MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Marines serving with Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, equipped with protective clothing and gas masks, conducted annual gas chamber training here, June 12.
Prior to entering the gas chamber Marines were taught refresher courses, allowing them to get more familiar with their gas masks, Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear and building confidence to survive a chemical or biological attack.
“The class is designed to be quick but thorough,” said Cpl. Brittany King, a 22-year-old chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist serving with HQBn. “We understand the natural apprehension and anxiety Marines get when they are in the chamber. The classes make sure you understand the basics of putting on the gear and clearing your mask.”
The chemical used during the annual training is chlorobenzylidene malonitrile (CS gas), a non-lethal substance that is used in the military and police departments as a riot control agent.
“I knew that the gas chamber was serious training but it was never something I was afraid of,” said Pfc. Jackson Almaden, a 20-year-old data service technician serving with HQBn, and native of Seattle, Wash. “I just made sure that I paid attention to the classes and tried to remember as much as I could from recruit training.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Kaysha Williams, the Headquarters Battalion Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) defense officer, said the reason MOPP gear is necessary is because of the properties of the gas itself.
“The MOPP suit protects the Marine from almost all of the gas,” said Williams, a native of Avenel, N.J. ”The Marine will still feel mild discomfort. You just need to make sure that you have proper fit and confidence in your gear.”
The gas creates a burning sensation on the skin because of the crystalline nature of the particles of the gas itself. The sharp corners of the partials get caught in the pores. It is heat and water-activated so Marines must be careful to not touch their face once the mask has been removed. Simply using water will not make the gas leave the skin.
“We put the powder on a burner, and it creates smoke that fills the room,” King said. “It’s the same stuff they have in tear grenades used for riot control.”
With the burning sensation growing on their exposed skin, Marines completed one final task by breaking the seal of the mask from around their faces.
“When you break your seal and do the required actions, remember that this is training and keep calm,” said King, a native of Rochester, N.Y.
Marines spent approximately 10 minutes in the chamber performing basic exercises to get their blood pumping, increase respiratory rates and build confidence that their masks won’t come off during movement. The Marines learned the limitations of their gear as CS gas seeped into their pores.
“Marines have a huge misconception about CS gas, and when you go into the chamber, you realize the discomfort with tingling skin almost instantly,” King said. “That can be scary for most people who may be prone to anxiety. They think it’s going to seriously harm them or kill them, and that is just not the case. It is an irritant and non-lethal. Just relax and do what you were taught in the previous classes and everything will be fine.”
Once the Marines broke the seal of their masks, gas flooded onto their faces and many inhaled it before putting their masks back on. As eyes teared up and coughing set in, the Marines cleared their gas-filled masks by exhaling and pressing the mask against their face with their hands, causing all air in the mask to vacate. Their next breath came through the mask’s filter.
“As soon as I took my first breath after clearing my mask I knew things were going to be fine,” Almaden said.
After completing all of the required tasks, the Marines left the chamber and removed their masks once they were at a safe enough distance from the building to avoid recontamination.
“Once you do the side straddle hops and head shakes followed by breaking the seal and clearing your mask, you’re pretty much done,” Williams said. “Once you are familiar with your gas mask, you would be amazed how easy this training truly is. Just make sure that your mask has a good fit and you know how to don and clear it.”