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NEWS | June 26, 2019

Army Reserve Soldiers hone specialized skills during annual exercise

By Sgt. 1st Class Brent Powell 76th U.S. Army Reserve Operational Response Command

More than 500 Army Reserve Soldiers from around the country are busy conducting a variety of specialized training here focused on honing Soldiers chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) skill sets and obtaining unit validation.

The training is part of a three-week annual exercise known as Operation Desert Dragon that runs from June 3–24. Now in its second year, ODD is designed to be the premiere CBRN validation event for Army Reserve units, and serve as the culminating training event for premobilization and top tier priority units. 

“The facility here provides ideal training areas and scenarios that allow our Soldiers to practice detection, protection and decontamination in a complex and dynamic environment,” said Lt. Col. Luis Tinajero, commander, 468th Chemical Battalion, 209th Regional Support Group, 76th Operational Response Command. “The list of countries and militant organizations pursuing an offensive CBRN warfare program continues to increase, so it’s imperative we have and maintain the ability to sustain the fight in any environment including CBRN.”

Soon after Soldiers arrived and got their unit areas established and setup, they began their training. One of their first events was an in-depth, two-day, hands-on class taught by civilian chemists, biologists and scientists that showcased the various methods and items commonly used around the world to create biological and chemical weapons.

“We are here to provide these Soldiers with the right and left limits of the science behind the creation of chemical and biological weapons,” said Lance McEntire, chief, counter weapons of mass destruction branch. “We provide the expertise and knowledge and then let them figure out how to incorporate that into their Soldier tasks and training.”

One of the Soldiers who seemed to enjoy the unique learning opportunity was Army Reserve Spc. Mark Rolph, a chemical, radiological, biological and nuclear specialist and native of Corpus Christi, Texas assigned to the 340th Chemical Company, 450th Chemical Battalion, 209th RSG, 76th ORC. “This training was great,” he said. “I didn’t even know we had a training facility like this. I learned a lot about the specific dangers involved in chemical and biological labs and facilities, and overall it was a great refresher.”

Another Soldier participating in the training was Sgt. John Garthwait, a CBRN specialist and native of Livingston, Texas, assigned to the 340th Chem. Co., 450th Chem. Bn. “I’ve learned a lot here during these two days,” he said. “I’ve only done decontamination operations since I joined the Army, and this training is focused mainly on reconnaissance. Learning about this has been a lot of fun for me and my Soldiers, and I think this training would be helpful to any chemical Soldier regardless of their rank.”

In addition to attending classes, the Soldiers have also been practicing a variety of CBRN related tasks such as chemical reconnaissance, monitoring and decontamination missions throughout the vast desert and mountain lined terrain here.

One of those missions involved scouting a tunnel that was suspected of containing CBRN materials and weapons. The task required the Soldiers to don bulky chemical protective suits and self-contained breathing apparatuses while carrying a variety of gear such as flashlights, plastic containers, radiological monitors and radios into the tunnel. Once inside they had to assess the situation, photograph items of interest, collect intelligence and samples of the suspected agent.

“I was part of the initial entry team, helping my teammates with anything they needed,” said Spc. Adam Mahan, a CBRN specialist and native of Lebanon, Tennessee, assigned to the 327th Chem. Co., 92nd Chem. Bn., 415th Chem. Brigade. “This was my first time doing a mission like this with my unit. It was a great learning opportunity for me and I really enjoyed it.”

One of Mahan’s teammates was Spc. Evan Roberts, also a CBRN specialist and native of Maryville, Tennessee, assigned to the 327th Chem. Co., 92nd Chem. Bn. “The mission went pretty well,” he said. “We got on site and got setup pretty quickly and were able to complete our objective, not flawlessly, but fairly well. I’ve never had to take a wet soil sample before like I had to do in this mission, so that was good training for me. Overall, this has been a good learning experience and it’s definitely been beneficial to us because this is what we do.”

Whether learning about chemical and biological threats from a team of civilian experts, or conducting CBRN reconnaissance, decontamination or observation missions, those participating in ODD seemed to not only refresh their knowledge and skills here, but many gained new skills and knowledge as well.

“Dugway Proving Ground and Operation Desert Dragon has certainly provided my unit with the opportunity to re-learn and further develop our field craft as ‘Dragon Soldiers’,” said Tinajero. “It has provided everything from a challenging terrain to unique wildlife and unpredictable weather. It has given my veteran Soldiers a chance to build upon their prior field experience and my younger Soldiers a view of the contemporary practices and approaches to the CBRN mission in a very realistic and demanding field environment.”