By Mr. Stephen Standifird (Leonard Wood)April 7, 2016
(Editor's note: This article continues our series about the service-specific training our sister services provide at Fort Leonard Wood.)
Seeing Sailors or Coast Guardsmen in Missouri, let alone on an Army installation, is an unusual sight given their missions are mostly water-based.
But considering the unique training opportunities the Navy and Coast Guard can get here at the U.S Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear School, E.F. Bullene CBRN Defense Training Facility, Fort Leonard Wood is the best place for them, said Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Wesley Lairson, learning site director, Navy Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense School.
"This is the only place where the joint services can do practical, hands-on, chemical-agent training," he said. "This is a vital part of our training for our Sailors."
Navy and Coast Guard enlisted damage controlmen, Navy officers serving in the damage control assistant position and Coast Guard CBRN-Explosive officers, are the primary attendees of the 10-day Shipboard CBR-D Operations and Training Specialist Course.
Navy Chief Petty Officer Rudy Morales, course manager, said the Sailors who come through this school are not training for a new job, but training to increase job skills. Damage controlmen on a ship are primarily responsible for damage control, ship stability, firefighting, fire prevention, and CBR defense.
"Part of their job would be to assist and train the crew in proper donning and issue of equipment," Morales said.
"When they get to their ships, they will be the subject-matter experts, even given the short amount of training they have completed here," Lairson added. The course, which averages 150 students per year, is expected to add an additional five training days, to include more hands-on training with equipment.
Aside from the location, another unique aspect for the Navy and Coast Guard is the use of calcium hypochlorite, or HTH, as a decontamination agent. No other service uses HTH, Lairson said.
Using the CDTF for live-agent training is the final aspect of the course and gives students the opportunity to put all of their training together, and to build confidence in their suits, Morales said.
For Coast Guard Reserve Lt. Douglas Dresnek, force protection and CBRN-E officer, Coast Guard Port Security Unit 312 out of San Francisco, California, the opportunity to "go live" with VX and sarin nerve agents was a little bit scary.
"You definitely get amped up a little bit," he said. "Every time you suit up and go real with a live agent or chemical exposure, it's one of those things that as much as you train and drill or exercise, there is a 'pucker factor' when you know there is live agent sitting on the table in front of you."
Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Jones, damage controlman on the USS Preble out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, agreed.
"It's nerve-wracking because that's a live nerve agent," he said. "You read about all the things that can happen from this, and they drop it less than three feet away from you."
Getting the opportunity to go into the CDTF and train with live nerve agents is an experience Lairson believes is the best way for these Sailors and Coast Guardsmen to be able to train on their ships and have first-hand experience that the techniques and equipment work.
"In my opinion, there is no replacement for that hands-on training. It is very valuable," he said.
Besides the experience of working with a live agent, Dresnek said he would take with him the confidence in the equipment, and try to pass that onto his crew.
"My role is to glean what I can and take it back to develop a more robust training plan," he said. "My challenge now is to take that back with me, lead the training and make sure that my petty officers have that same confidence."