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Q&A: Brigadier General J.B. Burton

 

QA burton

Hazard Preventer:
Delivering EOD and CBRN Capabilities as a Contribution to National Defense

Brigadier General J.B. Burton
Commander
20th CBRNE Command
U.S. Army

Brigadier General J.B. Burton assumed command of the 20th CBRNE Command on May 29, 2013. Burton is the fifth commander of the United States Army 20th CBRNE Command. As the commander of the Army and DoD’s sole CBRNE organization, he is responsible for the manning, equipping and training of more than 5,300 soldiers and civilians assigned across two explosive ordnance disposal groups, one chemical brigade and a CBRNE analytical and remediation activity.

Previous to his assumption of command of the 20th CBRNE Command, he served as deputy commanding general for maneuver of the 2nd Infantry Division in the Republic of Korea.

Burton was commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry upon graduation from Middle Tennessee State University as a distinguished military graduate. Burton has commanded light infantry and mechanized infantry combined arms teams at every echelon, from platoon to brigade combat team.

His principal leadership assignments include platoon leader, company executive officer and later scout platoon leader in the 4th Battalion, 21st Infantry of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord, Calif.; company commander of a mechanized combined-arms team in 3rd Battalion 41st Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Armored Division’s Tiger Brigade during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm; commander of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment (Lancer) of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas and Task Force Lancer in Kuwait during Operation Intrinsic Action; commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (Dagger) of the 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany and in Baghdad, Iraq from June 2005 through February 2008.

His principal staff assignments include service as deputy director for operations, J-3 on the Joint Staff, executive assistant to the secretary of defense, executive assistant to the deputy secretary of defense, executive officer to the deputy under secretary of the Army; director, Commanding General’s Initiatives Group for Headquarters, United States Army Europe and NATO Component Command Land-Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany; assistant chief of staff/G-3, 4th Infantry Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Burton is a graduate of the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course, the Armored Officer’s Advanced Course, the United States Army’s Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies and the Naval War College. He holds master’s degrees in human resource management, military arts and sciences and national security and strategy.

Burton’s awards and decorations include the Silver Star Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit w/OLC, Bronze Star Medal w/OLC, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious 
Service Medal w/7 OLC, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, Naval Meritorious Unit Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Expert Infantryman’s Badge, Ranger Tab, Army Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Pathfinder Badge, Office of the Secretary of Defense Identification Badge, Army Staff Badge and the Joint Staff Identification Badge.

Q: Brigadier General Burton, could you give an overview of your command for our readers?

A: First off, let’s talk about the name of the command and what it means. The term CBRNE stands for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives, and that’s the business this command is in. The ‘e’ represents the full range of explosive threats (low to high yield) and captures the subset of critical tasks that our EOD soldiers perform from unexploded ordnance to IED defeat. That’s what we do, and we’re very proud of our ability to deliver these special technical capabilities as a part of the U.S. Army’s contribution to national defense.

The 20th CBRNE Command is a great outfit, manned by tremendously talented soldiers and civilians to make up the U.S. Defense Department’s only fully integrated command that combats the full range of CBRNE hazards around the globe. The command was originally activated in 2004 based on a recognized need to consolidate, realign and expand the U.S. Army’s CBRN and EOD capabilities under a single command.

Our headquarters is based on the Edgewood area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., where we are responsible for the readiness of more than 85 percent of the U.S. Army’s active component CBRN and EOD formations, including two EOD groups, one chemical brigade, our nation’s nuclear disablement teams, five expeditionary CBRNE coordination elements, expeditionary mobile laboratories and remediation and consequence management formations.

While our headquarters is posted at Aberdeen, our subordinate formations are based on 19 posts across 16 states in the continental United States, and we routinely have troopers and civilians employed on five continents and performing response and support missions across the homeland. Our soldiers and civilians combat the world’s most dangerous weapons in some of the world’s most challenging environments.

Over the last 10 years, we have maintained an exceptionally high operational tempo, providing CBRNE formations in support of continuing operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, on the African continent, in the Balkans and across Europe, to name just a few areas. In support of operations in southwest Asia, together with joint service EOD partners, 20th CBRNE EOD soldiers have defeated and/or exploited more than 50,000 improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we most recently deployed our one-of-a-kind expeditionary medical laboratory, the 1st Area Medical Laboratory (AML), to Liberia to support Operation United Assistance, the United States-led effort to contain the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

In addition, our people provide continuous support to civil authorities in emergency response to CBRNE hazards both on and off military installations in the United States. We also maintain a robust training relationship with our joint, interagency partners and allied forces on five of the seven continents.

The 20th CBRNE Command is ready, reliable and globally responsive, capable of defeating the full range of CBRNE threats to our nation anytime and anywhere.

