CHEMICAL

This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri August 30th 2017. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email tcnpub3@gmail.com, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
Another of the AIT’s (Advanced Individual Training) at Fort Leonard Wood is Army MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 74D Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Specialist. It prepares soldiers for contingencies that they and we hope and pray never happen. There are nine countries known to have nuclear weapons, including China, Russia, and North Korea, also India and Pakistan who share a border and a dislike for each other. There about 20 countries that have or are suspected to have chemical weapons, and eight to ten that are strongly suspected to have biological weapons (anthrax, plague, etc).
In their initial entry training, (basic training or officer basic) every soldier in the Army goes through a gas chamber filled with CS gas (riot tear gas). They enter the chamber while wearing their gas mask, then on command they remove their mask and state their name, rank, date of birth or anything else the chamber operator dreams up to make sure they get a good dose of the gas, then they exit the chamber and blow their nose, maybe throw up, and flush their eyes with water but do not touch the eyes (that makes it worse). Every soldier in the Army does that at least once a year. The purpose is to give them confidence in their protective (gas) mask. Soldiers are trained to get their mask on within nine seconds. Every line company in the Army has a CBRN NCO (non-commissioned officer) (sergeant). Every line company has not only a protective mask for every soldier, but a complete MOPP suit. That is an acronym for Mission Oriented Protective Posture. It is basically a rubber (not really-special chemical compound) suit. Top with hood, bottom, boots, and gloves all attached together to keep unseen things from getting to your skin. It’s hot! Training in MOPP gear in the winter is not too bad, it just tires you out soon, in the summer it is hell.
Tear gas is not the reason the Army’s focus on CBRN is so intense. Since 2011 Chlorine Gas has been used in Syria an estimated 100 times. Chlorine is not illegal, it is a disinfectant. It is used to treat drinking water and swimming pool water. It is used in paints, textiles, insecticides and PVC to name a few products. So it is very easy to obtain. Using it as a weapon is internationally illegal. When released, as a gas, it produces a green cloud, and when breathed it breaks down the mucus membranes in the airways creating fluid. So a person can drown in his own fluids. There is no antidote, just stop breathing and get away from the cloud, but the damage is permanent.
In April 2017 another gas attack was used in Syria. That time it was Sarin or nerve gas. It is colorless and odorless, and even at low concentrations death can occur within one to ten minutes if the antidote “Atropine” is not injected. Symptoms of nerve gas are convulsions, foaming mouths, blurry vision, difficulty breathing, – death. All soldiers, in line units, are issued a spring loaded atropine syringe along with their protective mask. Just stick it against your leg and it injects atropine. The training models are filled with water. When I went in the Army we carried a small plastic syrette, you just flipped the plastic cover off the needle, slapped your leg, stuck the needle in and squeezed. The gas chamber, masking and atropine injection are annual training requirements for every soldier in the Army, along with qualifying with their rifle and passing a physical fitness test. We have Special Forces (Green Berets) in Syria now and they have CBRN Detection Teams attached.
Fort Leonard Wood is the home of the Chemical Center, School and Museum. Chemical Corps officers take their basic and advanced courses there, plus special courses. The AIT is 11 weeks long. The standards are a little higher for 74D, an ASVAB score of 100 in ST (skilled technical), which is composed of the following ASVAB tests, GS – General Science, VE – Verbal Expression, MK – Mathematics Knowledge, and MC – Mechanical Comprehension. The course is also intellectually challenging. Comments from 74D graduates are stay awake, pay attention in class, take notes, and apply yourself. The 84th Chemical Battalion, which runs 74D AIT has the newest facility in the Army. Battalion and Company offices and class rooms downstairs, and classrooms and student dorms upstairs in a giant five story complex. Like living in a hotel and going downstairs for your conference. After physical training of course. Students learn CBRN Room Operations (supply, maintenance, training, etc), and biological agents, chemical agents, radiation detection and response, hazardous materials/toxic industrial chemicals, operational decontamination, thorough decontamination, mass casualty decontamination, and basic chemical/biological detection. They really learn how to decontaminate (wash) a vehicle, while wearing a spaceman suit. A lot of time is spent, in MOPP gear, doing hands on in the Chemical Defense Training Facility on Leonard Wood, and there is a field training exercise (FTX). One former student wrote that during a class on some real kinky stuff, the instructor stopped and said; “If you ever really see this, something in the world has gone terribly wrong”. Students get National Hazmat Certification before they graduate. Students get to keep cell phones, ipads and computers, just not during the day in class.
