threats on today's battlefield.
Captain Upchurch is currently a student in the CBRN Captain's Career Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He is to report to 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kansas, in November. He holds a bachelor's degree in English.
Chief Warrant Officer Two White is currently a student in the CBRN Captain's Career Course at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He is assigned to the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, California. He holds a bachelor's degree in agribusiness.