FORT IRWIN, Calif. – The Army is looking at a world marked by regime changes and questionably controlled stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction while preparing itself for challenges that might lie ahead.
As part of this preparation, units from around the country assembled for training with 3-2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, in the harsh landscape of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., throughout the month of January.
This conventional warfare training is based on Army knowledge dating back to the Revolutionary War, but modernized from lessons learned during the war on terror. While at NTC, units are rewriting their procedures so they can be faster and safer in their response to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive threats.
“We need to be ready for that,” said Sgt. 1st Class Chris Bandel. “We need to know how to react. Not only do we need to understand the core fundamentals of CBRNE but all the new stuff that’s out there.”
Bandel, a Spokane, Wash., native is the CBRNE noncommissioned officer in charge for 3-2 SBCT, responsible for keeping the brigade commander informed on all CBRNE risks on the battlefield and the capabilities of his units to respond to them.
Bandel explained that in the decade after the Iraq invasion, decisions were made at all levels of the Army that affected the CBRNE mission. The Army removed many of the company-level CBRNE positions, leaving commanders without experts to maintain equipment, train teams, conduct annual training and give advice.
“The focus really hasn’t been on CBRNE because of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Bandel said. “There really wasn’t a whole lot of threat. We thought there was going into Iraq but it didn’t really pan out the way that we thought that it was going to.”
That reality is now beginning to change. The 3-2 SBCT is the first brigade to train at NTC with specialized teams from the 110th Chemical Battalion (Technical Escort) and the 3rd Explosive Ordnance Company, who are embedded with the combat battalions and directly engaged in the fight.
This is the first time that a stryker brigade can fight and secure an area while simultaneously exploiting and clearing high-value CBRNE targets, Bandel explained.
This integration of assets on the battlefield is so different from the norm that 3-2 SBCT and their attached units are completely rewriting their playbooks.
“We’re showing the maneuver side of the house that we’re a multiplier, that we can break out of our traditional role and help them,” said Capt. Corbyn Duke, a Yukon, Okla., native and the CRT 2 Team Leader for 9th Chem. Co., 110th Chem. Bn. (TE).
Duke explained that specialized units called CBRNE response teams, or CRTs have historically conducted that role, but only after combat arms units had secured the area and reported that there was a CBRNE threat. Now, these CRTs, consisting of 15 soldiers tasked to secure, exploit and clean a site, are learning to do their delicate work during the fight.
“It allows the [commanders] to evaluate what they need to do, [to decide] if they need to shift their focus; it’s an expertise that the actual maneuver guys in an infantry unit don’t have,” Duke said.
While at NTC, the CRTs assisted the brigade in a scenario clearing a university where a professor was forced to make simulated CBRNE agents for an insurgent group. The CRT was able to clean the site and secure enough evidence to prosecute the criminals.
In a world where failing states and rogue insurgencies might posses weapons of mass destruction, the Army is looking to be prepared to move in and quickly neutralize any CBRNE threat before it gets out of control and NTC is helping prepare them.