CBRN Exercise at the National Training Center (NTC) in Vught, The Netherlands

By Sgt. Calvin Deinum, Platoon Sergeant of the multifunctional CBRN platoon of the 11th Armored Engineer Battalion from Wezep, The Netherlands


My name is Calvin Deinum, and I am the platoon Sergeant of the Multifunctional CBRN Platoon of the 11th Armored Engineer Battalion from Wezep, The Netherlands. This platoon is qualified as “multifunctional” because it was born from a fusion of a CBRN Reconnaissance and Sampling (DIM/SIBCRA) Platoon and a Decontamination Platoon. Among other things, this unique platoon can conduct both mounted reconnaissance, using Fuchs vehicles, and dismounted reconnaissance. It can also collect samples by means of hand-held devices and sampling kits. The decontamination of vehicles, personnel and infrastructure is also part of the platoon’s mission. Within this Platoon, I am in charge of the training programs. I have been working in the field of CBRN for almost 6 years and have had the opportunity to participate in various live CBRN exercises. The more notable of these include the Live Agent Training in Vyskov Czech Republic, the Exercise Precise Response in Suffield in Canada, the Toxic Agent Training at Fort Leonard Wood, USA as well as several trainings at the ABC-Abwehr Schule in Sonthofen, Germany. These experiences are crucial in my work to develop training programs for my own platoon, as they give me ideas for actionable scenarios, and allow me to learn from international first responders’ teams to improve our own CBRN response mechanisms. This is particularly true for the exercise I organised at the National Training Centre (NTC) in Vught, The Netherlands earlier this year, which is the topic of this article. Due to the COVID-19 crisis and the related restrictions on gatherings, as well as other measures implemented by our government, most of our live trainings planned for 2020 were postponed or cancelled. Therefore, the exercise described in this article is only the second live training since the beginning of the pandemic outbreak in February 2020. The objective of this exercise was to improve our platoon’s response to chemical, biological and radiological threats.

About the National Training Centre in Vught, The Netherlands

The premises at the National Training Center located in Vught offer an unprecedented level of realism to the trainings. In terms of indoor settings, the Center includes, among other things, a mock two-floor metro station with escalators; two trains; a bar and café; an airplane fuselage; laboratories; and a post office. As for outdoor settings, it exhibits structures like collapsed buildings, a highway, and a market square. As each setting is unique, it is easy to organize specific targeted trainings on scenarios focusing on key aspects of simulated incidents. Due to this versatility, the center has hosted many international CBRNE C-IED EOD trainings, including the NCT PRO Trainings Europe in 2018.

About the exercise

The exercise scenario was inspired by a mission in Syria: a civil war broke out and two parties were involved in the use of chemical, biological and radiological agents. Among the many settings available, we chose to focus on the train wagons, the chemical and biological laboratories, the restaurant, the exploded building, the subway station and the hospital. It was quite challenging to come up with a 4-day training that could combine the use of the various settings mentioned above into one consistent narrative that would keep the participants in a single mindset for the duration of the entire exercise. The key to this, for me, was to create links between the scenarios and give consistency to the exercise by sharing certain elements (such as photos, addresses, names or other information) that would lead participants to the right place from one day to another.

Among the various scenarios developed during the exercise, one of them took place at the junction of two train wagons. The imagined local authorities found these wagons to be illegal and asked us to look for CBRN threats. The team detected traces of Sarin coming from a leak in a few barrels stored in one of the trains. A parcel filled with empty radiological source holders was also placed in one of the wagons, along with two other boxes full of mortar shells.

Another scenario took place in one of the laboratories, where fumes were made to leak out, indicating an illegal production of synthetized Sarin. The main objective for the participant was to detect, identify and sample the chemical agent. In another laboratory, two other agents were synthesized: Botulin Toxin and Ricin. Both were easily detected thanks to a RAID biological test strip.

One further scenario depicted a biological incident in a restaurant. Several people were killed or wounded by food poisoning with the Ricin used in previous scenarios, as well as by a poisonous snail mixed in with the food.

There was also a focus on radiological detection using radiological sources (Cesium-137 and Cobalt-60, owned by the Dutch CBRN School) that were detected thanks to our Fuchs vehicles. Following the explosion of a building, the participants had to measure the radiological dose present in the environment and detect the sources to eventually neutralise them.

The two last scenarios focused on responses to chemical threats. The first one was inspired by the 1995 Tokyo subway sarin attack and the second one was located in an hospital, contaminated by the wounded who were brought in. In one of the trains, a suitcase was hidden with a disperser device, including a small container with Sarin simulant. Further, in the hospital, bed sheets and the ambulance were also contaminated with Sarin simulant. The groups were tasked to investigate the contaminations and take samples for the lab.

Overall, the trainings were very effective: the teams worked hard to coordinate and plan their response, find the information and take good samples. There is of course always room for improvement. For example, by going through the scenario too quickly certain participants missed some contaminated areas or some critical information. This, however, is what the trainings are for: to provide lessons learned for future exercises or incidents. By comparison, one aspect that was done exceptionally well was the manipulation of collected samples. This training also gave us the opportunity to test and get used to new suits and equipment.

I received good feedback from the groups with regards to the different scenarios, which is always pleasant, and motivates me further to deliver such trainings, which are critical elements in fostering cooperation and developing knowledge of CBRN response.

Sgt. Calvin Deinum started his career 12 years ago, when he was 19, at the Dutch NCO School. After 1.5 years of training he began his career as tank commander of a Leopard 2a6. He served this position for 2 years, but due to budget cuts, The Netherlands sold all their tanks. He then became instructor for military basic training for 3 years. Sgt. Calvin Deinum is currently serving as a CBRN specialist since 2015. He first served as commander of a CBRN Fuchs vehicle and since 2018 as platoon sergeant.