News: Soldiers conduct joint training with Air Force HAZMAT responders
Story by Staff Sgt. Mark Miranda
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – It’s uncomfortably hot inside the protective suit as Sgt. Lukasz Rogowski wiggles his arm free from one of the sleeves to wipe the fog clear from a window panel in the roomy upper-body section of the suit. It’s difficult enough with the breather mask and air tank, but it is all part of the training he and his fellow soldiers are conducting with airmen from McChord Airfield.
A small alarm goes off inside the suit, and Rogowski, an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, does a little dance to let the biometric sensor he’s wearing know that he’s still alive, still functional and conscious.
Aside from the Army physical fitness uniform, Rogowski is outfitted with civilian gear acquired by the U.S. Air Force and used for hazardous material incident response. While all soldiers receive some chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive training, the purpose of this course is familiarization with procedures and equipment soldiers would encounter in a joint service response to a real-world HAZMAT situation.
“This training is derived from an incident that happened in Japan where (nuclear) reactors had been leaking,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Conant, CBRNE Defense Course instructor.
The 71st Chemical Company provided aid to Airmen at Masawa and Yokota Air Bases in Japan, providing decontamination, monitoring and survey assistance during Operation Tomodachi, the March 2011 joint service response to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear facility leaks.
“Among the lessons learned was that cross training needed to be done with Air Force, and Army CBRNE needs to cross train. These students are among the first in the Army to do this cross training,” Conant said.
“The training we’re doing has an emphasis on equipment and on Air Force techniques and procedures,” said Senior Airman Karina Sendayen, assigned to 62nd Medical Squadron’s Biological/Environmental Engineering Element.
“We aren’t familiar with the Army’s equipment inventory, but the idea is that we want to be more standardized when it comes to responding. Say for example, something were to happen right outside our base. We’re right on a major highway, Interstate Five, so it’s always good to be on the same page when it comes to HAZMAT response to prevent or deal with mass casualties.”
One intent is to avoid an unnecessary doubling of effort and then possibly conflicting data between branches of service when collecting samples in response to the same CBRNE situation.
“The main idea is to work off the same page so that we can work faster, more accurately,” Sendayen said.
Sgt. Joshua Lincoln, an infantryman with 2-1 Inf., had only basic CBRNE training before coming to the course.
“This class has been a real eye-opener. I didn’t know half the types of CBRNE threats that are out there today. With all the technology advancements and different biochemical weapons that can be made, it really makes me think we need these classes more than ever before.”
Lincoln is excited about the prospect of collaborating with Air Force counterparts in the future.
“It’s terrific, I love it. From what I’ve seen, the Air Force has a lot of information that’s helpful for us on the Army side. I’m coming away with a lot of knowledge, an idea of the right people to contact, and a clear idea of what I need to train my guys on, how to react to different situations pertaining to CBRNE,” Lincoln said.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Norton was the lead instructor for the training. The equipment he brought for training Soldiers included level A, B, and C HAZMAT response suits. Level A is a fully-encapsulating suit, worn while wearing self-contained breathing apparatus inside. It is the highest level of protection against vapors, gasses, mists and particles.
Level B suits offer protection from chemical splashes, but are not vapor-proof, with SCBAs worn on the outside. Level C is the least protective, and can be worn with an SCBA or with smaller air-purifying respirators. Level C suits are worn when the hazardous material is known and can be measured.
“Level B, we didn’t put anyone in that today; however, we did put a few people in a level C which gave them an idea of how it felt, knowing that they would still have to wear it with the SCBA,” Norton said.
“Whenever we approach a CBRNE situation, radiation or chemical, we like to identify (the hazard) first, then narrow down our search from there. If we can rule out chemical or real serious radiation hazards, then we can step down in our suits and begin to take into account worker comfort. We like to make sure we keep our people protected.”
Norton said that a lot of the equipment used by 62nd Medical Squadron is commercial, off-the-shelf and easy to acquire.
Soldiers trained on the SAM 935, a portable radiation detection and identification device that gives users the ability to detect as well as identify the type of isotope radiation present in an area. Soldiers also trained on the 451B Radiation Meter to measure gamma and X-ray radiation.
“Chemical-wise we have the HAZMAT ID, kind of toolbox size that can identify chemical compounds, liquids, powders,” Norton said. “We also have the quicksilver kit which allows a full range of sampling ideas whether it’s water or soil or any type of radiation sampling.”
Norton is optimistic about future collaboration with the Army’s CBRNE school at JBLM.
“The soldiers seemed really interested, they want to know how the Air Force operates. It was good for me to see how the Army operates, how we both can better ourselves in response to anything,” Norton said.
“We have an easy capability here, since we’re on a joint base and we at McChord have a good working relationship with the Army. It’s easy for us to come over and say this is what we have and what we could bring to the table.”