TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – Sept. 3, 2015 — Gas! Gas! Gas! Echoed-shouts filled the room as rapid arm movements set the Marines into motion; initiating a race against time. With tightly shut eyes, they held onto one last breath and reached for their masks. The Marines hastily positioned the equipment on their faces, fastening the straps; pulling them tight and securing the masks in place.
“Nine seconds,” said Cpl. Lauren Wiley, chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense specialist, Marine Aircraft Group 13. “That’s all the time you have to equip the gas mask once the signal for gas has been given.”
CBRN defense specialists with MAG-13 assisted Marines from Marine Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron 1 and Headquarters Battalion in building trust and confidence in their gear while in chemically unsafe locations during individual equipment confidence courses at building 1980, Aug. 27, 2015.
“The last thing you should have to worry about in a deployed environment is whether or not your suit is protecting you,” said Lance Cpl. Christopher Barnes, CBRN defense specialist, MAG-13. “The purpose of the training is to create confidence in your suit and your mask. Our purpose is to teach the Marines how to continue the mission if contamination occurs.”
The CBRN defense specialists covered the use of the joint-service, lightweight, integrated suit technology and the M50 joint-service general purpose mask designed to protect the wearer while in a contaminated environment.
They also provided a refresher course for those who already attended three-day, reconnaissance, surveillance and decontamination course.
“In the RS&D course we teach other teams and units so that they can essentially do our job,” Wiley said. “It enables them to do recon and testing for whatever contamination there may be.”
Following the courses, Marines received transport to Range 105 to put what they just learned to the test through practical application in the confidence chamber. CBRN defense specialists burned tablets of Chlorobenzylidene Malononitrile gas as they assessed Marines’ understanding of the equipment with a variety of exercises inside the enclosed building.
“Once you hear the signal, all you think about is getting the mask on and following the training,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Kays, unmanned aerial systems technician, VMU-1.
“The practical application helps us to override the initial reaction to freeze. Eventually, through practice, it becomes second nature. Those three or four seconds of hesitation can make all the difference in a real situation.”
CBRN defense specialists stressed the importance of qualifying with the mask annually to ensure that Marines remain ready for any situation.
“Just like you keep up your annual training in swim and rifle qualification, it’s important to keep up on your CBRN training,” Barnes said. “You may not use it that year, but when you use it, you need to be ready.”