Sniffing Out Danger: Army National Guard’s Chemical Operations Specialists

A fully protected Chemical Operations Specialist“NBC” likely means something very different to you than it does to the National Guard’s Chemical Operations Specialists. Whereas most people would associate NBC with a television network, Chemical Operations Specialists understand it to be something deadly: Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (NBC) agents that could be harmful or fatal if inhaled or contacted with exposed flesh.

These substances, often used in industrial and commercial processes, are transported by railroad, waterway, and roadway, where, as we all know, accidents happen. If they do, NBC agents could be released into the air, water, or soil.

Now imagine that our military also faces these agents in weaponized form. The nuclear arms of our enemies obviously deliver a radioactive payload that can cause untold damage. And history has shown us that our enemies are willing and able to deploy chemical agents as well as biological weapons.

The Army National Guard, because of its dual State and Federal mission, must be prepared for both of these contingencies.

Doesn’t sound like a day at the beach, does it? Of course not, but it’s what the Army National Guard’s Chemical Operations Specialists are trained and ready to handle.

A few weeks ago, we posted a story from GX Magazine about Staff Sergeant (SSG) Alex Raber who described the procedures necessary for containing a chemical spill or radiation leak. He mentioned some of the equipment used on a mission, but On Your Guard wants to take a closer look at some of the life-protecting equipment that makes it a little easier to enter a potentially harmful situation.

First there’s the vehicle, either a six-wheeled Fox M93 variant or a modified eight-wheeled Stryker. These specially outfitted vehicles are designed to go into contaminated areas while keeping the crew inside safe. While in the potentially contaminated environment, multiple sensors and devices monitor and sample the area. These are devices that can sniff out the extent of the contamination. Findings are then communicated to the commanding officer.

Those on board are able to go without special protective gear because the interior of the vehicle is kept at a positive pressure, meaning if the seal around doors and other crevices aren’t quite airtight, the air pressure will make sure the flow of air is moving from inside to outside, thus pushing potentially dangerous contaminants away. To top it off, the M93 variant is fully amphibious.

But what if Guard Soldiers do have to leave the relative safety of the vehicle? That’s where the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST), together with the M40/M42 Series Field Protective Mask, are put to use.

Protecting a Soldier’s face, eyes, and lungs is the Field Protective Mask. A silicone rubber facepiece creates a natural seal against the face to protect the Soldier’s breathing and sight functions. It also features a voice meter to facilitate communication and a drink tube to maintain proper hydration. The mask provides protection for up to 12 hours and the detachable face-mounted canister will withstand up to 15 nerve-, choking-, and blistering-agent attacks or two blood-agent attacks.

The JSLIST provides similar protection for the body against chemical, biological, radiation, and other battlefield contaminants with a specialized material that incorporates activated carbon and a woven lining that absorbs chemical agents before they can get to the Soldier within the suit. Better yet, the JSLIST features great breathability which allows perspiration to escape. Combined with molded boot coverings and gloves, the JSLIST can be worn in a contaminated environment for up to 24 hours.

And finally, these Soldiers will need the Chemical Agent Detector Kit. Mechanics have their toolbox, carpenters have their tool belt, and a certain caped crusader has his utility belt. The Chemical Agent Detector Kit is the same deal, but for the HAZMAT set.

The Chemical Agent Detector Kit provides a variety of tools to determine the existence of blood-, blister- or nerve-agents in either liquid or aerosol form. While not an alarm, Guard Soldiers use the kit to determine if and when it is safe to unmask, the effectiveness of decontamination efforts, or the extent of present contamination.

So the next time you hear a news story about an area being evacuated, a train derailing, or an overturned tanker truck, think of those intrepid Soldiers who are driving toward the spill while everyone else is on their way out of town.

Or better yet, consider joining them and serve part-time in the defense of your community, State, and our Nation.

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