CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Many Marines may remember their first trip to the gas chamber back during recruit training. The chamber itself invokes memories of burning eyes, runny noses and an unforgettable sense of fear that every recruit felt when faced with a task that they were unfamiliar with.
Approximately 60 Marines and sailors from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit returned to the roots of their training and battled the effects of the Chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, also known as CS gas, inside the gas chamber here, Oct. 18.
The gas chamber training took place right after the Marines and sailors completed a six-mile hike, where each member of the MEU carried their T/O weapon and wore 35 pounds of gear in their packs.
“As the chemical biological radiological nuclear chief here, the main thing I want to do is to refresh our Marine’s skills using the protective equipment,” said Staff Sgt. Hallie Crawford, the CBRN chief with the 11th MEU’s command element.
Military service members are not known to frequently volunteer to take part in gas chamber training but the ability to use a protective mask properly is a skill that every Marine is required to have.
“This training is annual for a reason,” said Crawford, the 30-year-old, Rusk TX., native. “It’s expected that every Marine be able to defend themselves in any situation. At the same time, this is confidence training, so Marines have to be able to use the gear properly and with a certain level of confidence. There are many CBRN threats in the world and we have to be ready for all of them.”
Although some Marines seemed a little nervous about subjecting themselves to the gas, other Marines seemed eager to accomplish the task. Lance Cpl. Samantha Struller, a 21-year-old, West Palm Beach, Fl. Native, composes herself before training events.
“The gas chamber doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers other people,” said Struller, an intelligence specialist with the 11th MEU’s command element. “If I get nervous and mess up I’m going to have to do it all over again. The way I see it, after I’m done; it’s one less thing I have to worry about."
Little could be heard from inside the chamber, but Marines saw a taste of what was in store as they watched other Marines exit the chamber.
In the chamber, Marines and sailors conducted several exercises including side-straddle hops and head movements to prove that the seal between the gas and the Marine’s faces was working properly.
The moment that makes the gas chamber infamous came next. All were instructed to poke two fingers through their masks while closing their eyes and holding their breath for as long as needed. They were then instructed to remove their fingers and properly dawn and clear their masks.
After the masks were cleared, the Marines pulled out their canteens and drank water out of them using the tube on their gas mask.
Marines from the 11th MEU, including Sgt. Devin Soria, the career planner for the 11th MEU’s command element, all knew what to expect when going into the chamber.
“I didn’t feel anything immediately, but after I cleared the mask I started to feel the effects,” said Soria, a 25-year-old, Richland, Wash., native. “Other than that it wasn’t too bad. Everyone knew what to expect so no one freaked out or anything.”
After the training had been completed, the instructors opened the exit door, letting in light from the outside. After everyone had completed the task, The 11th MEU’s command element put away their masks and headed back to their headquarters to carry on with the plan of the day.