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Training takes on new reality; Marines train for possible chemical attacks


Story Identification Number: 20033515050
Story by Lance Cpl. Shawn C. Rhodes

CAMP RYAN, Kuwait(Feb. 26, 2003) -- "Gas, gas, gas!" Normally, these words precede a gas mask drill, where Marines practice putting on their masks. For Marines deployed to an area where there is a very real possibility of a chemical or biological attack, Marines and Sailors practice NBC defense tactics on a routine basis.

Biological and chemical attacks have been a threat since World War I. And now with blister and blood agents and nerve gasses to worry about, service members pay special attention to the protection they can use against these different weapons.

"We drill here so that putting on a gas mask and heading to the nearest bunker becomes muscle memory," said Lance Cpl. Albert V. Nystrom NBC defense specialist/instructor with Task Force Tarawa. "If we can make it so that everyone reacts out of habit, we can reduce the risk of someone getting hurt when seconds count."

Weapons using biological or chemical agents are not designed to destroy the area of impact. Instead, they 'pop', and release their agents into the air where bodily orifices like the mouth, eyes and skin consume the agents. The agents then spread on winds to different areas, possibly affecting an extremely large area.

The NBC Marines are notified when a missile is tracked as inbound. "Those minutes are crucial to getting everyone in their masks, out of the open air and into a bunker," said Nystrom. The Mobile, Ala. native continued "after we sound the alarm, people know to head for their designated shelters. We put the whole camp on lockdown. Nobody goes in or out of any tents."

There is always an NBC specialist on duty in case of an attack. The NBC specialists are trained to plot out areas of contamination on maps, using either computer programs or charts and graphs. Working with meteorological specialists, NBC specialists can predict where dangerous agents will travel and can forewarn military units or civilians in the area.

In addition to predicting the movement of biological and chemical agents, the specialist on duty can plan and evaluate the drills performed to heighten awareness and help Marines become more familiar with their gas masks and NBC gear.

"We see people walking around in sandstorms with their gas masks on," said Nystrom. "When other people see that, they think we are under attack, and a false alarm goes up. It's my job to keep an eye out for that kind of thing and to make sure people don?t run to the bunkers for no reason."

The drills performed here are showing their effect. Marines are becoming more familiar with their mask and the emergency procedures used in the event of an attack.

"When I hear them call the alarm, my hand just automatically goes to my gas mask carrier, and before I know it, I'm tightening down the straps and checking the seal, said Lance Cpl. Cliff. R. McAfee, a postal clerk with the 2d MEB and a native of Pittsburgh, Penn. "I always think it's the real thing, because you never know if it's the real thing. It's kind of scary, but I know I'll know what to do if we ever are attacked."

Knowing what to do in case of a biological or chemical attack is exactly the purpose of the training, said Task Force Tarawa NBC Officer Chief Warrant Officer 5 Kenneth R. Norwood, a native of Sanford, N.C. "We make sure Marines have confidence in their gear, their training, and themselves. Doing all this ensures we can lessen the effects of any weapon of mass destruction used against us."

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