Radiation threat training prepares chemical unit to support 32 countries
October 11, 2012
Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind. -- When the locals started complaining of nausea, vomiting and skin rashes, members of the 371st Chemical Company from Greenwood, S.C., immediately responded to what sounded like a possible radiation threat in the village.
Radiation poisoning is extremely serious, so it was lucky for the villagers that the threat was only part of the 371st's mobilization training scenario.
"The Soldiers are reacting to what sounds like symptoms of radiation poisoning in a village. At 30 to 50 RADs, the radiation absorbed dose, people start to get sick, at 70 symptoms can include dizziness and disorientation, above 100 things start to get lethal," explained Staff Sgt. John DeSmith, a chemical operations specialist trainer mentor with the 157th Infantry Brigade, First Army Division East. "We try to ensure the measurements are legitimate to what they might experience in the real-world and watch how the leadership response."
The scenario, part of the training provided by the 205th and 157th Infantry Brigades, First Army Division East, at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center, Ind., was in preparation for the 371st's upcoming deployment to the Middle East.
The Reserve unit, a hazardous material response team, will deploy and be based in Kuwait this fall. They will able to respond in 72-hours, if necessary, to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive hazard (CBRNE) incidents in 32 counties.
Being prepared for various scenarios and situations that may occur weighs heavily on not only the Soldiers, but on the leadership in charge of their welfare.
2nd Lt. Christopher Heck, a dismounted platoon leader with the 371st Chemical Company from Greenwood, S.C., decided to have two reconnaissance teams suit up in their Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) suit to enter the village to confirm the radioactive source and the extent of the contamination during the scenario.
"I got a lot out of the training," said Heck, a Reservist from Seneca, S.C. "I feel like I can take it to the next level, organize my thoughts and keep my Soldiers alive if the situation falls apart."
First Army planners designed the scenario to increase the deploying Soldiers confidence in their technical and tactical skills as well as their decision making abilities.
"It gives them the experience they need to get in and out before they get too exposed," DeSmith said. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration limit the amount of Ionizing Radiation exposure to 5 radiation equivalent man, rem, per year. "So, not only are we looking at how do leaders execute the mission, their techniques, but what is their "turn-back" point?"
The 371st Chemical Company is the first CBRNE element, trained at Camp Atterbury by First Army Division East Soldiers. To ensure the best possible training, First Army reached out to subject matter experts like DeSmith for assistance. DeSmith and three other Soldiers assigned to the 44th Chemical Company at Fort Hood, Texas., came to Camp Atterbury to assist with the training. Getting feedback to improve the training also was important for trainers.
Deploying Soldiers like Spc. Matthew Saupe, a CBRNE instructor at U.S. Marine Corp Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C. in his civilian career, suggested adding a Chemical Lab to the training scenarios -- something he felt they may encounter while they are deployed.
"Information and technology change on a daily basis. It's a struggle to stay ahead, particularly on the chemical side," said Saupe.
Sgt. Fabian Castellanos, who deployed with a chemical company in 2003 during the initial push into Iraq from Kuwait, said he loves that the new training includes integration with law enforcement, medical personnel and federal agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.
"It's always great to collaborate and complete the mission and contain the hazard," said Castellanos, a student at Georgia Southern University studying marketing and logistics. "Practice, practice, practice; we can never get enough practice. Every drill you learn something new, one level above what you knew before."