The Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU) is probably one of the most unique in Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). Yes, one of these kids is not like the others. Like a lot of the operators who serve in it, CJIRU seems to have always been the odd man out, a small but vitally necessary and distinct capability.

CJIRU’s mission is “to provide specialized, timely, and agile chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defence (CBRN) response to the government of Canada.” As a unit, they predate CANSOFCOM, and while part of the regular forces, they were still very much the odd unit out. Prior to the stand-up of CANSOFCOM in 2006, CJIRU was know as the Joint Nuclear Biological and Chemical Defence Company (JNBCD), which was formed as an immediate response unit after the events of September 11th, 2001. Like all CANSOF units, CJIRU is joint and open to members from any service from either regular (active duty) or reserve forces (Government of Canada, 2016).

The three key tasks for CJIRU are to:

  • Respond to CBRN events in conjunction with other elements of the National Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) response team – This is a multi-department team including elements from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and many other federal and provincial departments (Government of Canada, 2016);
  • Provide an agile, integral part of the CANSOFCOM Immediate Reaction Task Force (IRTF) – The IRTF is led by JTF2 and primarily tasked with counterterrorism response both internationally and domestically (Government of Canada, 2016)
  • Specialized support to CAF expeditionary operations – Although part of CANSOF, CJIRU is the CBRN authority for the CAF as a whole, and is expected to support as required.

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As you can well imagine, CJIRU members are a little bit different. Originally largely filled out with military firefighters recruited for their HAZMAT and decontamination expertise, it has since grown to include members from many different Army, Navy, and Air Force trades. As one former CO put it, “CJIRU goes to the chess club or Star Trek club” to recruit its members (Day, 2009).

Considering all the rubber they wear, a bit of a fetish probably isn’t a bad thing either. This is where I always found them to be really different. The worst hits that you always dreaded were the dirty ones, where you would spend hours in full bunny suit and mask, sweating your bag off–and for CJIRU, this is every hit; it’s what they hope for instead of dread. To each their own, but it was definitely not my bag.

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An interest in science and technology are advertised as assets for prospective members. Like most CANSOF units, members must go through selection before being accepted for service, and if successful on the course, non-commissioned members will be transferred into the CBRN operator trade. This was an important step, as previously, members were still owned by their parent trades, and were often clawed back, taking their experience with them.

CBRN operators are employed in four main specialties (Pugliese, 2010):

  • Sampling and identification of chemical, biological, radiological agents (SIBCRA) – The first guys on the ground who go in with the assault force to identify any potential threats.
  • Decontamination – Basically like a giant car wash, only they make sure you really cleaned under your bag and between your cheeks.
  • Surveillance operator – They operate the surveillance and sensor vehicles when it’s too dangerous or less than ideal to send in an operator.
  • Command centre operator – Run-of-the-mill HQ guy.

Their training routinely involves handling of live CBRA agents, including anthrax, smallpox, blister, and nerve agents. It’s one of the first recruiting pitches guys will use to entice you, the opportunity to work with these. Again, no thanks. I’ve probably breathed in more than enough bio and chemical agents on my deployments; I don’t really need to do it on purpose. Decon is usually a bitch, too. One joint exercise we did with them involved going through the full-meal deal, decon and everything. We went through a series of showers and before you’re cleared, you have to get checked with some kind of magic wand that they run all over your naked, freezing body.

Although not considered one of the “maneuver units” in CANSOF, CJIRU nonetheless has a great deal of responsibility and is just as busy as any other unit in the command. They have had a great deal of experience in Jordan, working with the Jordanians in developing their CRBN capabilities (Lester, 2015), in addition to working with the many federal and provincial government departments and agencies in Canada to counter the threat.

So if wearing rubber and dealing with pathogens somewhere else besides the barracks is your thing, CJIRU isn’t a bad place to be. And of course despite some wishful thinking on the part of some people and politicians there isn’t likely to be a shortage of work in this area any time soon.

(Images courtesy of the ottawacitizen.com and legionmagazine.com.)

References

Day, A. (2009, September 5). Legion Magazine. Retrieved from The Dragon Hunters: https://legionmagazine.com/en/2009/09/the-dragon-hunters/

Government of Canada. (2016, January 15). National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. Retrieved from Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU): http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/operations-special-forces/cjiru.page

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Government of Canada. (2016, January 2016). National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. Retrieved from About the Special Operations Forces: http://www.forces.gc.ca/en/operations-special-forces/about.page

Government of Canada. (2016, January 15). Public Safety Canada. Retrieved from The Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Strategy of the Government of Canada: https://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/rslnc-strtg-rchvd/index-en.aspx

Lester, N. (2015, January 26). Huffington Post. Retrieved from Does The Islamic State Have Weapons Of Mass Destruction?: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2015/01/26/islamic-state-weapons-mass-destruction-isis_n_6546864.html

Pugliese, D. (2010, January 18). The Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved from Defence Watch: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/national/defence-watch/new-cbrn-operator-trade-aims-to-build-up-canadian-special-operations-expertise