DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Military members and private industry from across the United States and around the world participated in Dugway Proving Ground's fourth annual S/K Challenge that began May 7 to foster new capabilities and technologies and access the strength and weakness of chemical and biological detectors.
The event also provided a media day for local Utah reporters, giving them a chance to observe a chemical scenario training event created for members of the Royal British Air Force at Mustang Village, visit the Combined Chemical Test Facility and witness a dissemination demonstration on the test center near the Active Standoff Chamber.
Jeff Hogan, a microbiologist with Biological Test Division and this year's test officer for the two-week event, called it a "unique opportunity to advance new technologies and capabilities for the chemical and biological community."
Dressed in full protective suits, 23 members of the British Royal Air Force participated in a realistic chemical release scenario to gain firsthand experience in how to deal with a potential chemical attack.
Flight Lt. Cris Bond, the wing commander, said that they have been coming to the test center for 13 years because Dugway's exercises are "a good compliment to skills and training of the British military."
The team's scenario included a black suitcase containing two spray devices rigged to mimic an improvised chemical agent attack hazard. The team members quickly collected and analyzed samples, providing reporters a glimpse of the procedures the team would take during in an actual chemical event.
"It's always the guys who are stepping up to the next level of training who come for [the training]," Bond added. "It's that uplift of skills that Dugway is able to give to us."
At the Chemical Test Facility reporters were given a brief walk through of the test facility by Dr. Christopher Olsen, its director.
Olson said the combined laboratories specialize in research that ensures the equipment the Army uses works properly against some of "the most dangerous substances known in warfare."
To empathize this point, Olson asked for a penny. Noting the size of the mint mark he said, "A similar size droplet would be lethal."
Olsen also activated a small hand-held Joint Chemical Detector, about the size of small tablet to demonstrate its sensing and alarm capabilities. The loud wail and flashing lights left no doubt of its effectiveness.
"We protect against all chemical threats, ranging from common household items like ammonia and chorine, but our main mission is chemical agents like sarin or mustard gas," he added.
Reporters were also taken to a laboratory that houses 24 chemical gloveboxes, allowing the scientists and testers to work with hazardous substances by placing their hands into the gloves to perform tasks inside without breaking containment.
Brian Mullahy, of KUTV TV in Utah, placed his hands inside the glovebox where he used a pipette to transfer water from one container to another to simulate what testers do to transfer agent during testing.
"It was awkward and far more difficult to do than I thought," he said. "It gives me a perspective I did not have before coming here."
"We don't produce [chemical agents] or build them with the intent to weaponize them," Olsen said. "But what we do have to do is protect our military and, frankly, our citizens as well."
The final site of the day was outside the Active Standoff Chamber and the Joint Ambient Breeze Tunnel, two enormous outdoor chambers. Here, the S/K Challenge attendees challenged the strength and weaknesses their chemical and biological point and standoff detectors without weather interference during the two week event.
SK Challenge activities continued through May 18.