Editor’s note: As a special service for our readers, WND is running a series of dispatches from Allan Wall chronicling his transition from civilian life as he prepares to fight with his National Guard unit in Iraq. Allan will write for us as often as he is able in order to let our readers vicariously experience what people in his position are going through. We hope you will check regularly for Allan’s dispatches and encourage your friends and family to do likewise.

With today’s threats of chemical and biological warfare, a protective mask (known to civilians as a gas mask) is a part of a soldier’s equipment. In case of a chemical attack, the correct use of such a mask could save a soldier’s life. Instruction in such matters is part of the Army training program, beginning with Basic Training.

A protective mask (or pro-mask for short) must be taken care of and checked to see if it’s in working order. It can’t have holes in it, and it should fit right. In Army Basic Training (attended by both the regular Army and the National Guard ) trainees are instructed in the use of the protective mask.

One of the rites of passage at Army Basic Training is “The Gas Chamber.” Not to be confused with the gas chamber used for executions, the Army “gas chamber” is used to test the soldier’s protective masks and his ability to use them correctly.

After being shown how to don the mask, Basic Trainees are herded into the gas chamber, which is filled with CS gas. This is a chemical used in open spaces to suppress riots. When you are exposed to CS gas, you definitely feel uncomfortable. It makes it difficult to breathe, gives you a burning sensation on your skin, and can cause you to shed tears. If you were locked in a closed room filled with CS, it would kill you in 30 minutes. Of course, the Army doesn’t keep you in there that long, nor even close to it, but it sure seems unpleasant. Having your mask off in a CS chamber for a matter of seconds won’t hurt you, but is disagreeable enough.

When the basic trainee is inside the CS gas chamber, if his gas mask hasn’t sealed properly, his eyes will burn and he’ll feel very uncomfortable. In addition, the trainees are instructed to close their eyes and hold their breath, open their mask, put it back on and re-seal it. If they can do this successfully, good for them. If not, they get an unpleasant whiff of CS gas.

After that, the drill sergeants compel the trainees to doff their masks and spend some time with the CS gas. I remember when I went through the gas chamber in Basic Training, I found this part so disagreeable that I tried to exit the gas chamber immediately. I was prevented from doing so by a drill sergeant, who wanted me to spend a little more time inside the CS-filled room.

My unit of National Guardsmen, called up for Iraq duty, is training at Fort XYZ, in the U.S.A. The training includes reviewing skills we have trained on before, as well as new tasks.

One of the old skills we have trained on is the use of the protective mask. That training included a visit to the CS gas chamber here at Fort XYZ. It was my first visit to a CS gas chamber since Basic Training.

At Fort XYZ, we entered the CS chamber, opened and resealed the masks, and did some jumping jacks, to see if the masks were well-situated.

Before exiting, we were allowed to remove our masks while still in the chamber, if we so desired. I opted not to, but pulled my mask off right after walking out. I received a heavy enough dose of CS gas to remind me how unpleasant it is.

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