FORT KNOX, Ky.- 2nd Regiment Cadet Initial Entry Training (CIET) Alpha Company Cadets finished Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) threat training by braving the gas chamber at the CBRN Defense Mask Confidence Course on June 16, 2016.
The training is designed so Cadets learn to defend themselves against CBRN threats by handling and wearing equipment, being exposed to CS gas in the gas chamber and decontaminating themselves and their equipment.
Alpha Company received pre-training instruction for this exercise on June 15. Cadets were hesitant but enthusiastic to put their classroom knowledge to the test in the gas chamber. Sgt. 1st Class Fernando Franco, a reservist of the 354th from Bell, California says CBRN training is a crucial part of preparing to lead troops in combat.
“Cadets are feeling the real effects of CS gas. This training is not all in the classroom, it’s 3D in touch, sight, smell, taste and feeling. Chemical exposure can be disorienting, if a soldier is exposed to that for the first time during a mission down range, the chances of mission success are slim. By going through this intense training and being exposed to CS gas, Cadets will be able to identify warning signs, trust their equipment, work through the physical effects and be able to focus on their soldiers, all because they have been through it in training,” Franco said.
Arriving at the course, Cadets grab their gear including gloves, masks, jackets and pants for protection from the CS gas. Cadets inspect their equipment for rips, tears or inefficiencies and are instructed on the proper way to wear and secure it.
Right before entering the chamber, Cadets performed a bit of physical exercise to increase their heart rate then entered the chamber. Cadre members inside monitored the Cadets as they broke the seal on their gas masks. Once the seal is broken, the CS gas seeps into the mask causing eyes to burn, skin to be irritated and sinuses to be interrupted. Cadets are asked a series of questions by Cadre to test mental awareness and cognition. Cdt. Charles Bell IV of Norwich University in Vermont said he was disoriented in the chamber and it amplified when exiting.
“I had a hard time getting my eyes open because they were burning so I couldn’t see. I was coughing and it was hard to breath there at the beginning. The Cadre outside of the chamber instructed me to keep walking forward while flapping my arms and it was a lot to handle with being so disoriented,” Bell said.
Cadets and soldiers going through the chamber are instructed to flap their arms and keep moving in order to release the CS gas particles from the suits and clothing. As the Cadets keep moving and blinking their eyes, the side effects slowly begin to fade as they regain balance, clear sight and airways. The gas dissipates quickly and has no lasting effects.
Cdt. Thomas Schmidt of St. Norbert College in Wisconsin said it was all so abrupt.
“It was an experience to be had for sure. They lined us up in squads and the adrenaline is flowing because you don’t know what to expect. As soon as you break the seal on the mask to take it off it hits you like a wall. Your eyes are burning, your sinuses are running, and it’s hard to breathe without coughing. I couldn’t answer the questions they were asking me because it was hard to think clearly while experiencing all those side effects. After I got out of the chamber I just wanted to lay down until it all faded away but you had to keep moving and push through it,” Schmidt said.
The CBRN Defense Mask Confidence Course sees thousands of soldiers each year, training to prepare for chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear threats of combat. These soldiers brave undesirable conditions in order to prepare to lead troops into harm’s way as an Officer in the United States Army.