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Marine Corps Basic Training -- The Gas Chamber

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Marine Corps Gas Chamber

Staff Sgt, Cody Norris ignites a chlorobenzylidene malonitrile gas pellet .

Official USMC Photo
by Lance Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- Barely into their third week of training, dozens of nervous recruits file off from their squads into a Weapons and Field Training classroom and wait for the inevitable - the Gas Chamber.

In the classroom, the recruits are educated on how to use a gas mask and how it can save their lives on the battlefield if used properly and to help build their confidence about being in an environment with a potentially hazardous substance.

The gas used in the Gas Chamber is chlorobenzylidene malonitrile, or CS Gas, a non-lethal substance that is used in all branches of the military and police departments as a riot control agent.

Each recruit spends approximately 3-5 minutes, perhaps the longest 3-5 minutes of their life, in the chamber - depending on how well they want to cooperate.

The terrified recruits enter the Gas Chamber with their masks donned and clear, but once the doors are sealed, the masks come off. The first exercise they must execute is to break the seal of their mask, which will allow them to breathe in a little of the gas, but just as the tearing eyes and the coughing sets in, they are instructed to put their masks back on.

The next step is to break the seal again, but only this time, they will set the mask on top of their heads. It is at this time that some recruits feel that they have lost control and panic begins to set in. The recruits' eyes are now full of tears and the coughing gets worse because the gas is in their lungs.

The gas also burns the skin a little too, similar to a sunburn. Some of the recruits refuse to take off their masks because they see the other recruits' reaction to the gas and they fear that they will not be able to put their mask back on again. However, they quickly realize they will not be able to leave the smoke-filled room until they complete the exercise and they regain some of their sanity.

Once their masks are donned and cleared for a second time, they must then remove their masks completely and hold them straight out in front if them, but by this time, most of the recruits have a little more faith in their masks. They know that the faster they take them off, the quicker they will be able to put the masks back on and be able to breathe again.

Once this step is completed, they file out of the Gas Chamber with arms spread out to their sides. Their eyes water like they just stepped out of a shower, and they cough uncontrollably as they pray that they will never have to go through anything like that again.

Their fears are overcome and the recruits now believe in their gas mask and that it will protect them. For those with lingering fear, there is always next year when they will be required to do it again as part of their annual training.

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