In Basic Combat Training (BCT) everyone enters and exits the gas chamber. When doing so, everyone breathes in the gas – and a deeply uncomfortable sensation ensues. It’s terrible and jarring in your first go-around. I know no one without exception enjoys the experience. Because of a single shell with remnants of a harmful chemical agent, everyone is going to go back through the chamber. That’s how the army works.
But it’s a real threat and something we’ve taken for granted. Quick Anecdote. In my old unit, our NBC guy assigned to our company was non-existent. He filled more an admin function, like tracking NCOERs (Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Reports). That same guy eventually got himself in trouble. He threatened another soldier with an axe-less axe handle. It didn’t have an axe on it, but somehow the fact it was meant to made the altercation scarier. In all, I liked him, and he seemed like a good guy but lost his cool that day. The poor guy is probably in Leavenworth now and mainly because the guy who he came to couldn’t settle it with him. Instead, he just reported it.
Back to the gas chamber. The threat isn’t trivial. We’re fighting an enemy that could be anywhere. They blend into the civilian population. Worse yet, they’re capable of virtually any act of violence. In Vietnam, our use of Napalm was heavily criticized. Among the American people, there was little rage about the potential of chemical weapons. Americans upset during the “Red line” drama about Assad’s generous use of chemical weapons. But still, the people didn’t want US involvement in Syria. While they might have been correct, they still neglected to seek a solution to the chemical weapon attack.
These chemical weapons are a terrible way to die. Like Nuclear weapons – chemical weapons are meant for mass destruction. They’re designed to cause a massive loss of life. We did, after all, go to Iraq to weapons of mass destruction.
Here’s how it works according to science.howstuffworks.com.
“Sarin is a nerve agent. Once inside your body, nerve agents affect the signaling mechanism that nerve cells use to communicate with one another. Sarin is a cholinesterase inhibitor — it gums up the cholinesterase enzyme, which your nerve cells use to clear themselves of acetylcholine. When a nerve cell needs to send a message to another nerve cell (for example, to cause a muscle to contract), it sends the message with the acetylcholine. Without cholinesterase to clear the acetylcholine, muscles start to contract uncontrollably — this eventually causes death by suffocation since the diaphragm is a muscle. It acts in five to 12 hours [source: Keyes]. It is not particularly difficult to manufacture, and if you were trapped in a one-cubic-meter closet with 100 milligrams of sarin in the air, inhaling it would kill you in 1 minute [source: Keyes].”
I hope the units going forward have a better NBC guy than the axeless handle wielding one in my unit, because it’s not trivial and something we’ve overlooked for awhile.
Featured image courtesy of armageddononline.org.