By Sgt. Brytani Wheeler, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
TWENTYNINE PALMS, California -- Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense Marines with Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 39 taught detailed aircraft decontamination (DAD) training to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 267, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 164 and Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron [VMFA(AW)] 225 at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., Jan. 25.
The Marines conducted DAD as an introductory-level event for squadrons in 3rd MAW, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Rafael Trevino, MAG-39 CBRN officer. Trevino explained that each squadron should have reconnaissance, surveillance and decontamination (RSD) teams trained within their units. This training provides an opportunity for teams to conduct the physical decontamination themselves while CBRN Marines provide the equipment and gear – enabling each unit’s Marines to wash down the aircraft in an instructional environment.
Each participating squadron provided at least 10 Marines to conduct the training on their aircraft and received guidance from eight CBRN Marines who have expertise in the decontamination process.
“It’s important for the squadrons to get this training because logistically there are not enough CBRN Marines to do a whole decontamination,” said Staff Sgt. Garret Arrieta, MAG-39 CBRN chief. “We are reducing friction and stress in training so it pays off in the real world.”
DAD is a five station, five-stage process consisting of a primary rinse, application of the decontamination soap, scrub of the aircraft, a second rinse from top to bottom and front to back, and a final check with a chemical agent detector.
“Today, we are doing one station with all five stages in this one location as an introductory-level event,” said Trevino. “It’s equipment and personnel intensive and requires a large area to execute.”
In a full-scale DAD, the aircraft would move 50 meters between each station and the process could take several hours. If the aircraft does not pass the monitoring stage with the detection equipment it would be recycled back to the beginning and restart the process.
Arrieta explained the importance of this training for everyone involved with the aircraft in order to be ready to support the ground combat element at any time.
“The mission can’t stop,” said Arrieta. “We have to get birds in the air.”
Marines participating recognized the necessity of the training so they can work more efficiently in the future should they need to execute a full decontamination process. These Marines will now serve as subject matter experts on aircraft decontamination and train other squadron personnel.
“Our CBRN training is pretty rare,” said Sgt. April Saelao, F/A-18 engine mechanic and quality assurance representative with VMFA(AW)-225. “For a lot of us senior Marines, this is our first encounter with any kind of training like this but I think it’s pretty vital in the day and age we live in now because some type of contact will be more likely than none.”
Leadership from the units also noticed the significance of the training which prepared Marines for whatever may come in future operations.
“It’s exceptionally relevant because Marines are going to fall back on their training,” said Lt. Col. Richard Allain, VMFA(AW)-225 commanding officer. “Having confidence in the gear and actually knowing how to do [the process], given the present climate and some of the munitions our enemies may want to employ against us, lets us know [we are] ready to face up to whatever the nation may call upon us to do at a moment’s notice.”
Marines from HMLA-267, VMM-164 and VMFA(AW)-225 now have RSD teams with first-hand knowledge of the process to decontaminate their aircraft from a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear foreign substance.
“CBRN readiness is very important for the Marine Corps at this point,” said Trevino. “We have a number of adversaries out there who we know are capable of executing this type of attack, and we know they have shown they’d be willing to use this type of attack. Just because it hasn’t happened to one of our units in our very recent history doesn’t mean it can’t happen in the future so we need to be prepared for whatever might come. This type of training ensures we’re prepared for that.”