FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- The 84th Chemical Battalion has implemented a pilot program for Soldiers-in-training, which will earn them a nationally recognized certification in HAZMAT operations and as HAZMAT technicians.

Lt. Col. Thomas Duncan, 84th Chem. Bn. commander, said this pilot is the end result of 18 months of analysis on the direction of the Chemical Corps, gaining approval by the Deputy Commanding General of Initial Military Training, and gathering the resources needed to execute the pilot.

"This is a massive change for Advanced Individual Training. Every element of the course has changed and that is not an exaggeration," Duncan said. "The biggest change -- we have gone from two days of Hazardous Materials Training to more than two weeks of HAZMAT."

Under the previous Program of Instruction, Soldiers were taught 14 hours of basic HAZMAT awareness and given an overview of the Personal Protective Equipment. The new POI allows for almost 90 hours of HAZMAT awareness, as well as HAZMAT operations and HAZMAT Technician parts one and two.

1st Lt. Wilfredo Santiago, Chemical Training Department chief, said the old POI involved mostly classroom instruction, but under the new POI, Soldiers get hands-on experience to add to their book knowledge.

"With the Army Learning Module, we are moving into giving Soldiers hands-on training," Santiago said. "It's good to have book knowledge, but when a Soldier actually gets his hands on a piece of equipment and does the exercise, he can put together the book information with the practical experience and enhance his learning experience."

Along with changes to the HAZMAT POI, Biological Operations training has changed as well. Under the previous POI, Soldiers were taught only general knowledge in regards to biological defense fundamentals. Now, their training consists of more detailed instruction, Santiago said.

"Now we go into teaching different agents and their characteristics," Santiago said.

"Then Soldiers do a situational training exercise. Pretty much what we teach them there are the dangers of different biological agents and how to do preventive care prior to an attack. We also teach them how to sample for biological agents."

Santiago said although there have been some challenges during the course of the pilot program, everyone involved thinks it is a success.

"We have met some challenges as with any new course; however, the instructors have been working on the lesson plans so they are very familiar with what they are supposed to teach," Santiago said. "We have been doing a lot of cross training, which has helped. Everybody involved loves the way it is going."

The 81 Soldiers from Company C, 84th Chem. Bn., are the first to benefit from the expanded training on Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear operations geared toward modernizing the Chemical Corps, but hopefully not the last.

"This new certification and training is important for these Soldiers because the Chemical Corps' future lies in adaptation," Duncan said.