Chemical and Biological Incident Response Force
Inside Special Operations Series
Copyright 2009 by the Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
Age Level: Early Middle School
In March 1995, the whole world watched in horror as Japanese civilians were killed and terrorized by an act of chemical warfare. Members of Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese cult, released a deadly gas called sarin in the city of Tokyo. Targeting the Tokyo train system, five cult members carried packages of sarin into five different trains, punctured them to let the gas escape, and then got off at the next stop. Twelve victims died, and 5,500 other people were sickened or otherwise affected by the poisonous gas.
In the United States, a Marine Corps commandant, General Charles C. Krulak, went to his commander and asked what the Marine Corps’ Pacific Command could do to assist the Japanese. The answer was brief and disappointing: “We’ve got nothing.” Determined to do better than that, General Krulak established the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, or CBIRF, the following July. By April 1996, the new force was operational.
According to author Chris Seiple, CBIRF’s unique and fleet-footed organization, structure, and goals made it a “revolutionary organization.” Created out of existing U.S. Marine forces and resources, CBIRF’s responsibilities include reconaissance, detection, decontamination, medical, security, and service support for managing crisis situations at home and abroad. CBIRF’s stated mission is to “forward-deploy and/or respond to a credible threat of a Chemical, Biolgical, Radiological, Nuclear, or High-Yield explosive (CBRNE) incident in order to assist local, state, or federal agencies and Unified Combat Commanders in the conduct of consequence management operations.” The official CBIRF Web site goes on to say that its goals include “provding capabilities for agent detection and identification; casualty search, rescue, and personnel decontamination; and emergency medical care and stabilization of contaminated personnel.”
A simpler description of CBIRF’s mission is that it is a special marine unit of first responders. It is meant to be a well-trained, quick-moving group of soldiers, doctors, and scientists who can be mobilized to detect, prevent, or respond to terrorist threats or catastrophes that involve biological weapons, chemical weapons, or nuclear agents. Although responding to terrorist attacks and catastrophic accidents are different missions, both scenarios require very similar skills. In addition, when some sort of event happens, like the anthrax attacks of 2001, it is not always clear right away whether it was an attack or an accident. CBIRF is authorized to respond to either one so that no time is lost in containing the danger and reducing the risks to civilians.
In our current chaotic, destabilized, and threatening global environment, organizations like CBIRF that have multiple roles are absolutely critical. In the following chapters, we will look at how the group is organized, how it operates, the men and women who make it up, and what its future may be.