San Diego — The recruits of Company K, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, lined up outside the door of the Confidence Chamber at Edson Range aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. Oct. 29.
The Confidence Chamber is a gas chamber that allows recruits to become familiar with the M50 Joint Service General Purpose Mask and experience the effects of CS gas, also known as tear gas, a non-lethal, riot control agent.
“This training is for the recruits to build confidence in their ability to don and properly use the mask,” explained Cpl. Carlos Gama, field instructor, Weapons and Field Training Battalion. “The recruits get to experience the effects of CS with and without the mask.”
The day began with a series of classes explaining the M50 mask, how to properly wear it, how to clear it, and CS gas and its effects. CS gas reacts with moisture on the skin and in the eyes, causing it to burn. It also irritates the respiratory system causing unpreventable coughing and sneezing.
The recruits are also given classes on alarms and specific hand and arm signals, so they know how to warn others in the area of a chemical outbreak, explained Gama. Once the classes are done, the platoons are broken down into groups and they line up at the door of the chamber, waiting to don their masks.
“Gas! Gas! Gas!” is yelled and recruits rush inside while putting on their masks. The door is closed and recruits line up against the wall. Inside the dimly lit chamber, recruits are instructed to perform side-straddle hops to raise their heart rate and breathing pattern.
“This is to simulate how stressful someone would feel in a chaotic combat environment,” explained Gama.
Next was the moment most recruits dreaded, breaking the mask’s seal. The recruits were required to close their eyes, hold their breath and lift their masks off, exposing their face.
Some recruits struggle to hold their breath and begin to cough, breathing in the gas. The reactions are expected; skin burning, eyes tearing, and uncontrollable coughing. “When I broke the seal, I started freaking out,” said Pvt. Alek Garrett, Platoon 3221, Co. K. “It was stinging so bad, I cried.”
The muffled sound of recruits crying out and gagging can be heard from the outside, making the next group anxious and nervous. After a moment of being contaminated, recruits were instructed to put their masks back on and clear them, allowing them to breath normally again. But the training wasn’t over yet, they were to remove their masks again and endure the pain once more.
“The second time, I already knew what to expect,” explained Garrett, an 18-year-old Fayetteville, Ark., native. “I stayed calm and kept thinking about the classes we went through and it wasn’t that bad.” Co. K recruits were more than eager to leave when the door was opened. Rushing out and removing their masks, recruits breathed in the fresh air and ran to an area where they could clean the masks.
“I think that we go through this training so we can become confident when using our issued gear (like the gas mask) the right way,” said Garrett. “If we don’t know what to do, then we’ll panic.”
Breathing in the fresh air, the recruits of Co. K moved on to the Crucible, a 54-hour field training exercise that requires recruits to complete missions using teamwork, while being deprived of food and sleep. They received their Eagle, Globe and Anchor Nov. 1, and now hold the title Marine.