Photo Information

Cpl. Taavon Ball, 23, a field wireman from Baltimore puts his M40A1 gas mask on before entering the 33 area gas chamber. Marines from 9th Communication Battalion, 1st Intelligence Battalion and 1st Radio Battalion took part in an annual confidence mask training exercise to learn how to use their gas mask properly and what to do when faced with a chemical attack. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. John M. McCall)

Photo by Lance Cpl. John M. McCall

Marines prepare for chemical attacks

22 Apr 2010 | Lance Cpl. John McCall

Marines with 9th Communication Battalion, 1st Intelligence Battalion and 1st Radio Battalion participated in an annual mask confidence training exercise at the 33 Area Gas Chamber April 22.

            “We teach the Marines the characteristics of how to properly fit and wear the M40A1 gas mask,” said Sgt. Rodney Williams, 25, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense specialist.  “We also teach them about the different types of chemical attacks and how to react to them.”

            Before entering the chamber, Marines are given a quick class on how to don and clear their masks – put on the gas mask with a tight seal so no air gets inside and then clear it of any contaminated air.

“This is a good refresher for a lot of us.  Going over the basics of donning and clearing the mask helps a lot,” said Cpl. Taavon Ball, 23, a field wireman from Baltimore. “This training lets us test out our masks to make sure they work.”

Having previously deployed to Afghanistan, Cpl. Ball said he found the training vital.

“When I was in Afghanistan the enemy would launch mortar attacks on our position and looking back on it now it could have been a (potential) chemical attack for all we knew,” Ball said.  “We always have to be prepared for the unexpected.  That’s what Marines do.”

Once inside the chamber the instructors burn tablets of CS powder, creating CS gas – a non-lethal chemical agent commonly used by police to control riots.

“We have them break the seal on their mask so that they can see what it’s like to have contaminated air inside the mask and how to get rid of it,” Williams explained. “That is the reason why we run them through the chamber, so they get an idea of what the real thing would be like.”

Once the gas is in the air, participants do a few exercises to get their heart pumping, including side straddle hops and running in-place.  Soon after, Marines must pull their masks off and allow the CS gas to flow in.

            “We have them go into the chamber and do some exercises to simulate heavy breathing, this way they can see that their mask is still protecting them even though they are moving around,” said Lance Cpl. Tanya Pariseau, 27, a CBRN defense specialist from Warwick, R.I.  “The whole point of this is so Marines can have confidence that their chemical equipment will protect them if they ever need it in a combat environment.”

            Even though this was an exercise, and not a real situation, some Marines said they understood the seriousness of the subject matter.

“I just wish Marines would take this training more seriously,” Williams said.  “I hope that after this exercise they (Marines) understand that this is a real threat.  Just because it hasn’t happened does not mean that these chemical agents aren’t out there.”