By Staff Sgt. David ChapmanOctober 17, 2013
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - Down a dark, narrow passage a special group of soldiers enters a deserted factory where suspected chemical weapons are being produced. With sensors and monitors beeping, they find the deadly chemical production they are looking for. Now it's time to go to work.
Fortunately this is only a training scenario played out on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Oct. 9-10. Chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and their production are a constant threat nationally and internationally.
For the second year, the 110th Chemical Battalion worked through this training challenge with fellow chemical soldiers from the United Kingdom. The combined military teams set up a decontamination point, found and identified chemical agents and compared similarities in their procedures.
The 9th and 11th Chemical Company trained side-by-side with the 26th Squadron, Defence Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Wing, Royal Air Force Regiment during the exercise where they exchanged ideas on how each group deals with chemical threats and worked together to accomplish one mission.
"Today is an exercise with hybrid teams, made up of both country's tactics and techniques," said Capt. Alberto Rios, team leader, 9th Chemical Company. "This is important training. Both of our nations fall under NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and it could always be possible that we are asked to work together to counter WMDs in a deployed environment."
For the members of the Defence CBRN Wing, their visit to JBLM is the end of a month-long trip to the U.S. conducting various levels technical chemical training at various points across the country.
"We spent our first three weeks training and going through various scenarios at Dugway (Proving Grounds) in Utah," said Flying Commander 1st Lt. Anthony Francis, platoon commander, 26th Squadron. "Then we were able to arrive here to conduct this combined training at JBLM. It is important for us to see what the American soldiers do so that we are able to feed off each other's skills."
As the chemical soldiers worked through their scenario, the teams made up of combined members from the U.K. and the U.S. so they could view and experience the differences in how each force handles a chemical threat.
"Really everything we do is pretty similar," Rios said. "But like anything else, there are some things they do more efficiently and some things we do more efficiently. What is important is that we all learn from each other."
One major difference that the allied teams found is how the two countries develop their chemical soldiers.
"My guys are essentially infantry who will dive into the CBRN world for only two or three years and then back into the infantry," Francis said. "It is not a career driven career like it is for the Americans. So it is more urgent that we train them up very quickly."
For a soldier who is new to the chemical world, the opportunity to work with another country has proven to be a learning experience both culturally and professionally.
"It has been amazing, they are great guys to work with," said Pvt. Robert Smith, a native of Corpus Christi, Texas. "I have learned a lot and really like many of the techniques they use. It would be great to see them implemented with our procedures."
For the team leader, Rios is hoping that his soldiers take away vital information that would be important to them should the two nations respond to a chemical attack together.
"I want my guys to take away from this training that there are more ways than one to accomplish a mission," Rios said. "The most important is communication and having the basis and foundation of understanding that this is serious. We have to be able to work with our NATO partners."
As the training wound down, the joint operation proved the two forces would be able to work well together in the future. The training also helped to form a special bond between the two nation's soldiers.
"If something were to kick off, I would love to have the opportunity to deploy and engage in a CBRN mission with our partners we worked with today," said Rios. "They are incredibly professional and very adaptive to different ideas and how we approach a threat."