JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash.—Many soldiers can remember vividly their experience of that first trip through the gas chamber in basic training. It evokes memories of burning eyes, runny noses and a sense of fear. As the Army returns to the basic, these memories will soon be a reality.
During a training event here, soldiers of the 593rd Sustainment Brigade familiarized themselves with their protective masks and to experience the effects that orto-chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile, commonly referred to as CS gas, has on the body when inhaled.
“This training serves so many purposes, but most importantly soldiers have to have confidence in their masks and the only way to do that is go through a CS chamber. This will show the soldiers they can properly use their mask and know it will protect them as well,” said Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear brigade non-commissioned officer Sgt. 1st Class Danny Rivera-Cruz. “The moment soldiers put on their mask, their I.Q. lowers, they forget how to talk to each other. The longer they are in the mask the more frustrated people become doing simple tasks. So if you don’t put your soldiers through this type of environment they are not going to understand what to do in a real world situation. That is the reason why we do this.”
While most soldiers do not volunteer to go through such an experience constantly, training to use their protective mask properly is knowledge and a skill that has been brought back to the forefront of common core tasks.
“When I first came to the brigade I was surprised to see how many soldiers didn’t have masks issued to them and many had not been to a CS chamber since they were in basic training,” said Rivera-Cruz. “Now that we are moving away from the deployment mentality we have been in for almost 12 years, we have to get back to the basics of being a soldier.”
Prior to the going into the building, soldiers were given a class on how to properly check their masks for any defects that would allow the gas to enter their masks.
“We check each of the soldiers masks and make sure that it clears and seals before they go in to the chamber. I’m not here to make soldiers choke up and get sick,” said 593rd Special Troops Battalion CBRN NCO, Staff Sgt. Elvin Esguerra. “After that the soldiers will go into the chamber, make sure they can breathe normally with the mask on, move through some exercising and then they will take them off, repeat their names and such and then clear them while in the chamber.”
While many of the soldiers were a little nervous and pensive about subjecting themselves to the chemical, most were eager to see if they still had the strength to get through the challenge.
“I’m just anxious to get the training over with, I’m not scared,” said Spc. Lianora Holmes, 9th Finance Company. “I am curious to see who cracks when we get inside. But I know my gear well enough and I think that is why I’m not scared, just ready to do it.”
Rivera-Cruz hopes that the soldiers take away some very simple lessons about what to do in the event of a chemical attack and to also believe in their equipment.
“I think this is a great exercise for the soldiers and the unit. Not just because it complies with the Army requirement, but that soldiers will be confident if they are called upon to work in an environment like this, they won’t second guess themselves,” said Rivera-Cruz. “Soldiers have to remember we have to be able to operate in a CBRN environment. If you have a whole platoon who thinks they are contaminated, they lose focus on the tasks at hand. But if you know your equipment will protect you, you will be fine and continue to operate effectively.”
Now, as combat operations begin to wind down, soldiers will find the Army reverting back to basic skills that have been neglected over the last decade.