FORT DIX, NJ, April 1968.... our BCT company began CBR training. All recruits were issued gas masks with classroom instructions and plenty of hands-on practical training donning the mask, checking for leaks and getting familiarized. The following day we were "forced marched" from our company area to the CBR "gas chambers."
Incident number one unfolded. The forced march delivered us exhausted, lungs heaving, gasping for oxygen, not even yet exposed to any chemical agents. Quickly we were directed to fall in - company formation. At our front a drill sergeant appeared with a gas mask that had fallen from its protective bag. Woe unto the poor violator who had not noticed he had lost his CBR mask. To emphasize the importance of never becoming separated from your CBR mask, the guilty recruit was ordered to wear his CBR mask at all times for an entire week. In the mess hall he ate meals with his mask on. He slept with his mask on. Classroom attendance.... mask on. Firing line, P.T., cover and concealment, bayonet drills, infiltration course, whatever.... mask on. Latrine? You bet. Mask on. We almost forgot what the poor guy's face looked like.
Incident number two followed just minutes after the first. We were ushered into a set of bleachers. Just as a drill instructor explained his first teaching point, when you smell or detect a gas attack, yell "GAS!!!" Then quickly don your mask. No sooner did he utter the words than another instructor popped a CS canister and from behind us, rolled the canister underneath the bleachers. Not a soul yelled gas, but everyone fled the bleachers like scurrying rats exposed to a direct beam of bright light.
Man, the Army had some rough-and-tumble educational experiences to smarten us up.
Afterward, another 20-minute block of instruction in regard to our next encounter.... the CBR chambers. The principal drill instructor inquired if any of us was not feeling well, or suffering from any specific respiratory ailment. Red flag warning or what??? One knucklehead raised his hand: "I don't feel well, sergeant. I got a bad cold."
"Excellent!" shouted the drill instructor. "You can go first!" And.... he did. At first we all observed from the bleachers, with some humor in the atmosphere. How quickly that changed when our sickly private stumbled entering the CBR chamber fully charged with CN gas as we were told. He fell face-forward, dislodging his mask. Out a back door he was ejected bodily whereupon he writhed and thrashed on ground in obvious incapacitated discomfort.
Collectively, at that specific moment, each and every one of us must have recited to ourselves, "don't be the next incident!"