Defence Watch Analysis

By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

Keeping skilled personnel is always a challenge for most organizations, let alone a specialist unit such as the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU) based in Trenton.

As part of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM), CJIRU has the job of providing a national response to chemical, biological and radioactive threats, whether it be tracking down and dealing with a weapon of mass destruction or collecting and cataloging evidence that might be used in court to prosecute terrorists for creating or setting off such a device. It also conducts detection, sampling and identification of a full range of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear hazards as well as providing advice to senior commanders and government officials in that speciality area.

But CJIRU has been losing some of its skilled operators and was facing a situation where it would have lost even more trained personnel.

That’s because Canadian Forces personnel would leave their parent trade or military occupation while working for CJIRU. Eventually, however, the parent MOC would require the individuals to return. The result: CJIRU was home to operators who built up unique skills with the unit, only to see them leave at a later date.

The solution? Create a new occupation in the Canadian Forces; that of Chemical, Biological, Radiological Nuclear Operator. CBRN Operator is now its own trade as of January 1.

With the creation of the CBRN Operator occupation, individuals will be able to remain in this specialty trade for longer periods of time.

The issue of retaining skilled personnel had come up when I spent several days at CFB Suffield with the unit in 2007 (then it was called the Joint Nuclear Biological and Chemical Defence Company. Its name was officially changed to the CJIRU in September 2007)

The issue was only made worse as the unit tended to attract experienced military personnel. “We’re looking for people who come with operational experience,” company Sgt.-Maj. Mike Bezeau explained at the time. “We tend to look for people who have demonstrated an ability to think on their feet.”

Being in the unit is challenging and rewarding work for those who don’t mind spending time in a CBRN suit, according to CJIRU personnel.

One individual I interviewed was Desi, an armored crewman, who decided to volunteer for the unit because of the unusual nature of the work. The 36-year-old sergeant (last name withheld for security reasons) told me he was intrigued by the various forms of chemical and biological agents  (anthrax, smallpox and the plague as  examples) he handled. As they say, to each his own.

At this point the CBRN Operator trade is open only to serving members of the Canadian Forces through the occupational transfer process.

Filling the vacancies in this new trade will be a phased process with the initial priority for occupational transfer going to those CBRN operators who are currently serving with the unit, or those who have served with CJIRU within the past two years and hold current qualifications in a number of specialities, according to CANSOFCOM officers.

Those include at least one of the following four CBRN Operator specialties:

·      SIBCRA (Sampling and Identification of Chemical, Biological, Radiological Agents

·      Decontamination

·      Surveillance Operator and

·      Command Centre Operator

CANSOFCOM is looking to fill the first billets in March and April of this year. The command has noted that the deadline for applications is February 19.

The changes affect only the CBRN Operator billets and does not affect support roles at the unit such as medical technician, signal operator or electronic-optronic technician. That remains unchanged.


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