How to Conquer the Most Feared Event at Basic Training: The Gas Chamber
By Michael Volkin
Many recruits ask me what the hardest aspect of basic training is, and that is a difficult question to answer. For some recruits, it’s the fitness, for others it’s the mental aspect of basic training. However, there is one particular even in basic training that is talked about daily until it is time to complete this event. I am talking about the gas chamber.
The gas chamber is probably the most mentally challenging exercise you will have to overcome at basic training. Recruits have to breathe ortho-chlorbenzylidenedimalonitrile. Wow, that sounds scary. Actually, it is just the active substance of CS gas. You might recognize the name better as the common riot control formula called tear gas.
Now, the bad news is yes, you will have to go into an isolated room and breathe this gas in your lungs and it does sting a little bit. The good news is as soon as you walk outside, the exercise is over. The CS gas leaves your system quickly and any pain you are feeling dissipates within seconds. In fact, the most painful aspect of this exercise is the anticipation of the exercise itself.
I am often asked why this exercise is even necessary. Some would say that Drill Sergeants are jerks and like to torture recruits, others would say the gas chamber is necessary because you need to train your body to get used to the CS gas. Neither of those explanations are true. The real reason all recruits must go through the gas chamber is you need confidence in your chemical gear. If you’re not confident your chemical gear will work, then you will not be confident in combat if chemical or biological warfare should occur.
The following is a brief explanation on how you will most likely experience the gas chamber. You will walk in the gas filled room with a dozen other recruits with your face mask on. You will notice instantly that your chemical gear works. Then you will have to take off your mask and sing a portion of the Star Spangled Banner (or other similar song) and breathe the gas. The best advice I can give you at this point is to not hold your breath. If a drill sergeant sees you holding your breath or lip-syncing the words to the Star Spangled Banner, you will have to do the entire exercise again. Not to mention the other recruits that are in the room with you will be waiting for you to finish. I am sure they want to get out of the gas chamber as much as you do.
After the exercise the gas will dissipate out of your system very quickly and the whole incident will be a memory. You can read a more in-depth description about the gas chamber in my book at available at The Ultimate Basic Training Guidebook