Surviving the Chamber (Excerpt from One of the Few)
An excerpt from One of the Few. Pre-order today, buy a book for the troops, and help me reach my funding goal by March 22nd!
(Update: our pre-order funding goal was met! Stay tuned for the official launch in November!)
Although TBS is not a weeding out process, it still relies on the concept of training how you fight, and that means pushing your body to its limits. It snowed during the first days of our offensive/defensive (O-D) week while we patrolled through the woods. Our packs were stuffed with MREs (Meals-Ready-to-Eat), cold weather gear, bivouac supplies, and a gas mask to protect us from gas attacks.
CS gas, or tear gas, was first synthesized in 1928 and named after two US chemists, R.B. Corson and R. W. Stoughton.[i] It is part of a family of riot-control gasses originally used to rout enemy troops from caves and bunkers and was used in bombing raids prior to infantry assaults.[ii] It is described as an “intensely irritating solid that causes profuse weeping and other effects typical of a lachrymator.”[iii] A lachrymator causes tears to flow and irritates other parts of the body on contact; especially the skin, throat, and nasal passages.[iv]
Michael M. Phillips, the author who chronicles Medal of Honor recipient Corporal Dunham’s heroism in Iraq, identifies an essential of Marine Corps “theology” in which “glory derives from suffering.”[v] CS gas was used during Military Operations Urban Terrain training, and it was important to know what to expect in case you were exposed. CS canisters were also used during field exercises to simulate a chemical attack. Better to first suffer in training than in combat. Therefore, every second lieutenant at TBS experienced the “gas chamber” to learn how to properly don and clear their gas mask and experience the effects of CS.
The small, gray building consisted of an entry way and one main room. In the center of the room was a small table with a receptacle to place the CS tablets. A group of Marines were led in single file and encircled the room with gas masks securely fastened. An instructor heated the CS tablets and fanned the gas rising from the table. The sun beamed through a thick window onto sparkling particulates dispersed throughout room. It resembled a cloud of fiberglass, and I was about to suck it deep into my lungs.
The training began once the room was engulfed in gas. Instructors inspected each Marine’s mask seal and taught how to clear the mask by forcefully exhaling. To build confidence, everyone bent at the waist and shook their heads. Next came jumping jacks. Each exercise gave us more confidence in the mask’s ability to filter out poisonous gas. Then each person removed, donned, and cleared their mask. This exposed the face which caused some burning in the eyes and nose, but the lungs remained free of irritants. Mission: complete. Confidence bolstered.
There was one final exercise, and Marines knew it as the trail of tears. A right-face put us in single file again, and they gave the command to take off our masks. We grabbed the blouse of the person in front of us and circled the room’s perimeter. The exercise demonstrated that while the effects of CS gas are not pleasant, they are also not lethal. I held my breath as long as possible, knowing that each second I delayed the inevitable breath, the larger the first inhalation would be. What will it be like? Will it burn? Maybe I can power through it. Adrenaline and nerves depleted my oxygen quickly. I had to breathe. Here we go…
I expected to draw in a large gulp of air, but my breath was involuntarily cut short after the first taste of CS. Following what felt like a fatal drag, I coughed, sneezed, dry-heaved, hiccupped, and contracted from muscle spasms as snot shot out of my nose and tears expelled from my tightly clenched eyes.
“From the halls of Montezuma!” An instructor called out, reciting the Marine Corps Hymn through his gas mask for motivation. I doubled over and kicked my knees up toward my chest and coughed uncontrollably.
“To the shores of Tripoli!” I lost control of my body, and my first instinct was to panic. I clung to the blouse in front of me, wondering if I was strong enough to make it through the test.
“We will fight our country’s battles!” The room erupted with coughing and heaving. Another instructor sensed my distress and grasped my shoulder. He shouted words of encouragement: “C’mon, you can make it. Just a few more seconds. Don’t quit. Ooh-rah!”
“In the air, on land, and sea!” I reluctantly breathed in the gas and somehow prevented a full-blown freak-out.
“First to fight for rights and freedom!” I dismissed the thought of bolting for the door and knew I could stick it out.
“And to keep our honor clean!” I regained control of my body. I tried to relax and waited for the end.
“We are proud to claim the title of United States Marine!”
Finally, the teary train of Marines was led out of the building to recover. Rows of the uninitiated peered at the red-faced gas chamber veterans wondering how their own bodies would react when it was their turn. I remembered the chamber at the pop of every CS canister in woods followed by “GAS! GAS! GAS!” In the field, we always had our gas masks at-the-ready.
Do you know how you will respond when you are given a drag of human suffering? Will you lose control and panic when the intense agony of loss saturates your body? Will you run for the door of the church chamber? Do you have a worldview to filter out false teachings and poisonous thoughts? You will want a tested worldview at-the-ready when life pops a canister of tragedy and throws it at your feet. After learning the value of keeping poison out of my body, I learned the importance of keeping nourishment in.
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*UPDATE: My initial pre-order campaign was a success with over 400 copies ordered! Thanks to everyone who helped support the campaign. Don’t worry, you’ll have another chance to order One of the Few as the publication date gets closer, currently set for November 2015.
[i] Benjamin C. Garret and John Hart, The A to Z of Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Warfare (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2007), 60.
[ii] C.L Taylor and L.B Taylor Jr., Chemical and Biological Warfare (New York: Franklin Watts, 1985), 71.
[iii] Garret, The A to Z of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare, 60.
[iv] Ibid, p. 127.
[v] Michael M. Phillips, The Gift of Valor (New York: Broadway Books, 2005), 144.
Photo by Cpl. Caitlin Brink
About Jason B. Ladd
Jason is an author, speaker, Marine, and father of seven. He has flown the F/A-18 Hornet as a Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron 1 (MAWTS-1) Instructor Pilot and the F-16 as an Instructor Pilot. His award-winning book One of the Few: A Marine Fighter Pilot’s Reconnaissance of the Christian Worldview has been optioned for film adaptation. He is represented by Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency.