COMBINED ARMS TRAINING CENTER CAMP FUJI, Japan — Coughing, a runny nose and burning eyes and skin may sound like the signs of a worrisome illness. But for Soldiers in the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, the temporary symptoms were just from another day of training.
More than 60 Soldiers traveled here Thursday to participate in gas chamber training as part of a larger effort to increase readiness in the battalion.
“The bottom line for Soldiers is to be ready for combat,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Paul J. Denson, the battalion’s senior enlisted leader. “Combat readiness can only happen when you’re doing stuff like we’re doing today.”
At the foot of Mount Fuji, Soldiers first conducted a 2-mile road march deep into the wooded training area. They were then briefed on how to properly don their M50 protective masks and entered a tent laden with CS gas, a form of tear gas commonly used in Army training.
Once inside the darkened chamber, Soldiers were instructed to complete a series of exercises with their masks on. They then had to break the seal of their mask, "clear" it and reseal it. In the final event, Soldiers took their mask off and breathed normally in the gas-filled tent before exiting it to fully understand the importance of their mask.
Cpl. Taylor Reed, a military working dog handler assigned to the 901st Military Police Detachment, recalled how the training was similar to what all recruits endure during basic combat training.
“It felt exactly how I remember it,” he said of the gas. “Skin burns in the back of your neck when you take the gas mask off and, of course, your forehead burns and your eyes, nose, mouth, throat, lungs — it all burns. It’s not very pleasant.”
Reed, whose unit falls under the 35th CSSB, said it was important for him and others to get away from their daily duties and concentrate on one of the fundamental Soldier skills.
“We kind of forget those basic warrior tasks and drills, or they fall by the wayside,” he said. “But the truth is that the next war will probably be a large peer-on-peer [conflict] with uniformed forces, and I think no matter what your job is, you’re going to be fighting.”
Sgt. Jamal Slaughter, a transportation management coordinator, shared the same sentiment and said the uncertainty of future battlefields may thrust a Soldier into a different role.
“We’re all Soldiers first,” Slaughter said. “If there’s a war going on and they need bodies, then you’re pretty much going to be expected to know how to shoot a rifle, how to clear your mask or other basic tasks and drills. Nobody knows what’s going to happen.”
While the potent gas is uncomfortable to experience, Staff Sgt. Adrienna McCloud, one of the instructors, said the training could make Soldiers more comfortable in battle.
“More reps and sets is how you’re going to get comfortable,” she said. “If you don’t ever put on your mask, how are you going to know that your mask works?”
After the chamber, Soldiers also learned how to decontaminate themselves and their equipment as well as don a JSLIST — joint service lightweight integrated suit technology — garment, which can be worn to protect against chemical and biological agents, radioactive fallout particles, and battlefield contaminants.
McCloud said the battalion has not been able to conduct this type of training in years, but the extra effort required to do it this time proved beneficial.
“Sometimes it sucks going through the training and going through the gas chamber, but it’s worth it,” she said. “You build your confidence up, and you train as you would fight.”
Denson said this event, as well as a hand grenade course last year and ongoing leaders’ time training, are all part of the battalion’s crawl-walk-run approach to boost Soldier lethality and survivability.
The battalion plans to test the skills of its Soldiers in a field training exercise this fall.
“If we don’t drive that narrative, we really don’t get an opportunity to do stuff like a hand grenade course or mask confidence,” he said of tackling basic tasks and drills. “Luckily, we have a great commander here that drives readiness, that drives building those Soldier skills.
“He allows me to be able to push the organization in order to build some of the confidence that is needed.”