MIDDLE EAST -- The sweaty confines of a protective suit worn under an unblinking desert sun; constant exposure to eye-watering, skin-tingling riot-control agents; the stress of trying to put rounds on target while wearing full battle gear and a gas mask. These were the situations endured by 35 Marines from Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, as they joined forces with troops from a regional nation to conduct bilateral chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear defense training, here, May 26.
The training was geared towards hammering home one over-arching concept in the participants, said Cpl. Nicholas T. Odani, CBRN chief for BLT 2/2.
"(CBRN) threats are very real," cautioned the Torrance, Calif., native. "Marines need to always have that somewhere in their minds."
To help get this point across, the CBRN Marines supervising the training periodically unleashed CS gas grenades on the participating troops without warning, ensuring that, by the end of the day, every leatherneck at the range had an M-40 field protective mask within easy reach to help negate the irritating effects the riot-control substance creates.
After the smoke from the initial gas attack cleared, the instructors had the Marines and regional forces training alongside them don gas masks and step up to the range firing line to get a feel for the effects the masks have on rifle marksmanship.
"You really have to modify the way you aim with the mask on," said Cpl. Dan G. Armstrong, a team leader from Company E, BLT 2/2 and a Long Island, N.Y., native. "We don't get to shoot with the masks on very often, so it was definitely a useful experience."
After testing the effects the masks had on marksmanship, the Marines and regional troops donned mission oriented protective posture suits to validate the gear's protective attributes with a trip into a modified gas chamber set up in a tent.
Once inside the cramped space, filled to the roof by wafting clouds of stinging CS gas crystals, the troops were led by a CBRN specialist through a set of exercises.
The troops were initially instructed to shake their heads vigorously back and forth, simulating the strenuous movements of combat, before being told to lift the masks off their faces, exposing them to the irritating agents in the air.
After all present had broken the seals of their masks, the troops were told to put them back on and clear them.
The uncomfortable experience was designed to assure the troops of the mask's ability to safeguard them from harmful airborne agents, said Odani.
"If the mask is worn properly, a Marine can make violent movements and still be protected from (CBRN) threats," he explained. "The (gas) chamber is all about building confidence in your equipment."
With the chamber complete, the troops moved on to a decontamination line established by the regional forces. The decon line consisted of several stages through which the troops stripped their protective gear bit by bit, a technique designed to ensure that uncontaminated zones remain that way.
Giving the participants the know-how to operate the decon line was an important focus of the training because they, rather than actual CBRN defense personnel, will likely be the first to encounter CBRN hazards in a combat environment, said Odani.
In addition to enhancing the Marines' individual CBRN defense knowledge and confidence, the training was a bilateral success as well, said Warrant Officer Jacob D. Carpenter, BLT 2/2 CBRN officer and a native of Kalamazoo, Mich.
"Our allies follow the same rules of decontamination and prevention that we do," he observed. "I think it really showed our guys that we can work together with them to defeat these threats if we ever encounter them on the same battlefield."
Altogether, the training was successful in underlining the importance of CBRN awareness and sustainment, said Armstrong.
"This is all knowledge that we can take back to our individual companies to ensure everyone is as ready as possible, because you just never know when an attack might come," he said.
The 26th MEU is in the fifth month of a routine scheduled deployment that began Jan. 6 as the landing force for the Bataan Expeditionary Strike Group.
In addition to BLT 2/2, the MEU is composed of its Command Element; Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 264 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion 26.
For more on the MEU, including news, videos and contact information, visit www.usmc.mil/26thmeu.