Q: This past December, Time magazine selected “Ebola fighters” as its 2014 Person of the Year. The 20th CBRNE Command is playing a major role in combating the threat of Ebola in West Africa. Could you provide us with some details of your command’s work there?

A: We are exceptionally proud of the 1st Area Medical Laboratory’s performance in support of Operation United Assistance. The 1st AML is a relatively small team of tremendously talented soldiers who deployed to Liberia in order to perform diagnostics on the blood samples of patients to help the leadership of the joint task force better understand the trajectory of the Ebola infection. The 1st AML is resourced with advanced, expeditionary laboratory equipment which employs a technology called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to diagnose Ebola by searching for the virus’ genetic material in the blood sample.

The 1st AML is operating laboratory sites at four different locations in Liberia, and they serve as the laboratory for local clinics in their respective areas, allowing local and NGO medical personnel to diagnose the Ebola disease.

Q: What precautions is the 1st Area Medical Laboratory taking to avoid the threat of malaria?

A: The leadership of the 1st AML has been reorganizing and refocusing the AML for the past year, building expeditionary capabilities and preparing the soldiers of the AML to operate in austere and challenging environments. The commander, Colonel Patrick Garman, recognized the need to reorganize and focus his team to increase its capacity to deploy and support a broad range of biological hazards. Multiple field training exercises, multiple deployment exercises and many hours lightening the AML’s load of unnecessary excess equipment resulted in a very lean, very capable and very expeditionary team of ready professionals who were exactly right for this mission.

As a result of their rigorous training regimen and expeditionary training focus, part of the efforts of readying the AML were a set of additional training requirements based on prevention measures for malaria and other diseases common in West Africa. The malaria preventive measures included instruction on the importance of repellant-treated uniforms, use of insect repellant, sleeping in bed nets and taking the malaria prevention medication daily. All of these items were issued as part of their deployment. Upon their redeployment, the 1st AML soldiers will receive a post-deployment medical assessment that will include additional malaria prevention medicine.

Let me be clear about the AML and their readiness for this mission. The AML was resourced with the right protective equipment, in the right quantities, and the troopers were absolutely ready for this mission as they departed for Africa. I visited with the troopers of the 1st AML a few weeks before their deployment, and their focus was razor-sharp. As we sent them off on deployment, they stepped out like the professionals that they are. Their readiness, and their sense of pride in being called for this mission, was palpable. They have, by all accounts, made a significant contribution to the efforts in Liberia and West Africa, and we are very, very proud of them and all that they have accomplished thus far.

Q: In these uncertain times, how is the 20th CBRNE Command coping with cuts to the DoD budget?

A: Stewardship of our nation’s treasure, and that means what the taxpayers have provided us in terms of patriotic sons and daughters and the resources necessary to accomplish our mission, is a fundamental part of everything we do in the 20th CBRNE.

We have gone to great lengths to define and prioritize our fiscal requirements so that if monies are reduced, we can project the costs to readiness. We understand clearly what it takes to maintain the highly technical readiness requirements of this command, and so any reduction in funding or resources is a great concern. That reduction in resourcing equates to an increase in risk to soldiers, civilians and mission.

We work every day to ensure that we responsibly meet the requirements of the soldiers and civilians within the command as efficiently as possible and have gone to great lengths to ensure that we operate within a well-defined set of guidelines that ensures we have what we need, and that what we have is maintained to the highest standards. The stuff that we don’t need, any excess equipment, is transferred to other formations responsibly and in accordance with regulations and policies.

We work extensively with U.S. Army Forces Command to clarify the requirements for all the missions the 20th CBRNE Command is responsible for resourcing, some of which call for forces and equipment to be ready to move out on short notice. The result of our efforts is that the command is appropriately funded to maintain mission readiness, within our authorizations, to execute the missions we are assigned.

Taking a bit of a long view, this command has transformed the way we look at our daily activities. We are committed to operationalizing every activity, transforming headquarters facilities into functioning command posts, integrating deployment and expeditionary readiness into as many actions as possible, and doing as much as we possibly can within a tactical framework and focused on our mission-essential tasks. We believe this approach builds individual and collective readiness faster and reduces the challenges of transitioning from garrison operations to contingency operations. If we can effectively squeeze as much as we can out of every training experience, we can sustain readiness at a lower cost, if necessary—maybe!

I won’t pretend that the threat of sequestration does not concern us. It does. We have a highly technical edge to maintain in this force as well as a tactical and expeditionary edge. Sequestration places risk on building and maintaining those critical technical and tactical capabilities, and results in the potential of increased risk to our people and to the missions they are charged with carrying out.

Q: With the ever-evolving risks of CBRNE threats across the globe, are there any new initiatives or programs within your command?

