DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Flight Lt. Cris Bond of the Royal Air Force first visited Dugway in 2003, for a NATO exercise, and returned to the United Kingdom impressed. Thirteen years, and numerous visits later, he's still impressed with Dugway's expertise, capabilities and personnel.
Recently Bond, equivalent to a U.S. captain, commanded 35 Gunners of the 20 (U.K. Defence CBRN) Wing, Royal Air Force Regiment, while they received chemical and biological defense training in the U.S.
"It's a fantastic experience," Bond said. "They're trained at quite a high level already, but this takes them higher."
The Gunner title dates to the R.A.F. Regiment's 1942 founding as an airfield defense corps. Later, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) defense was added to its responsibilities, ensuring if there is ever a chemical or biological attack or incident in the U.K., the R.A.F. Regiment will be among the first to respond. At Dugway, the Desert Vapor exercise was three weeks of training by chemical and biological defense experts and the Special Programs Division.
Bond praised, "The way the Special Programs Division people understand the guys and engage them. It really fires up their imagination."
After Dugway, the Gunners went to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Tacoma, Wash.
Though highly trained (the R.A.F. Regiment course is 32 weeks), the U.S. training will add immeasurably to their skills and knowledge.
"They've had a big uplift of their technical knowledge at Dugway," Bond said. "Then, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, they'll have the experience of training with their U.S. counterparts. They also get to experience some U.S. culture."
Their first week at Dugway, the Gunners were in labs alongside scientists renowned in the chemical and biological defense field, learning how terrorists and rogue nations might make and use such weapons. They also learned how homemade explosives are created and used as booby traps or to disseminate agent. Narcotics, often used to fund terrorist activities, were also discussed because they may be found in illicit labs.
"It's not their role to deal with those items, but for their safety it's their role to pass those key items off to other agencies, whether U.K. or coalition partners," Bond said.
A week of lab work was followed by two weeks of authentic scenarios and replica illicit labs. Wearing CBRN gear, they entered the mock labs, took samples and photos and then exited, using precise and efficient methods.
For Senior Aircraftsman Greg Harrington, Dugway training was invaluable.
"It gives you a lot more hands-on and training experience," he said. "There's a lot more to it. When you go into a site, it's not just a quick in-and-out. You have to work out safely what (the agent) is at first, then sample."
Dugway personnel enjoyed training the Gunners.
Wendell Williams, a program manager for Special Programs Division, made the training arrangements for the group. He spent 24 years in the Army, 11 years in units specializing in CBRN.
"It's good to see some of the things they take from Dugway and apply to their tactics, techniques and procedures," Williams said. "Their expertise, as far as I've seen, is top-notch. They're all professionals. We take a lot joy in being able to train their group to meet their mission over the years."
Patty Low, a microbiologist at Life Sciences Test Division, has taught for 10 years. She admires the Gunners.
"They come here ready to work," Low said. "They're just so enthusiastic about anything we're ready to teach them."
Sgt. Dan Warrington, their specialist mission commander for CBRN, enjoyed lab week.
"Initially, it was very heavy going with the amount of technical information, but when we moved into the lab scenarios, you could see all those processes fit together like a jigsaw," Warrington said.
Cpl. Ronnie Caunter with the assistance of Dugway scientists, oversaw procedures to ensure safety as Gunner teams assessed mock labs.
"The training is excellent. The staff is very, very patient," he said. "There's a lot of mutual respect between the U.S. and U.K. that works well."
"A lot of in-depth experience passed across from the scientists to us," Caunter said. "They make it easy to understand what we might experience in the future. A lot of these (Gunners) are quite young, and new to it, so their level of experience has improved."
Flight Lt. Jason Halle enjoyed "watching the Gunners do core (skills) and developing their operating procedures as they develop knowledge," he said.
"The training has been absolutely first-class for us," Halle said. "The staff manages to break down a very large and technical knowledge base and deliver it in a very accessible way."
Bond is confident the R.A.F. Regiment will continue to train at Dugway.
"It results in a better CBRN specialist for the U.K. More open-minded. Better prepared and engaged in every way," Bond said.
With weekends off, the Gunners went mountain biking in Moab, skied Utah's famous slopes, or took in other sights. The friendliness of Americans surprised them.
"America's a great place," Harrington said. "Thank you for hosting us. It's been a very good experience. I'm looking forward to getting more experience in this specialist field."
U.S. Army Dugway Proving Ground is the nation's designated Major Range and Test Facility Base for Chemical and Biological Defense (C/B) Testing and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction (CWMD) Support, conducting efficient testing and support to enable our nation's defenders to counter chemical, biological, radiological, and explosives (CBRE) hazards. Dugway Proving Ground provides unparalleled testing, evaluation, training, and technical support to the Department of Defense, inter-agency partners, and our Allies.