The Wisconsin Army National Guard has a new tool in its arsenal to combat nuclear, biological and chemical threats that pose a hazard to the American people here at home as well as friendly forces on the battlefield around the globe.
The Hartford, Wisconsin-based 457th Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Company fielded four new M1135 Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicles (NBCRVs) in late 2015, and since Jan. 4, approximately 20 Soldiers from the unit have been at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, learning how the highly specialized piece of equipment works.
Their training will continue until mid-March, when they become fully qualified on the vehicle and begin integrating it into the 457th’s mission. That mission strikes at the very heart of the National Guard’s unique role as the military’s first responder in the homeland and the Army’s primary combat reserve. In the event of a nuclear, biological or chemical incident, the NBCRVs and the 457th CBRN Company would be in high demand.
Checking in at more than $4.5 million each and roughly 28 tons, the NBCRV is a fully sealed laboratory on wheels designed to enter NBC environments, detect threats and collect information on potential NBC contaminants.
Their arrival to Wisconsin is a game-changer for the 457th, which until this point operated primarily as a basic decontamination and reconnaissance unit. Now the unit will be able to leverage the advanced capabilities of the NBCRV’s analysis equipment without ever leaving the safety of the sealed vehicle.
The unit’s leadership sees many uses for the vehicles ranging from supporting the Wisconsin National Guard’s CBRN Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) in a domestic environment where the unit can use the new technology to detect chemical agents like anthrax, or other synthetic agents, radiation from nuclear or dirty bomb threats, or biological hazards like a smallpox attack. The unit could fill a similar role in a deployed environment on the battlefield if the nation’s enemies were to employ chemical or biological agents against civilians or military personnel. That versatility is representative of the National Guard’s unique dual-mission to serve the people of the state and nation here at home, while simultaneously possessing the ability to bring those capabilities to bear in a deployed combat environment.
Each vehicle is equipped with systems that can collect ground and air samples for testing and analysis – all in a fully sealed, climate-controlled environment. It has an on-board weather monitoring system and is equipped with ground penetrating probes and even a gloved hand that a surveyor inside the vehicle can use to operate equipment mounted on the outside of the vehicle, the NBC-RV is equipped to deal with a worst-case scenario NBC event. The vehicle’s seal and an air purification system protects the four-Soldier crew from NBC contamination and onboard storage systems allow the unit to take samples with them from the battlefield for further analysis.
The unit’s four NBCRVs are the only such vehicles in Wisconsin and they are among the few in the National Guard. Their arrival resulted in the 457th reorganizing the unit into a different configuration.
The unit’s newly christened mounted reconnaissance platoon will use the NBCRVs, while the remainder of the unit will be organized into dismounted reconnaissance teams, which can also collect samples and insert them into the vehicle for transport and analysis.
The vehicle and its weapons system are designed for defensive purposes only, but it packs a punch. The vehicle uses a remote weapons system that allows the vehicle’s crew to remain completely inside the armored vehicle while using a screen and a joystick to engage targets. The remote weapons system even allows them to run simulated training scenarios via a computer program. The Soldiers spent Feb. 16 on the range conducting weapons familiarization with the M2 .50-caliber machine gun mounted atop the vehicle for the first time.
“I was the first one in the chute, and I’ve got to say, it was pretty awesome,” 1st Lt. Jeremy Philipps, the 457th’s mounted reconnaissance platoon leader said after firing the weapons system for the first time.
Having the vehicles will change the entire unit’s training focus, he said.
“I think as a whole, our whole unit was always looked at as (decontamination), so when this stuff came about it was a complete mind change for us,” he said. “This is going to be something completely different in training and maybe some new people that want to come on board. Overall, I think everyone is excited about it, and we’re just waiting to see where it goes and where it takes us.”
Philipps said the vehicles’ addition makes the unit more ready, relevant and ultimately deployable.
“I think specifically for our unit, this means deployability,” he said. “The fact is, I don’t think the Army is going to give us this kind of equipment that costs this much money, if they didn’t have plans for us and plans to do something with it.
Lt. Col. Scott Southworth, the commander of the 641st Troop Command Battalion – the 457th’s higher headquarters, agreed.
“It’s a defining moment not only for the 457th, but for the entire Wisconsin Guard,” Southworth said “Because it allows us to meet the challenges of a high optempo environment with the right equipment, the best training and the best people. If there is a need for a high-speed chemical company to engage in a real-world fight, the 457th is the unit that should go.”
Sgt. Kayleen Reetz, a surveyor in one of the new vehicles, is responsible for monitoring what the vehicle detects. She said the NBCRV’s arrival to the 457th has had a significant impact on the unit’s recruiting and retention. She recently re-enlisted for another six-year term herself in order to work with the vehicles.
Reetz and the rest of the platoon engaged targets in a variety of scenarios using the vehicle’s weapons system during the familiarization training. They zeroed their weapons on stationary targets, engaged targets from a stationary position and eventually were engaging multiple moving targets while their own vehicle was moving.
“It’s not easy when that target is moving and you’re moving,” she said. “Because if you have the pedal speed to low or too high or you’re not moving fast enough or too slow...you have to find that sweet spot.”
The training and instruction during the 10-week qualification course has been superb, Reetz said. It began with learning how to drive the vehicle, then learning about the onboard systems and detection equipment. The training will ultimately culminate in multi-day field training exercise that requires the Soldiers to test all of the skills they have learned in scenario-based environments.