A: Yes, glad you asked that question. We monitor the CBRNE hazards across the globe daily. If you recall how we define CBRNE, you will immediately gather that we are not limiting our view of hazards to weapons of mass destruction. Those are pretty significant threats, and we watch them closely because we play a significant role in that mission space. But we also watch the trajectory of transnational actors and the aggression of nation-states, paying close attention to the potential for unexploded ordnance, monitoring trends in the increasing use of improvised explosive devices and homemade explosives. We pay attention to endemic diseases and the areas affected by them. We partner with local and federal law enforcement agencies, national laboratories and other interagency partners to better understand the nature of the CBRNE threat in each combatant commander’s area of responsibility.

We have done contingency planning focused on mitigating and defeating CBRNE hazards, and one thing is crystal clear … that CBRNE hazards will most often manifest in hybrid form, requiring an integrated solution to understand and defeat those hazards, and that any integrated solution must be led by a qualified set of CBRNE experts who understand best how to employ the highly technical competencies represented by our EOD and CBRN formations.

The global strategic environment is complicated by potential adversaries with the technology necessary to employ hazards ranging from radiological dispersal devices to toxic chemicals and biotoxins to improvised explosive devices. This new reality mandates a rapidly deployable, tailorable and scalable CBRNE capability capable of effective integration and decisive employment on unified land operations.

To that end, in an attempt to reduce the complexities resulting from how our forces are currently based in the United States, and to better meet our Army’s directives for regionally aligned forces, we have proposed to task organize this command from its current structure, based on three functional brigade-sized formations, to one built on three multifunctional CBRNE brigade task forces, with each of those CBRNE brigade task forces regionally aligned, consistent with the focus of the Army corps in the United States.

This proposed structure would place all EOD and CBRN battalions in the west under the authority of the 71st EOD Group; they would focus their attention on I Corps and the Pacific region. In the central United States, our 48th CBRN Brigade would exercise authority over all CBRN and EOD battalions posted on III Corps installations; they would focus their efforts on mission sets in Africa, the CENTCOM area of responsibility and Europe. In the east, our 52nd EOD Group would have authority over all EOD and CBRN forces located on XVIII Corps installations; they would align their focus consistent with the priorities of the global response force.

By aligning this way, with each multifunctional CBRNE brigade aligning with one of the three CONUS-based corps, as well as the Army service component commands with which those corps are aligned, the 20th CBRNE will be better postured to build readiness with those forces they are most likely to deploy with and support. Our integration with the supported formations of the Army Corps is improved through habitual training relationships, and our soldiers will be better versed in the nuances and challenges within a specific regional area. This simple change in who is working for whom directly supports the Army’s and forces command concept for regionally aligned forces. It results in an immediate increase in CBRNE capabilities for our Army, requires no physical relocation of CBRN or EOD formations, and requires no adjustments to current authorizations for manpower or equipment. This simple change in how we organize ourselves builds confidence and readiness.

As part of an informal proof of concept effort, and in recognition of stated need expressed by supported commanders, in 2013, the 20th CBRNE Command began integrating multifunctional CBRNE battalion task forces and multifunctional CBRNE company teams into decisive action training rotations at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. For the majority of our soldiers, these training rotations at the combat training centers (CTCs) was a first in their military career, and there was a whole lot of growth on the part of our soldiers and on the part of the supported formations.

We partnered up with the leadership and operators at the CTCs at Fort Irwin and Fort Polk, along with other members of the CBRNE community of purpose, and constructed industrial-scale training venues and targets at the CTCs so that our soldiers and the soldiers of the supported formations had an opportunity to experience CBRNE hazards that included roadside IEDs, unexploded ordnance (UO), weapons caches, underground facilities, life-size chemical and biological laboratories and nuclear production/reprocessing facilities. We are very proud of the tremendous, positive changes that have come from this effort, and we believe that together with our partners at the CTCs and in the supported brigade combat teams and divisions, we have advanced awareness of CBRNE operations, and thus increased our Army’s readiness to operate effectively in some very complex operational environments.

These partnered training opportunities have clearly indicated that multifunctional CBRNE formations are a necessary component of the future operational environment. It is no surprise to me that supported brigade and division commanders did not want an additional three to five units attached to their formations without someone in charge of them. What they expect and deserve is an expert leader in charge of effectively integrating and employing these highly technical forces. What did surprise me was the overwhelming positive response we have gotten since implementing many of our proposed organizational structure and operating concepts.

