CAMP HANSEN, Japan --
Language barriers can be difficult to overcome, especially when it comes to detecting and neutralizing deadly contaminants. That was the challenge for members of the Japanese Self Defense Force and U.S. Marines during a unique joint study here at Camp Hansen, July 28-30.
All participants in the study had a role in the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear occupational field, which Marines simply call CBRN. The field involves identifying and taking care of hazardous substances, such as nerve gas, radiation and poison. The deadly nature of CBRN requires sharp attention to detail and careful communication. During the study, the partnered forces sought to determine if Japanese and American service members could combine personnel and equipment to the delicate tasks CBRN entails.
“We all don’t speak the same language, but we all speak CBRN,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christopher J. Joy, a CBRN defense officer with 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force.
The two forces started the combined integrated capabilities demonstration with classes out in the field, led by personnel from each unit, and with a single Japanese interpreter. Marines taught techniques on dismounted reconnaissance and personnel decontamination lines while the Japanese taught the Marines how to conduct reconnaissance and decontamination from their vehicles.
One of the most important issues discussed during the joint study was the equipment being used by both forces. The Marines demonstrated and compared their backpack sprayers and newer, handheld detectors. The Japanese displayed their six-wheeled, reconnaissance vehicle like a giant multi tool. The operators can detect contaminates, cordon off the affected area with warning flags, and pick up samples with a robotic arm all without getting outside of the vehicle.
The purpose of the study was to identify how 3rd Marine Division can bolster local Japanese forces in CBRN operations.
“It’s a chance to bring our strengths together to fill in the gaps,” said Joy, a Prescott, Arizona, native who has been in CBRN for 22 years. “They have capabilities we don’t have; we have capabilities they don’t have.”
The Japanese have advantages when it comes to CBRN reconnaissance and decontamination from vehicles, explained Joy. One of the biggest advantages the Japanese have is with area and route decontamination. They can use their type 3 vehicle to decontaminate a road with pressurized sprayers attached to a giant tank on the back of the truck, and decontaminate the reconnaissance vehicle they used to cordon off the route area.
Although the Japanese have CBRN advantages on roads, not all contaminated areas will be easily negotiable terrain.
“We could definitely put together a better CBRN team than either of us could do individually,” said Lance Cpl. Jordan A. Nace, a CBRN Defense Specialist with CBRN Platoon, Headquarters Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III MEF.
“The Marine Corps is really good at dismounted CBRN reconnaissance and personnel decontamination,” said Nace, a Lititz, Pennsylvania, native. “We can use their vehicle to help us cover greater distances for reconnaissance and, if need be, we can dismount from the vehicle and conduct further reconnaissance.”
Nace said the Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Decontamination teams are the real benefactors of the joint capabilities. As a CBRN Defense Specialist, Nace trains RSD teams within other units to handle CBRN reconnaissance, surveillance, and decontamination in a real world scenario.
During the culminating Combined Integrated Capabilities Demonstration event, the RSD team with Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III MEF participated in the joint study alongside the Japanese.
Japanese and Marine CBRN personnel rode to a simulated contamination site in full protective gear, identified the hazards with detectors, and cordoned the affected area with visual warning signs. They reacted swiftly to the mock scenario, calling in the decontamination truck to spray down the area.
Afterwards, members of the reconnaissance and decontamination units ran through an integrated decontamination line.
The integrated team cooperated mostly with visual symbols, hand gestures and limited phrases in English through muffled gasmasks.
When speaking on the challenge between different languages, Nace said, “Once you have a pretty good knowledge of CBRN, regardless if it’s another language you pretty much understand what each other is trying to say.”
Nace explained his previous experience with Korean CBRN personnel helped him build a base with foreign equipment. The languages may be different but the variation between equipment and standard operating procedures is small.
“Every time you get the chance to work with another guy who knows CBRN, you’re going to learn new things,” Nace said.
Joy also expressed the importance of study with other units. Seeing how something is done from one side can leave a unit with a narrow perspective on the subject. Being with the Japanese for the experience helped the Marines gain a better understanding of CBRN and how both units can benefit each other.
“I hope this is the first of many events like this,” said Joy. “This is what makes our Marine Corps better and makes our Marines better at their job.”