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Basic training opens chemical warfare facility

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFPN) -- Times are changing, and Air Force basic military training is evolving with them.

The Air Force unveiled its latest addition to BMT on Sept. 16 at Lackland's Warrior Week encampment site: a nuclear, biological, chemical and conventional warfare training facility.

"The addition of this new facility will ensure the best possible training for our airmen facing uncertainties in the world today," said Brig. Gen. Fred Van Valkenburg Jr., commander of the 37th Training Wing.

Warrior Week involves field training that was added to basic training about three years ago. It is designed to give trainees a taste of deployment and wartime situations. During the fifth week of BMT, trainees rough it in tents, learn how to don chemical warfare gear and participate in simulated battle exercises.

Now, Warrior Week also includes passing through the NBCC training facility, allowing trainees to test the integrity of their gas masks. Troops enter one of the facility's two 400-square-foot sealed chambers in full chemical warfare gear. Up to 50 trainees can go through each chamber every 15 to 20 minutes. Once inside, they are exposed to a substance similar to pepper spray known as "CS," or o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile.

"Trainees who are not wearing their masks properly will smell a slightly peppery odor and experience teary eyes and a runny nose," said Capt. David May, 737th field training flight commander.

"I was surprised at how effective the mask was," said Trainee Zandy Ariss. "I was waiting for them to turn the gas on."

Once trainees have been inside of a chamber for a few minutes, instructors have them remove their masks, so they can get a better understanding of how well their gear really works, May said.

"It burned my throat," said Trainee Rachel Murphy. "My nose was runny and my eyes were tearing up, but I'm fine."

"This facility gives airmen confidence in their gear," May said. "It also provides a safe, controlled environment where trainees learn how to properly fit their masks by creating an air tight seal. It's knowledge that could save their lives someday."

Before the NBCC training facility opened, the captain said BMT mask-testing methods were somewhat inconclusive. During battle simulations, Warrior Week instructors use smoke machines to create a more realistic combat atmosphere. The instructors used to add a banana scent to the smoke. Trainees were told that if they smelled the banana scent, their masks were not on properly.

One of the problems with the old method is that the battle simulations are held outside in a well-ventilated area, May said. Also, under previous mask-testing conditions, the only way for instructors to tell whether or not trainees were having problems with their masks was if the trainees told them.

"Now, we can tell if their masks are on properly by their reaction to the 'CS,'" the captain said.

The purpose of basic training is not only to transform civilians into servicemembers, but also to mold warriors out of America's best and brightest, May said.

"This new facility provides us with the tools to do just that," he said. (Courtesy of Air Education and Training Command News Service)

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