Marines' Chemical-Biological Unit Will Guard State of Union Speech

The U.S. Capitol Police have requested help from the Marine Corps’ Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBIRF) at next month’s State of the Union address. CBIRF will be at the ready to respond to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive (CBRNE) attack while President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the members of the U.S. Supreme Court, most of the Cabinet, almost all members of both houses of Congress, and other VIPs are inside the U.S. Capitol for the event.

"CBIRF was selected to support Capitol Police because we can assist in extracting victims from the Capitol in the event of a CBRNE attack during the State of the Union," CBIRF’s commanding officer, Col. T.X. Hammes, told HUMAN EVENTS. "CBIRF is currently the only DoD organization that can send large numbers of personnel downrange for the specific purpose of finding, extracting and decontaminating large numbers of personnel."

CBIRF, which has about 400 members and is based at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, Md., also sent a team to the last State of the Union Address. "The unit was pre-positioned within response distance," said 1st Lt. Paul Cabellon, CBIRF’s public affairs officer.

Hammes referred other questions about CBIRF’s participation at the State of the Union to the Capitol Police. "We do not discuss our security for events," said Capitol Police spokeswoman Officer Jessica Gissubel.

CBIRF is an unusual military unit. Its young Marines are trained to risk their lives to rescue people and clean up after an attack rather than prevent one or launch an attack themselves. At a presentation at CBIRF on December 13, Lt. Col. Scott A. Graham said, "CBIRF was established in response to the sarin gas attack in Japan in 1995."

CBIRF personnel have supported various events over the years and sometimes train others. "Some of our folks responded to the centennial bombing during the Atlanta Olympics," said Graham. At domestic events, "We do what the local civilian agency wants us to do. We don’t come in and take over," he said. "We have 123 personnel who can be ready to go with their equipment within one hour, and 200 who can follow-on in four hours. We have very fit young people who are aggressive and organized."

"We’re going to be supporting the [Zacarias] Moussaoui trial when it starts in Alexandria," he said.

At least some of members of CBIRF could be heading to the Persian Gulf soon, said Cabellon.

CBIRF was called in to clean up some of the office buildings in the Capitol complex after last year’s anthrax attacks. "A contractor told Congress that it would take them nine weeks to clean up Sen. [Tom] Daschle’s office," said Cabellon, who comes from a family of distinguished military service (both of his grandfathers were on the Bataan death march). "So Congress called us. We did it in two-and-a-half days."

With the exception of a few important items and an American flag, "we had to destroy everything in Sen. Daschle’s office," said Graham. "We kept the flag, irradiated it, and returned it. I am proud to say that we eliminated the letter to Sen. [Patrick] Leahy from circulation."

Capt. Matthew Tracy, commanding officer of CBIRF’s reaction force, said that his Marines typically work from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., five days a week. Said Cabellon, "After you have been training for an hour in one of those suits we wear to protect ourselves from contaminants, there are pools of perspiration in your boots." Asked to describe what he likes best about being a Marine officer, Tracy replied, "Having the trust and confidence placed in me to be responsible for such a unit and its members."