The Defense Department last year stood up the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive consequence management response force in order to beef up the nation’s ability to respond to such attacks.
The first unit now numbers between 4,500 and 5,000 personnel. Two more units will be begin operations in 2010 and 2011, said Capt. Michael Collins, chief of staff for the joint task force for civil support.
Members from all four services comprise CCMRF and participants rotate in and out during dwell times. Last year the engineering capability came from the Navy and this year it comes from an Air Force squadron, Collins said. It is under the leadership of the San Antonio, Texas-based Joint Force Land Component Command, U.S. Army North.
The Marine Corps has a unit with similar capabilities — the Chemical Biological Incident Response Force, or CBIRF — but the new organization will be nearly 40 times larger and can perform large-scale logistics tasks that would otherwise exhaust CBIRF, officials said.
In an emergency, CCMRF would conduct search-and-rescue missions, extract casualties or decontaminate victims after a nuclear, chemical or biological attack. The unit is also skilled in triage — prioritizing the treatment of the seriously injured.
The unit does not have its own equipment, but has access to ambulances, bulldozers and a myriad of other vehicles and gear used by the military services.
It would take the force between 48 and 96 hours to arrive. Although if there is a known terrorist threat, units may prepare before an attack and be ready to deploy sooner, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told reporters on a visit to a training mission.
Last year the force was criticized for allegedly training soldiers in the use of tasers and other crowd-control devices, which the Defense Department denied. Civil libertarians also expressed concerns about an active-duty military force carrying out law enforcement duties on U.S. soil, which is forbidden under the Posse Comitatus Act.
Collins, however, said such concerns were unjustified. The unit does not have a law enforcement mission. “If lawlessness started to erupt, if there were concerns about rioters, we would turn to the state and say ‘we need the National Guard to provide security."