There are valid concerns about sustaining technical competencies of EOD soldiers when placed under the command of CBRN leaders, or sustaining technical competencies of CBRN soldiers under EOD leaders. These are important considerations, and something that we, and I personally, take very seriously. We get after those concerns by ensuring that leaders of both specialties are empowered with the necessary information about the requirements for sustaining the other technical skillsets. We also understand that our great non-commissioned officer corps is responsible for the training of individual soldiers, teams, crews and squads. By trusting in the capabilities of our Army’s great non-commissioned officer corps, and by ensuring that our leaders and commanders at every echelon are held accountable for the readiness of their formations, we have seen a tremendous uptick in individual and collective readiness.

By organizing ourselves into multifunctional brigades, built on functional battalions, we maintain the oversight of those very special skills by qualified non-commissioned officers, overseen by some very competent battalion commanders and command sergeants major. We are confident that we have the right solutions to maintain our critical skillsets within these multifunctional brigades, and that continued integrated training will only make us better.

Q: What are some of the challenges involved in training foreign governments in CBRN detection and response?

A: Most of our experience in this area is with foreign military partners during the conduct of military exercises and training, or in military-to-military partnership training missions. As a command, we routinely conduct CBRN and EOD training with military forces and partners around the globe. On a typical day, 20th CBRNE soldiers and civilians are deployed to five countries conducting operations or training.

But quite frankly, and not surprisingly, the greatest challenges in this arena generally arise from a difference in language and a difference in kit. This is important to understand, as it demonstrates a potential challenge with effective integration with our allied and coalition partners during contingency operations. By conducting these partnered training events, and taking the time to understand each other’s strengths and limitations, we are better prepared to integrate when the time comes. By regionally aligning our forces, consistent with the corps’ regional alignment, we build familiarity with partners in each region, which increases our ability to integrate and operate more effectively.

Q: Recently, the 788th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company destroyed 9,736 munitions at Redstone Arsenal, Ala. What are the risks involved when disposing of such large quantities of munitions?

A: That was a great mission, and we are very proud of the 788th for their tremendous work at Redstone. As you may suspect, there are numerous hazards involved in the destruction of unexploded ordnance and the risk management begins with the proper identification of the weapon or munition and the associated inherent hazards. Of course, the explosion itself can be a problem for anyone not expecting it, but it also creates the potential for injury or damage to property.

When an ordnance destruction projects exists, regardless of the size of that project, our great EOD teams on site have to be especially cognizant about the effects of the blast, smoke, shrapnel, collateral damage and fatigue, and pace their work accordingly. Our EOD troopers live by the motto “initial success or total failure,” a sobering mantra when you consider the type of work they do.

The good news? Our EOD soldiers are absolute experts at their craft. Our EOD soldiers are trained in the use of protective bomb suits, risk management, risk mitigation techniques and safe distancing from explosive destruction operations. They understand implicitly how to ensure that a mega blast results in zero to extremely low collateral damage. The dangers are exceptionally high, but I have full faith and confidence in the training and technical expertise of our EOD teams to do the right thing, and that the results of their work will ensure the safety of life and property. They have a great track record of success, and I expect nothing less. They are that good at what they do.

Q: Is there anything else that you’d like to discuss?

A: This is a great outfit, a one-of-a-kind outfit that is an essential enabling capability in support of homeland defense and contingency operations across the globe.

The threats of CBRNE hazards are clear and present. The conclusion of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan did not eliminate the IED from our adversaries’ playbook, but perhaps elevated the threat of an improvised weapon system employed in an asymmetric manner. Our transnational adversaries have openly stated that they seek WMD and CBRNE capabilities. We watch nation-states that possess WMD and other conventional and hybrid capabilities with great interest because of the threats they might generate and employ, possibly through surrogates, in pursuit of their own national objectives. Because of these realities, we have committed ourselves to being ready, reliable and globally responsive, capable of responding to and defeating CBRNE hazards anytime, anywhere. It takes a team of ready, technically and tactically competent professionals who are confident in themselves and who trust in each other and in their leadership to accomplish some pretty tough missions under some pretty tough conditions.

Our soldiers and our civilians are proud professionals; many live day to day on a very short notice recall to deploy and deal with some of the most dangerous weapons on earth. They understand the risks, they understand their requirements, and they take them very seriously. We understand that we are soldiers first, technicians second, and we go to great lengths to ensure that we are tactically and technically competent and viewed as professionals and reliable teammates. We understand that our partners depend upon us to find and eliminate the CBRNE hazards, and they depend upon us to assist them in their own training to recognize and defend against CBRNE threats.

I am exceptionally proud of all that this command has accomplished since its inception, and for the tremendous strides we have made over the past 19 months, both to deliver and increase ready, reliable and globally responsive CBRNE capacity and competencies for our nation.

The 20th CBRNE Command is a great outfit, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to serve alongside these great men and women and to have been a small part of this very important 
outfit’s history. ♦

Last modified on Wednesday, 25 March 2015 15:00

Additional Info

  • Issue: 1
  • Volume: 19
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