U.S. troops better trained for chem-bio than Iraqis
by Staff Sgt. Marcia Triggs
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 5, 2003) - Army chemical and biological defense experts told the Pentagon press corps that if Saddam Hussein uses weapons of mass destruction, U.S. soldiers are trained and better equipped than the Iraqis or anyone else.
"I don't want to overstate it, but we can operate 100 percent better in a chemical and biological environment than the Iraqis can," said Maj. Gen. John Doesburg, the commanding general of the U.S. Army Soldier and Biological Chemical Command.
During the one-hour press conference, media wanted the three-man panel to answer questions ranging from: Is it true that there are defective chemical and biological suits? How will the Iraqi desert climate and sand affect detection equipment? And is there still a problem with troops not being properly trained on how to operate their individual protection equipment?
Reporters also asked: "Will the Iraqi president really use such weapons?"
Over the past six years the Army has developed 19 new chemical and biological defense systems, to include detectors and individual protection systems, such as the suit and mask, said Brig. Gen. Stephen Reeves, program executive officer for Chemical and Biological Defense for the Department of Defense.
Chem/bio suits, referred to as the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology or JSLIST, is one improvement that has been made since the Gulf War. It's lighter than its predecessor, it dissipates heat more quickly and protects against all known or suspected chemical or biological agents, Reeves said.
Every soldier being deployed is issued two suits, Reeves said. Before issuance each suit was checked three times for defects, he said, and there are zero defects in the stockpile.
Since the Gulf War, five new biological detectors have been produced. One of those detectors is the Standoff Chemical Agent Detector, which will detect chemical vapors out to five kilometers and is the first in the world, Reeves said. There's also the Portal Shield, which is a semi-automated detector that is used at fixed sites around ports, airfields and bases. It can detect up to 10 different biological agents and give results within 15 minutes.
Other items that are being used to increase the life span of soldiers during a nuclear, biological or chemical attack are stockpiled vaccines for smallpox and anthrax, which are the principal threats, Reeves said. Also, individuals who specialize in NBC reconnaissance, decontamination and biological detection have been embedded in deployed units as a force protection measure.
"[In Kuwait] every company commander has a specialist advising him on how to develop training programs, and in the case of an attack the specialist would advise the commander on what actions to take," said Col. Thomas Spoehr, the commander of the 3rd Chemical Brigade, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. "Then there are teams moving around the battlefield providing support wherever it's needed."
With a force that's so prepared for the worst, why would Saddam take the risk, reporters asked, waiting for a response that would be speculation.
"He's used them in the past," Doesburg said. "He probably has some grave reservations about using those chemical and biological agents, but we're going to be prepared.
"I had the displeasure of having been in Geneva, Switzerland, during the time that he was using chemical agents ... I will never forget the picture book that showed what exposure to mustard agent does ... Most disturbing was the women and children that were in that book," Doesburg said.
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