DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Thirteen specialized soldiers from Germany recently honed their chemical and biological defense skills for two weeks at Dugway Proving Ground, and paved the way for more training in following years.
The Bundeswehr soldiers came from the CBRN (Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear) Defence Battalion 750, based at Bruchsal in southwestern Germany. Lt. Col. Dirk Bludau headed the delegation, who visited Dugway last April with three other members of Germany's armed forces: two scientists and Lt. Col. Dirk Veeck, the German liaison officer at the U.S. Army Chemical School in Missouri.
"It was a short visit to establish first contact, to get a guided tour of all the facilities on Dugway, to identify useful training opportunities for Germans," Bludau said. "We have discovered that you have some really very unique test and training facilities. We have some very special CBRN defense soldiers in Germany, the Special Reaction Platoon for sophisticated CBRN reconnaissance."
After the 2016 visit, the four concluded that periodic training at Dugway would greatly benefit the 2,000 highly trained soldiers of Germany's CBRN Defense Command, within the Bundeswehr's Joint Service. The Bundeswehr is the unified armed forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Joint Service, Medical Service) of Germany, with approximately 178,000 in uniform.
The pilot course contained one week with threat replicated chemical agent production using benign simulants, followed by a week of chemical dissemination with simulants.
Training was conducted by the Special Programs Division of Dugway's West Desert Test Center, and overseen by Project Managers Kurt Malcom and Wendell Williams, who earlier traveled to Germany to visit the CBRN Defence Battalion 750.
Williams managed the coordination, overall German program design, costs, chemical events and wrote much of the required paperwork. Malcom, who is fluent in German, was involved in course design and coordination, and all aspects of Homemade Explosives events at Dugway. Tony Kemp is deputy program manager.
Williams emphasized that there were many other Dugwayites who made the pilot training program a success: the chemists and biologists at Special Programs Division, Explosives and Dissemination Division, Chemical Test Division, Meteorology Division and Optics Branch.
Creating the agreement required extraordinary effort and cooperation. Numerous documents had to be written and routed through the Pentagon, Department of Defense, Army Test and Evaluation Command, diplomatic channels, German Ministry of Defence, the Bundeswehr CBRN School, etc.
Joachim Ringer, a civilian scientist and chemist with the Bundeswehr CBRN Defence, Safety and Environmental Protection School in Bavaria, has overseen German chemical detection and facilities for 20 years. For him, the pilot course offered two goals: personally assess the value of Dugway's scientific point of view to Germany, and ensure that the preparatory training soldiers receive in Germany is compatible with what Dugway will teach.
"This is important," Ringer said. "We need to prepare the personnel to make the best of the limited time they have at Dugway."
Student training is greatly enhanced by learning in four settings: classroom, chemical and biological defense labs, technical demonstrations and learning the effects of an agent or explosive.
Many of the 13 soldiers said they were greatly impressed by the Homemade Explosives Course, where scientists explain and create explosive devices from everyday materials (chemical weapons may be disseminated by an explosion).
"The homemade explosives facility and course was amazing," Staff Sgt. Alexander Opel said. He was also impressed by the Materiel Test Facility chamber -- 50 feet long and wide, with 30-foot walls -- big enough to test small aircraft in a chemical environment.
Time spent in labs, alongside scientists who frequently perform chemical and biological defense tests, was invaluable to the soldiers. They gained knowledge, asked questions and trained in nonconventional areas that challenged their judgement and capabilities.
Separated into teams, one searched a cave-like labyrinth to find a series of threat replicated biological production labs. Another team, miles away, searched a narrow concrete tunnel for similar chemical production labs. They photographed each lab for evidence, then took samples of its suspicious contents.
Encountering illicit labs in restricted space was a scenario they didn't anticipate, said Command Sgt. Maj. Ralf Oesterle, but the Germans adapted and performed well.
Staff Sgt. Sarah Obieglo has trained at the U.S. Army Chemical School in Missouri, but this marked her first visit to Dugway. She praised the quality of the training they received here, and the breadth of knowledge she'll take back to Germany.
"If they gave me the opportunity, I would definitely come back," she said.