MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- Away from prying eyes, in the middle of the Yuma desert, stands a concrete building. A faint, crystallized fog floats from a small propane burner in the center of the room. A Marine in a woodland Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) level-4 suit, strapped with a gas mask, gloves and rubber boots, stands over the noxious fumes. He is the Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) specialist in charge of today’s training, aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016.
Lined along the interior wall, and peering through the condensation of their black-rubber gas masks, the 20 Marines breathe in anticipation of the start of the gas chamber.
“The gas chamber is intended to train all Marines so that they are able to react quickly to a chemical attack in order to save their lives and the lives of other Marines,” said Sgt. Steven Myher, the Marine Aircraft Group 13 Headquarters CBRN non-commissioned officer-in-charge. “Marines need to look at this as an actual real-life scenario, not just as bi-annual training.”
Before going through the gas chamber, Marines receive instruction on proper use of their M50 joint service general purpose mask, MOPP suit and equipment maintenance. Marines are also instructed on immediate action protocol, operational procedures for a chemical or biological attack, and a brief history of chemical warfare.
After silently waiting in the enclosed chamber, the instructor suddenly spreads his arms to his sides and taps his shoulders repeatedly.
“Gas, gas, gas!” is heard echoing around the room to announce the start of a simulated gas attack. Even before the last syllable leaves his lips, the Marines have nearly finished donning their gas masks. “We want Marines to have confidence in their mask and understand the gear they’re using in case of a CBRN attack,” said Myher, a native of Janesville, Wisconsin. “Essentially, when we are teaching these classes, we have to be confident and vocal to the Marines participating in the training to ensure they are retaining the information.”
The gas chamber is a valuable resource of knowledge for Marines because of the devastating impact chemical weapons and deadly chemical agents have had in the past, and its potential use by our enemies.
“We are better prepared to deal with chemical and biological attacks after observing chemical attacks in Iraq and Syria,” said Myher.
Even though more than a hundred years have passed since the beginning of chemical warfare, nothing has really changed: getting that mask on will save a Marine’s life. In the Marine Corps, the ability to control anxiety and fear is part of being U.S. Marine – after all, Marines run toward the sound of chaos, not away from it. The confidence building ritual of the gas chamber ensures Marines have the skills necessary to subdue fear in any situation.