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Masks at the Ready

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Story by SGT Alejandro Smith-Antuna on 04/11/2018
CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. In the age of nonconventional warfare, the risk of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear attacks bring a greater need for a proactive approach. Weaponized agents of this variety can be unseen killers.

Yet troops have an arsenal of protective gear masks, suits, gloves and boots that must be donned and taken care of properly to defend themselves.

"If you do not seal your suit properly, then you are dead. It sounds harsh but that is the reality of this," said Spc. Shantae Buchanan, an instructor with the 438th Chemical Company. "People don't always take this training seriously, because they've never had to deal with this stuff seriously. Being current with this training means ensuring your survival in the event of a nuclear or chemical incident."

So to maintain currency, approximately 60 soldiers from the Indiana National Guard participated in a three-day event to then train others, because one missed step in the preparation process can be devastating.

"Our state adjutant general realized that the need for CBRN training was severely lacking amongst our Guardsmen," said Maj. Ryan Core, the operations officer for Indiana's emergency response force package. "These skills are ones that are in the basic warrior task list that they learn but soon forget from lack of use."

The training consisted of a crawl-walk-run phases, separating training intensity as the days went on. So the first day included briefs and equipment familiarization.

"For many of them, this is their first time seeing this type of equipment and handling it," said Core. "We are able to use ordinary household chemicals to fool the detectors on the equipment to show how our machines will act in the event of an incident. The plan is that after they complete their training, they will then be able to go back to their unit's and train their own."

The second day involved outdoor field training in round-robin scenarios. Each station consistently reinforced the need for precaution and safety. The Mission Oriented Protective Posture, or MOPP, suit is a type of safety gear used by military personnel while in toxic environments.

Accordingly there are also different MOPP levels, ranging from zero to four, beginning with the equipment by your side then donning a mask up to a gas mask, over garment, gloves and boot covers.

By day three the soldiers were using what they learned in the days prior, including decontamination, identifying and reporting CBRN attacks, and setting up gas chamber training.

"[This training] gives us that next hands-on level of learning, where we saw it in the classroom now we get to see it in person and deepen our understanding," said 2nd Lt. Daniel Reynolds, a maintenance platoon leader with the 319th Forward Support Company. "This way, when we are instructing our team, platoon or battalion, we have more subject matter experts to give the best training."


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