US Army, February 12, 2016 - CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait by Staff Sgt. Ian Kummer – A line of up-armored trucks rumbled onto the airfield. The vehicles surrounded a landed CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
Dozens of Soldiers in full protective gear and protective masks swarmed the helicopter. Over the next several hours they comb over the whole aircraft from front to back, hosing and scrubbing down the 30 meter hull inch by inch.
These Soldiers had just completed a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear decontamination drill. In an era of asymmetric warfare in which even non-state actors such as ISIS are employing increasingly-effective chemical weapons, safeguarding American forces from attack remains a top priority.
The exercise was coordinated between Army National Guard Soldiers of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade and Army Reserve Soldiers of the 366th Chemical Company at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Feb. 9.
The 366th, a unit based out of Savannah, Georgia, spent the afternoon practicing decontamination procedures with a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from 1st Battalion, 168th Aviation Regiment, 40th CAB. Though the focus of the day’s training was a helicopter, CBRN specialists could potentially be called upon to decontaminate any vehicle, equipment, or personnel exposed to CBRN hazards.
“This isn’t just for aviation, its support for anyone to decontaminate equipment in any situation,” said Sgt. Ashely Bang, a CBRN specialist from Santa Clarita, California, in Company D, 1st Battalion, 140th Aviation Regiment, 40th CAB.
Prior to the 366th Chemical Company and 40th CAB deploying to Kuwait – April and December respectively – many of the junior Soldiers had not experienced in-depth training like this.
“This is my first time deconning an aircraft,” said Spc. Nicholas Groves, a Phoenix resident and the CBRN specialist for F Company, 1st 1-168 AVN, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade.
CBRN exercises like this one are just a part of an airfield’s overall pre-accident plan, which covers a wide range of emergencies including fires and crash-landings.
“This is where experience comes into play,” said Sgt. Dustin Wallace, a Lexington, Tennessee resident and an air traffic controller with the 1-168 AVN. “We have to have a plan so even unexperienced personnel know what to do.”
Groves said. Groves explained that if an actual contaminated helicopter landed on the airfield like during the exercise, other aircraft would need to be rerouted to avoid being affected as well.
“When the rotors are spinning, that’s kicking contamination everywhere,” Groves said.
Fortunately, the pre-accident plan provides a solution: land an affected aircraft in a segregated location.
“We have alternate areas a quarantined helicopter can land in,” Wallace said. “If an aircraft is contaminated and has no-where else to go, we aren’t going to turn them away.”
The 366th Chemical Company has four platoons. 1st Platoon provides mounted reconnaissance in Stryker vehicles. 2nd Platoon provides dismounted reconnaissance. 3rd platoon specializes in decontaminating heavy equipment. 4th Platoon specializes in decontaminating personnel.
“This vehicle brings wide-range reconnaissance,” said Spc. Ben Collins, a CBRN specialist from Lyons, Georgia, in 1st Platoon, 366th CBRN. “We can also pick up samples to send to [higher headquarters]. That would give them an idea of what the enemy is using, and pass on the information to friendly troops.
This CBRN exercise provided all involved Soldiers with improved familiarization of their roles in the event of an emergency.
“It’s not just a job, it’s what we do, and it’s what we enjoy doing,” said Staff Sgt. Henry Meza a CBRN specialist from Gonzales, California, with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 40th CAB.