Waiting to Exhale

ROTC Cadets brave LDAC gas chamber 

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U.S. Army photo by Hannah Hunsinger

Standing in line with their M-40 field protective gas masks suctioned tightly to their faces, 2nd Regiment Reserve Officers’ Training Corps Cadets waited nervously staring at the white billowing smoke as it rose from a large military tent at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. A series of Cadets suddenly burst through the flaps of the tent waving their arms and gasping for air as long strains of mucous poured from their nostrils.

A look of fear grew in the Cadets eyes as they regrettably walked into the tent that their compatriots had burst through minutes earlier to complete the CS gas chamber portion of the chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training exercise at the 2013 Leader Development and Assessment Course.

While the exercise may seem a bit extreme, it prepares the Cadets for various forms of warfare that they may see down the road. Once inside the tent the Cadets are required to take off their mask and recite their name and which university they attend prior to exiting.

“The most difficult part is probably the anxiety they experience waiting to go into the gas chamber,” said Master Sgt. Mark Torbert, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the CBRN range. “They see their Cadet friends coming out gagging, choking and spitting.”

As an extra precaution, Cadet Nels Jacobson, 2nd Reg. from the New Mexico Military Institute tightened his mask once more, not expecting anything too terrible from the experience.

“I took my mask off, took a breath and it was so much worse than anything I expected,” said Jacobson. “Instantly everything just stopped and I wasn’t able to talk and I could barely breathe.”

After exiting the chamber, Jacobson’s skin started burning, his eyes were watering and his nose was running. He followed his fellow squad members to a circle where Cadets had to walk around and move their arms up and down to keep them from touching their face with their contaminated gloves.

Some Cadets have already been through a similar experience at basic training for prior-enlisted Soldiers, but it still can be difficult to go through a second time at LDAC.

“Your eyes are burning and your lungs are burning,” said Cadet Spencer Jones, 2nd Reg. from the University of Wyoming. “It feels like you are suffocating.”

As Cadet Brittany Lewellen from the University of Louisville stood outside the tent the smell of gas leaked into her mask causing her to sneeze. Once inside, she went to the front of the line, took her mask off, and endured the pain of being exposed to the tear gas.

“I was a little scared because I knew it was going to suck,” Lewellen said. “I’ve been sick so my throat was really hurting and I had snot running down my face.”

After going through the training exercise, Cadets walked back down the hill, still trying to breathe normally.

As future Army commissioned officers, it is important that Cadets successfully make it through the gas chamber to prepare them for conditions they might face on the battlefield or in future training with their Soldiers.

“As an officer, when I have to put my Soldiers through this training, I am at least going to know what it feels like,” said Lewellen.

Story by Sara Nahrwold

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