Many graduates go to chemical units in South Korea. Those assigned to a chemical unit will continue to work with what they learned in AIT. Those assigned to other units may or may not. The CBRN Specialist maintains the CBRN Room, the masks and protective gear and equipment. If the company doesn’t train CBRN often, the specialist gets used for other duties like clerk or driver. I read comments from some who were frustrated at being used for other duties, still others who enjoyed learning different jobs, and still others who took the job as a challenge and aggressively pushed for CBRN training, because they were the most knowledgeable person in the company on that subject. The CBRN position at company level is for a Sergeant E5. Privates, just graduating from 74D AIT are very often assigned to those positions. Promotion to Sergeant E5 is faster than other support jobs. The cutoff scores for promotion to Sergeant E5 in MOS 74D for August 2017 are on the bottom, so everyone on the list for promotion to E5 gets promoted. I read comments from some who had been promoted to Sergeant E5 within two years. Airborne units do train on CBRN, a lot. Enlisting with the “airborne option” gives the new 74D about a 95 percent chance of being assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The 82nd Airborne Division trains on CBRN frequently. At battalion level the CBRN NCO is a Staff Sergeant E6, and at brigade headquarters there is a Chemical Corps Captain and a Sergeant First Class E7. One of my earliest memories of training in the 82nd was, as a brand new Private, crawling on my back under a barbed trip wire mat stretched 12 inches off the ground, and having a CS grenade land about two feet from my head. I did get my mask on, but I burned the rest of the day. The 82nd has a Chemical Company as well as CBRN NCO’s and officers in all the company’s, battalions and brigades. Each Special Forces group has a Chemical Reconnaissance Detachment, whose job is to go look for chemical agents, in support of Special Forces operations. No you don’t go through Special Forces training and no you don’t wear a green beret, you go to airborne school and wear a maroon beret, but you can be assigned to a Special Forces unit.
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division (The Falcon Brigade), has been in Iraq since December 2016. They have been side by side with the Iraqi Army in driving ISIS out of Mosul. They conducted extensive CBRN training at Fort Bragg, and in 2014 they were trained at Fort Polk, Louisiana by the US Army’s 20th CBRN Brigade, and in 2015 they jumped into Fort Leonard Wood and trained at the Incident Response Training Detachment on Fort Leonard Wood. The 82nd Airborne Division is America’s Global Response Force, and it is very serious about CBRN training.
I have seen non-airborne support companies that didn’t train CBRN often and the CBRN specialist only worked on CBRN once a year, when the company went through the gas chamber. They worked as supply or admin clerks or drivers. In airborne companies it is a full time job, CBRN exercises are built into most training. In Iraq there have been several chlorine bomb attacks, and in Afghanistan there have been many poison gas attacks directed primarily at civilians. Those appeared to be composed of pesticides. The Army is very serious about CBRN, as evidenced by the new state of the art training facilities at Fort Leonard Wood.
The civilian occupations which are available to someone who has had the training and a tour in the Army as a 74D are Hazardous Materials Removal, Occupational Health & Safety Specialists and Technicians, Chemical Technician, and Municipal Firefighter. Those leaving after an Army career as a 74D are more in line for Fire Fighting and Prevention Supervisors, Nuclear Monitoring Technician, or Emergency Management Director.

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