MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO --
Company G recruits woke before the sun rose, hiked a dusty road riddled with pot holes and gathered around the confidence chamber in the hills of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., to feel the effects of chlorobenzylidene malononitrile, commonly known as CS gas, Aug. 9.
CS gas is a non-lethal substance commonly used as a riot control agent by the military and police.
The confidence chamber is one of the many annual training requirements the recruits accomplish in boot camp. They are introduced to CS gas during the third week of field training at Weapons Field Training Battalion, Edson Range, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Before the recruits could enter the confidence chamber, they had to participate in several classes.
Recruits were taught how to properly fit and use their masks so they would be familiar with the equipment and are prepared for a potential chemical attack. The recruits were also screened to determine which of them were physically capable of participating in the training by checking for certain injuries and illnesses.
"I expected a painful ache in my face, and burning," said Recruit Abraham Rodriguezdiaz, Platoon 2154.
Company G’s six platoons were paired up outside of the gas chamber, awaiting the order to enter. The first two platoons filed into the gas-filled, dark, metal room and lined up against the walls. When the last recruit entered, the steel doors slammed shut and they were in complete silence, aside from the sound of breathing through masks.
While in the chamber, the recruits had to perform three exercises. The first was to bend over and shake their heads for approximately 15 seconds to ensure their masks were secured to their head and airtight. After that, they completed a set of jumping jacks together to test the mask's seal.
"When I was in the chamber, it wasn't bad at first, but it was bad when we got to the third exercise,” said Rodriguezdiaz.
For the last exercise the recruits were told by their Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear instructor to break the seal on their masks with two fingers and allow the gas to enter. As the gas seeped into their masks, many of the recruits began to cough uncontrollably.
“The drill instructors are inside the chamber to stop any recruits who try to get out,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Kollhoff, Weapons Field Training Company, Camp Pendleton, Calif. “If they start to panic, a CBRN instructor will check his mask and calm him down.”
The recruits had to wait for the CBRN instructor to check that everyone broke the seal on their masks before they could reseal them.
"Do we have confidence in my masks, Golf Company?" said Sermersky.
Through coughing and sniffling, the recruits screamed back with a rumbling, "Yes, sir!"
They were instructed to grab the shoulders of the recruit in front of them, and ordered to file out of the chamber through a door opposite of the one that they came in.
"CS gas affects the repiratory system," said Sermersky. "There are burning sensations to the skin and eyes, irritations to the sinuses and it clears out the lungs."
Though the recruits entered the confidence chamber with hesitancy and foreboding, they left with a sense of accomplishment and are now prepared to tackle more challenges and overcome new adversities as they advance in their Marine Corps careers.