SAN DIEGO - On the clear morning, recruits with Company G nervously waited to enter the confidence chamber on Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Pendleton, Calif., April 4. They sat attentively in the bleachers adjacent from the chamber, listening to a field instructor explain the proper way to strap on the gas mask and clear it.
Once the field instructors finish briefing the recruits on what to do, the drill instructors line the recruits up so they can start quickly running them through the chamber one platoon at a time.
As the recruits waited with the rest of their platoon in line, they pulled their new, shiny black gas masks out of their pouches and began to put the mask over their worried faces with assistance from one another.
Some recruits started to panic once the false sense of not having enough air to breathe when wearing the mask overcame them.
The first group’s fear ended quickly after getting their masks hopefully tight enough to their faces. As the recruits were crammed around the walls of the inside of the chamber, many quickly became afraid their mask had seeped with gas, were unsure of the way the gas would feel if inhaled, and they began trying to clear their mask.
“This exercise is supposed to help give the recruits the confidence to be able to go into an environment not knowing what’s going to happen and be able to do what’s needed for themselves and their fellow Marines,” said Sgt. Adrian J. Jones, field instructor and Birmingham, Ala., native.
The chamber became very dim once the first group was in the chamber and the door closed behind them. There was no turning back for these recruits.
Their drill instructors and two field instructors accompanied them. First they were instructed to bend at the waist and shake their heads to make sure their masks were secured.
Then the recruits executed a set of 10 jumping jacks as one field instructor burned CS gas tablets, filling the chamber with fumes. This was shortly followed by the much-anticipated breaking the seal of the mask. Seconds later, the recruits were instructed to put the mask back on their faces and apply what they had just been taught, the clearing of their mask.
The recruits only had a few minutes to gasp for the filtered fresh air through their mask. Then after re-breaking the seal, they had to quickly re-apply their new gas mask clearing skills.
Before leaving the chamber, the recruits take off their mask and in the most organized manner possible, yell out a war cry and evacuate the chamber with snot, tears and a stinging sensation no recruit will soon forget. Some recruits experienced the extreme difficulty of trying to open their eyes immediately after exiting the chamber.
The sight of the first group only builds the terror for the later groups. As the second group quickly entered the chamber to conduct the same routine, the first group washed their mask.
The confidence chamber simulates the type of environment a Marine may encounter in a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare situation. Inside of the chamber 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile, also known as CS gas, a defining component of tear gas, is released. The chemical agents represent what Marines might come in contact with.
The mask being used on Edson Range is the newest gas mask available to the military, the M50 joint service general-purpose gas mask. The field instructors expressed how grateful they are for the new mask.
“It has fewer pieces, which means less for the recruits to lose and less for them to get confused about,” said Cpl. Carlos K. Gama, field instructor and Oakland, Calif., native. “The old mask had two separate eye lenses, which caused irritation and a block in your vision. The new mask is more comfortable.”
Since the field instructors and drill instructors have to go into the chamber with the recruits, they are also grateful the new mask has better suction, Gama explains.
“I made the mistake of not having my mask tight enough when I got into the gas chamber,” said Recruit Christian E. Juarez, the guide of Platoon 2151, Company G, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, after finishing the exercise, “The scariest thing for me was the anticipation.”
Once all the groups of Company G finished the confidence chamber, they hiked to where they will prepare to begin the crucible. The crucible is the culminating event of recruit training, a 54-hour test of endurance while food and sleep deprived where recruits use teamwork to tackle more than 30 tedious obstacles designed to test them on everything they have learned throughout recruit training.