9 seconds to safety - training for chemical warfare
January 30, 2012
FORT SILL ,Okla. -- Annual refresher training can sometimes hit Soldiers like a whiff of smelling salts- or in this case, flood the senses with tear gas.
Soldiers from C 26th Target Acquisition Battery, 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, spent the afternoon Jan. 20 familiarizing themselves again with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare gear and training.
The afternoon culminated with a miserable visit to the gas chamber where they regained confidence in the capability of their protective gas masks prior to exiting the chamber like a bleary eyed staggering conga line to clear the effects of tear gas.
Staff Sgt. Horatio Patterson, the unit's CBRN noncommissioned officer, led the training effort.
"You never know when you deploy if you will run into a chemical attack so it's always good to train and keep current on this equipment," he said. "These days it's real easy for the enemy to create chemical munitions, just like they do with improvised explosive devices."
The Soldiers began their training by inspecting their field protective chemical warfare masks.
Following proper adjustment of harnesses, they practiced donning their masks, clearing the interior and checking for a tight seal. Patterson and other NCOs stressed, for the training to be effective and meaningful, Soldiers needed to focus on the matter at hand and practice the steps to put the mask on correctly.
After hollering "Gas, Gas, Gas," most of the Soldiers, removed the mask from its carrier and managed to get it on somewhere close to the nine-second standard the Army expects them to complete the task in.
Some did it without stopping their breathing, many did it but failed to yell GAS after they had their masks on.
But, that was the purpose of the training -- to get the Soldiers thinking about and doing each step so they would stay in the fight.
Succeeding steps reacquainted the Soldiers with proper wear of the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology, injecting atropine to treat against nerve agent exposure and checking for contamination with M8/M9 paper.
These classes immediately became useful when the Soldiers went through training lanes to simulate combat situations they may encounter.
At times Soldiers lost focus and got frustrated wrestling with their bulky chemical warfare suits. Instructors barked out order to the struggling Soldiers some of whom wanted to lean against something for support or sit on the ground, either of which surface could be contaminated.
In those moments, Patterson was there to remind them why they were going through this.
"The important thing is to practice putting the gear on right even if it takes longer to do it," he said. "'Now' is the time to learn; no one is getting hurt here."
Even when the hurt did come, later in the afternoon, it was only the debilitating, but thankfully short-term effects of tear gas.
"I did this training before and absolutely hated it, but it's good to refresh how rough it can be," said 2nd Lt. Daniel Burcham, battery executive officer. "This was a great reminder for why we stress battle buddies so much to get everyone through, while as a leader, displaying an image of self-control and leading by example."