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Gas Mask Realities
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Gas Mask Realities

So, I've played quite a few video games in my day, and I find it interesting that they introduce the gas mask as an essential part of the game. This reminds me of my first experiences with the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) ensemble and the different masks we actually used in the USAF.

In the late 1980's Myrtle Beach AFB was well known for its readiness. Its personnel were well known for their capabilities while dressed out in the complete NBC ensemble and gas masks. We held many readiness exercises every year. We were often assigned a task and then graded on our performance while in the mask and suit.

There were other areas graded, such as, self-aid buddy care, liquid, vapor, and chemical detection of biological hazards, and Unexploded Ordinance location and cordoning off. Many a day and night were spent testing our readiness in the event we had to deploy to a hostile environment. Once a year we had to test our gas masks and our abilities to don the mask, do it correctly, and get a good seal so that no air penetrated the mask. This process had to be accomplished in less than nine seconds. That was a scary thought the first time I had to put one on. I mean nine seconds, that's not a lot of time, right? But the simulations were practiced over and over until you had it automatically in your head to don, exhale, inhale to check the seal, and hope the mask was functioning correctly.

Talk about scary! The drills we practiced were to help us in a real world attack by NBC weapons. They are always a threat in times of war, and some dictators around the world have even crossed the line and tested NBC weapons on their own people. That statement in class was hard to swallow at first. Eventually, I was capable of dressing out completely in the entire suit, boots, gloves, and mask in a very fast time frame. That eased my mind and helped me to become confident that if stuff hit the fan, I had the training to stay alive. Then MBAFB introduced a new concept to the NBC program.

This new concept, borrowed from the US Army, added quite the twist to the program. Basically we were given our own gas chamber to use for real world simulation of gas attacks. Oh, joy! So now we had to qualify every year by donning our gas masks, and in groups of twelve people, enter the darkened chamber. We held our breath, donned our masks, checked for a good seal and were taken into the gas chamber. A canister of tear gas was then released inside the chamber. Next, we had to wait our turn to be given the order to remove our masks, breath in, and give our name, rank, and serial number to the instructor. Then we exited the chamber, grabbed on to a rope and walked (spelled R-A-N) the length of the rope (50 feet or so), to attempt to have the wind help get the stinging tear gas out of our eyes. Sometimes, you also had to use water from your canteen to wash the gas residue out of your eyes.

If you did not attain a proper seal of your mask, or if the mask malfunctioned, you were made to repeat the whole process until the desired results were achieved. So you had better make sure the mask was fully operational and good to go. Otherwise you had a long day ahead of you. I understand why it was important and I gained a healthy respect for my M17A1 gas mask. I'll bet I could still don it now, all these years later, in less than nine seconds. So the next time your video game character dons his mask, think back to this article and I hope this helps put things in a better perspective for you. Good Day!


Street Talk

Oh my! Nine seconds. That's amazing. Not sure I can do much of anything in nine seconds let alone all those steps:-) Good article. Informative.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Yes, it seems like a short time. But when it is your life you are talking about, the training really helps.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

You didn't have to remind me...lol....Had to do similar in boot camp...same situation but whold squad was there...realeasd the gas and after some talk has us remove the mask....had to give serial number then leave...I was in 3 row...:(

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Yes sir, we were sent in alphabetically... Last name starts with an "S", long wait.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Great article Rodney... never had to use one but had to learn to wear one in similar circumstances (training) in basic s when first got called up to the army when I was 17.. Can't even remember what they looked like but so many years ago, they probably worried about first world war Chlorine gas.... lol

Reply
  about 8 years ago

I spent so much time in one that it was like a second skin. lol.

Reply
  about 8 years ago
Joan S  

That is amazing. I'm getting more and more respect for the Air Force. I think I would panic. Could the gas do you residual harm? This article was great.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Not too much gas damage. Very strong stinging to the eyes like onions peeled and then shoved under your nose for a few seconds.

Reply
  about 8 years ago
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