Monday, May 21, 2007

The Gas Chamber

NBC training is always certain for a few memorable stories, the gas chamber especially so. Just about all Marines remember their first time in the chamber, the bad Darth Vader quotes to show the others that I "aint skeered", lining up on the inside of the bulkheads, and holy hell, why is my skin feel like it's melting? Then the masks come off and the fun begins...

I distinctly remember one poor guy wigging out and making a mad dash for the hatch, only about half way through the session. Said guy got neatly clotheslined by one of the instructors mere feet from freedom. The rest of us were none too pleased by the fact that we had to stay in longer while they sorted out freako. I was just happy that I managed to hold in my morning chow until after I exited the chamber...

Really, the first time is the worst (usually), all later training sessions are more like a refresher course, designed to brush the dust off of the mental cobwebs, and to ensure that you are up to date on all gear. A typical gas chamber session might have several different variations, but goes something like this:

The platoon will stage gear and gather for a few classes. The instructor will give a class on the gas mask, types of gases, the body's reaction to gases, and what we will have to do to demonstrate proficiency in the chamber. Platoons will be divided up into squads, and enter the chamber as a squad. Other squads will continue on to take different classes related to the NBC training, while awaiting their turn for the chamber.

I remember one particularly memorable NBC Staff NCO. This Marine was crusty as hell, and had joined the Corps way back when Jesus was just a Pfc. Appeared that he had spent the majority of his time with NBC, too. This guy lived for anything related to Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical warfare. Quite the motivator.

So motivated, in fact, that he had managed to up the concentration of the tear gas that we were using for the day. After initial training, I had gotten used to a greatly reduced sensation of melting skin coming from the backs of my hands and the area of my face outside of the mask. Felt more like an itchy tickling. I knew that this was going to be an interesting day when I saw the fumes fill the chamber a lot more thickly that the past few episodes, and my skin started to melt. I turned to one of my Lance Corporals and said, "No pain, no gain. More pain....more pain".

First came the head shake. The head shake is a simple exercise to make sure that the Marines had properly put on his mask before entering the chamber, and had it tightly secured on his face. All Marines were instructed to bend at the waist and vigorously shake their heads around. The gagging that followed brought a smile to my face when I realized that I was still good to go. Misery might love company, but it is always better for the other guy. Those Marines then demonstrated the proper way to clear one's mask after contamination. A couple of times.

After the shake came the pt. We ran around the walls, getting our heart rates up and sounding off to the cadence of the instructor. He was not pleased with the volume of our shouts, and told us so. After we all came to a stop, the instructor removed his gas mask, and proceeded to give us instructions for our next demonstrations of proficiency. The chamber was now fully filled with the smoke.

"All right, since you little pussies don't want to sound off while double timing with your friggin masks on, we'll just take them off and pt! When I give the order, all Marines will remove your masks and begin to double time around my chamber. The slower you pukes run, the longer we will be in my domain here. You motivate me, and I will motivate you. You fail to motivate me, and I WILL motivate you!!!" He rasped.

As the NBC instructors don't normally take off their masks in the middle of the chamber to berate us and instruct, we all figured that the gas was not as potent as we had initially guessed. We had forgotten that 1) This guy lived for the chamber. 2) He had been doing this stuff for a long time, and probably gotten conditioned somewhat. 3) To him, anyone lower than E-7 was a FNG, and he loved to see FNGs squirm.

We got the order, I removed my mask and my eyeballs promptly melted and ran down my face.

More pain...more pain.


We croaked something unintelligible.

We could hear the other squads outside the chamber roaring with laughter.

Laugh now, you bastards, you're next.

The intensity of the gas was definitely on par with boot camp, and much stronger than my last 4 times in the chamber since. To run, one had to trail one's fingers along the bulkhead, with the other hand on the shoulder of the Marine in front of you. This would ensure that you wouldn't run over somebody in the crowded room. Worked like a champ for a while, until someone about 5 bodies ahead fell to his knees. Much like a NASCAR pile up, the Marine immediately behind him slammed on his brakes, only to be bowled over by the rest of the choking, gagging, snot-flinging squad. I landed nuts first on someones heel, and the knee of the Marine behind me lodged firmly in my ass.

Not my best day.

As a last cruel tease, the instructor open the hatch to the outside, while continuing our pt on the inside of the chamber. We were forced to run past the open door, while continuing to run circles around him. Finally, he got bored with us, and gave us the okay to run outside and begin decontamination.

As always, the other squads were ready and waiting with cameras to forever memorialize our discomfort. S'ok, we would do the same to them, when their time came.


Hammer said...

That is funny as hell. When my best friend went through boot camp they presented each with a VHS of themselves snotting and puking everywhere.

I've pepper sprayed myself but never experienced tear gas.

Sounds like fun, makes me want to go buy a gas mask to fool around with.

Murphy said...

Yeah, that's when I figured out that the '4 fingers of death' (Frankfurters, beef, 4) looked pretty much the same coming back up as they did on the way down.