NBC Leathernecks keep Marines, Sailors safe

27 Nov 2007 | Sgt. W. A. Napper Jr.

They look like something from another planet - large, misshapen eyes, unusually round heads and stiff upper torsos. Each breath sounds forced as the outside air is converted into a safe, breathable mixture. They walk in lumbering strides, crossing the desert landscape, looking back and forth from one to another.

This isn't another close encounter in the Mojave Desert - these are Marines and Sailors practicing their Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare skills in the Central Command Area of Responsibility, Feb. 5.

Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Marines with Marine Aircraft Group 11, Marine Wing Support Group 37 and Marine Tactical Air Control Squadron 38 have joined forces to teach 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Marines and Sailors here more about this otherworldly environment. What they learn could save their lives.

"All the NBC Marines are pooling their forces together because we have to train all of 3rd MAW," said Cpl. Erik Purinton, Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 NBC noncommissioned officer, 21, California native. "Right now we're focusing more on training. Back in the rear we focus on maintaining the gear, so when we do deploy it's good to go."

Staff Sgt. Fred Dircksen, MAG-11 NBC Defense chief, 32, Texas native, said Maj. Gen. James F. Amos, 3rd MAW commanding general, required NBC Marines to provide at least five training hours each month focusing on NBC defense, and they are completing that request. When Marines or Sailors first arrive here they receive a two-hour brief focusing on general knowledge and review. Next they'll receive hands-on training where they practice techniques like Mission Oriented Protective Posture gear exchanges, NBC detection equipment operation and learn about different types of NBC agents.

"We got together and used all the instructors to train classes," said Dircksen. "Right now we're doing two, half-day blocks of training three days in a row to get everyone who's already here spun up. The commanding general wants us to do five hours of training per month, so we're holding this every other week for right now until everyone gets caught up."

Dircksen said now that Marines and Sailors are here, NBC knowledge is more important now than ever.

"A lot of things have changed since we left (Marine Corps Air Station Miramar)," he said. "With these drills and exercises we can make sure everyone's gas masks are marked and are working properly. Even if they just went to a chamber before coming here, they might not have done a suit exchange recently, so this is more than just a refresher."

One way to get Marines and Sailors used to working in their gas masks, should the need arise, is a new addition to training here called Gas Mask Wednesday. For at least two hours each Wednesday, 3rd MAW Marines and Sailors don their masks and continue their daily routines.

"I think it's a good deal," said Dircksen. "Having Marines wear it and walk around with it has raised awareness and that's what we need. A lot of questions are popping up and people want to know more about what they can do to protect themselves."

For one New York native, the extra attention to NBC has really helped him.

"I'm taking this very seriously," said Cpl. Jean German, 1st Maintenance Battalion Combat Service Support Command 134 supply clerk, 22. "Back in the rear it seems like there's very little training, but out here it's serious, and I feel like this is very necessary. Being out here puts things into perspective."

Most Marines and Sailors here realize that the possibility of NBC warfare is a great one, and each and every one of them walk throughout the air base with their M40 protective mask by their side, getting used to the weight and feel of having the mask on them at all times.

"Now that we're out here, people are realizing that this is real," said Purinton. "We get approached all the time now and we're always asked about 'what if.' Now that we're here, it's a matter of survival."

German said that the training has given him confidence that he would come out on top and alive, should an event arise.

"If we just apply what we've learned like we're supposed to we'll make it," he said. "I'll survive - it's just a matter of being ready."