It sucks going through it but it's something you'll never forget. It was one of the most memorable events during Basic Training. It brought us closer as a team and taught us that our mask really could save our lives if used properly. We were fully confident in our gear, ourselves and our training. Basic Training has a way of shocking you into discovering just how much more you're really capable of.
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**The Dreaded Gas Chamber**
Soldiers at Basic will go through the gas chamber during their second or third week, but first they will take several courses on how to properly anticipate and react to a chemical attack. A primary lesson is how to properly don chemical gear, including the M40/M42 Series Protective Mask (pro-mask).
Trainees also have to test the mask in an actual chemical environment. The gas chamber itself usually comprises two main rooms. Drill Sergeants lead groups of 20 to 30 Soldiers wearing protective masks into one of the rooms where clouds of chlorobenzylidene malonitrile (CS) gas hovers. Immediately the poison begins to tingle the skin. The tingle becomes an itch, then a burn. Trainees are then ordered to lift their masks and breathe in the CS gas, which usually results in a burn in the lungs. The attending drill sergeant will then order the trainees to replace their pro-masks and clear them of the agent. Very quickly it will be easy to breath clean air through the filter.
The first room is only to preliminarily test the masks, and Soldiers begin to trust in them immediately, after which they enter the main gas chamber filled with thicker plumes of CS gas. There will be a Drill Sergeant in full MOPP gear (level four) inside the gas chamber stoking burning CS, which is in solid form up to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. The Drill Sergeant will stay in full MOPP gear throughout the day as he is required to stay in the gas chamber until all groups have gone through, this can sometimes be as long as 4 four hours.
Here Soldiers repeat the procedure from the previous room, lifting their masks, breathing in, and replacing and clearing. The mask will function again once the seal is airtight and the canister cleared of agents. Then drill sergeants will order them to remove their masks, this time completely, and taking in several breaths. Some vomit, some cry, some choke, but all cough violently. One Soldier said it felt like an open flame was nipping at his lungs. Trainers then order recruits to state their name, recite a line, or sing a song, before heading out for fresh air. On the order, the Soldiers will place their hand on the shoulder of a battle-buddy and walk out of the chamber in a line.
The gas chamber is designed to teach Soldiers how to use life-saving equipment and to trust in their leaders' orders. For many, it is also a test of physical and mental fortitude in a particularly painful experience.