FORT HOOD — Troopers talked among themselves and made a number of offhand comments while waiting to go inside the gas chamber at the East Range training area at Fort Hood. Everyone had taken the training at least once before in basic training, but a certain amount of nervous anticipation hung in the air.
“Sarge, you turning on the air conditioning in there?” asked one soldier in jest, referring to the gas chamber.
“I am pumped, let’s do this,” said another trooper after he donned his protective equipment.
However, the most common comment — the one repeated almost word for word by multiple soldiers — during the routine training earlier this week: “I really hope my gas mask works.”
That simple comment underscores why Army officials require troopers to take the training, where they not only enter a chamber filled with CS gas (a type of tear gas) with their gas masks on but take off the mask while still inside.
Leading the Tuesday training session, Lt. Johnny Cheng, with 115th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, said a large reason for the training involves building confidence in the equipment so soldiers remain calm should they ever encounter a situation where they have to use their gas masks.
“One of the basic skills that troopers have to have is to be able to don their protective equipment and operate in a contaminated environment,” Cheng said. “The training shows them, One: how to do it, and Two: to have confidence that it would work in a real-life situation.”
About 100 troopers assigned to Charlie Company, 115th Brigade Support Battalion completed the training this week.
Troopers donned their gas masks while filing up outside the gas chamber, and then entered and completed a series of exercises as Spc. DeLawrence Williams, a soldier specialized in chemical warfare, gave directions.
The troopers learned their gas masks did indeed work inside the gas-filled chamber. They learned how to break and clear the seal without receiving any effects from the gas. After that they took off their masks to feel what would happen without their masks.
CS gas reacts with moisture to cause major discomfort in human beings, and when troopers came out of the chamber, most were red in the face, coughing and squinting to protect their eyes. Participants were immediately reminded to flap their arms to dissipate the gas particles and not to touch their faces — it would only rub in the substance and make the pain worse.
Just in case anyone got hurt, a team of medics set up a small aid station.
For many, the training did clear their sinuses with the telltale sign of 3-foot-long trails of snot and the watery eyes that go with it. However, some like Spc. Brandon Munn were undeterred with this and decided to challenge fate charging into the chamber without their masks, shouting “Ironhouse,” the brigade motto.
The troopers were quickly seen regretting the decision with bouts of hacking and coughing. Still, the cavalry troopers completed their challenge and were back to their spirited selves after about five or 10 minutes of fresh air.
“This training is awesome — It’s epic. So when you do get to come out and have the opportunity do get to do the training, you want to make sure you get the most out of it,” Munn said.