Sailors Train for Gas Threat

Story Number: NNS021111-04Release Date: 11/13/2002
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By Journalist Second Class Robb Marshall, Mobile Public Affairs Team Det 119

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Anyone who has been through boot camp knows how a face full of tear gas feels - the burning, the stinging and the gagging.

But if you're a Sailor, after you set foot outside boot camp, odds are pretty good you'll never again set foot inside a "confidence chamber."

On a recent Saturday morning, Reserve Sailors and Marines of the 4th Medical Battalion took a refresher course in nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) training in a newly built confidence chamber at Camp Elliott on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

"We've been ordered to make sure every Marine and Sailor (at Miramar) gets this training," said Maj. Monte De Bel of the 4th Medical Battalion.

Dressed in protective gear that made it nearly impossible to distinguish Sailor from Marine, officer from enlisted, Reservists emerged from the confidence chamber with red faces and watery eyes after learning to purge their masks in the event the seal on their masks are breached. They shifted to a decontamination exercise designed to train partners to strip off each other's contaminated outer gear without allowing hazardous materials to contact skin.

"They've got to get familiar with it, to be reminded that their masks and suits really do work," De Bel said.

The contrast between the new confidence chamber and aging, 1940s-era buildings of Camp Elliott serve as a reminder that the nature of warfare has shifted dramatically since the days when this facility was used to train individuals for World War II combat duty.

"We're going into positions where the threat of biological and chemical attack is much higher," De Bel said. "In today's battlefield, there is no real rear area. What we once may have considered a rear area is not safe either. Lots of our people will be up front."

Marines undergo NBC training annually as part of their basic field training. Sailors serving in support of the Marines also receive this annual training.

As a medical battalion, the 4th differs from most Marine battalions. Sailors with medical ratings or commissions outnumber Marines in this unit by about three to one, the inverse of most other Marine battalions, said De Bel. Teamwork is a critical aspect of NBC training.

"The way you will survive an NBC attack is with the help of a buddy," said Pfc. Sean Murphy, who led the training exercises.

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