News: 67th ESB field tests new CBRN masks
Story by Sgt. Ashley Cohen
FORT GORDON, Ga. - A shout of “Gas! Gas! Gas!” signals the unsuspecting Soldiers to instinctively reach for their protective masks, but it was no ordinary training scenario for the Soldiers of 67th Signal Battalion (Expeditionary), 35th Signal Brigade, as the training’s purpose was to field-test the Soldiers' newly-issued M50 Joint Service General Purpose Masks.
“The good thing about it is it protects your face and airways better, it’s easier to maintain, it gives you better sight vision because the sight is all the way across the face now. You have two filters instead of one so you don’t have to hold your breath to change the filters and you can change them out one at a time,” said Sgt. 1st Class Dawnmarie L. White, native of Round Lake, Ill., and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear noncommissioned officer for 35th Signal Brigade.
The Soldiers of the 67th ESB brought their new masks to a training site on Fort Gordon, Ga., April 23-25, to get a better understanding of how it operates and to build their confidence in the equipment by testing it in a real chemical environment.
“With the M50 mask you get a lot less gas coming through,” said Spc. Christian A. Byrd, a network systems operator with Charlie Company, 67th ESB, 35th Signal Brigade, and native of Gaithersburg, Md. “It’s easier to get the canister in than the old one. On the old ones you had to spin the canister out then place your hand over it to keep track of where the canister went back in. The new one just has three little holes to spin it back in place—it’s a lot quicker.”
The M50 is on its way to becoming the universal CBRN protective mask across the U.S. military. The M50/M51 JSGPM masks have been fielded as replacements for the M40 series masks and MCU-2/P in the U.S. Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force.
“They’ve been out for a while, but we just so happened to get them filtered down,” said White about the M50s. “Now we have to get the Soldiers not only validated, but certified on them and part of that is knowing how to (perform preventive maintenance checks and services) and going through the chamber to make sure they fit properly.”
During the fielding of the mask, 67th ESB Soldiers went through instructional stations to learn about the components, functions and maintenance. They then entered a chamber filled with CS gas, a riot control agent causing tearing and mucosal irritation, where they performed various movements to ensure a proper seal and changed out their canisters.
The 67th ESB is the first in the brigade and one of few Army-wide units to have received the new piece of equipment that is intended to replace the M40 series protective mask, which has been around since the 1990s.
“You have to trust your equipment,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Wallace of Albany, Ga., CBRN noncommissioned officer for 67th ESB and the lead instructor for the training and fielding. “It’s important to focus on CBRN training because it’s a real threat and it can kill you.”
According to a new materiel introductory briefing by the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, the M50 kit includes less breathing resistance and is more compact, lightweight and comfortable.
“You have more of a cap-type head harness on the M50 which will fit your head a lot better,” said Wallace who also remarked on the mask’s improved durability and easy disassembly compared to the M40. “On the M50, you have locking devices that locks your straps into place so you don’t have to keep pulling them to tighten them up.”
For the 67th ESB Soldiers, the M50 will now replace the M40 series mask for protection against chemical and biological hazards as they become a part of a step toward keeping America’s service members safer and more effective in combat.