Thursday, September 15, 2011

Suit Up or Stay on the Porch

During a recent weekend of watching far too much football on TV, the Colonel and # 2 son saw a Marine recruiting commercial, a frame of which featured a recruit exiting a hut in which he and 50 of his closest friends had been exposed to a heavy concentration of tear gas.  The Marine Corps bills this as "an exercise to boost confidence in the standard issue field protective mask."  

Okay.  If you say so. 

The recruit in question is in a condition two short steps from agony.  The tear gas is assaulting every orifice, the eyes being but two of many.  Every pore stings.  Every drop of formerly viscous fluid recently resident in the sinus cavities has achieved a state approximating the flow rate and volume of the Niagara river over American Falls.  With sinus cavity and tear duct evacuation at levels unprecedented in the recruit's young life, the close up picture captures him at one of the least flattering of a whole catalog of unflattering moments in his three months at boot camp.

Demonstrating the arrogance only ignorance can summon, #2 son turned to the Colonel and snidely suggested, "He needs to man up."

For the next twenty-seven and one-half minutes, #2 was on the receiving end of one the Colonel's patented and practiced personal one-on-one "teaching moments."  Said teaching moment reminded #2 that he had little germane experience from which to draw such conclusions and included a play-by-play recreation of the annual gas chamber training required of all Marines.   

At the conclusion of the teaching moment -- "Arethereanyquestions?Ididn'tthinksokeepyourstupidopinionstoyourself!" -- #2 sat in the stunned silence that he and his siblings had practiced and patented as response to many, many of the Colonel's teaching moments over their lives blessed with the presence of the man curmudgeoned before his time. 

Then, a stray synapse fired across the wide gap separating two of the Colonel's few remaining cognitive cells lying fallow in the amorphous goo puddled in a recess of his combination brain-housing-group and cap rack, and the Colonel was reminded of an incident early in his training as a steely-eyed defender of freedom and the American Way.        
Too many years ago for him to count -- even removal of footwear will not provide sufficient appendages for enumeration -- the Colonel was assigned collateral duty as the Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defense Officer (NBCDO) for the 2d Battalion, 2d Marines.  In order that the Colonel might best perform his duties as NBCDO, he was detailed to a four week course of study at the prestigious institute of higher learning known as the Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical (FMFLANTNBC) Defense School.  At this school (and the Colonel uses the term "school" in a manner so loose that a newborn's diaper deposit looks like a granite composition by comparison), the Colonel and forty other Marines were educated in the fine arts of chemical agent detection and decontamination, downwind nuclear fallout hazard plotting, and the appropriate wear and care of the (then) state of the art butyl rubber suit.

The butyl rubber suit was the early forerunner of the relatively lightweight HAZMAT suits now in vogue in apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic movies. 

The butyl rubber suit weighed more than the Colonel.  

The entire annual production of two large rubber plantations in IndoChina went into the construction of one butyl rubber suit. 

When conditions called for the wearing of the butyl rubber suit, conditions were bad.  Very bad.

Early in our first week of training, the old salt instructors at the ivy-covered halls of the FMFLANTNBC Defense School regaled the students with tales of how tough and realistic training had been in the "Old Corps" and that one of the most realistic portions of training in the old days was to expose NBC Defense trainees to a live blister agent similar to the mustard agent used in World War I.  As they told us, the blister agent was so caustic in concentration that even the tiniest droplet on the skin would cause a huge blister that in some cases would reoccur on the site for the remainder of the life of the one exposed.  Sure enough, a grizzled old NCO rolled up his sleeve and showed the class a nasty scar on the back of his hand, "It hasn't blistered up in two or three months..."    

At the beginning of week two, the instructors informed the class that permission had been granted by Headquarters to resume student exposure to live agents.  Several members of the class actually "ooorahed!" The Colonel was not among those so easily motivated by the prospect of pain and permanent scarring.

At the beginning of week three, the instructors told the class that a sufficient quantity of live agent had been requisitioned from an Army chemical agent repository and that it should arrive in time for the class to be individually exposed on Friday afternoon.  

At the appointed hour that Friday, the students returned to the classroom following lunch break to find a squad of hospital corpsmen (that's pronounced "core men," Mr. President) lined up in the back, each carrying their large battlefield medical pack.  The head instructor reminded the class of the extreme toxicity of the chemical agent and gave some instructions about remaining motionless when the instructor administered a tiny amount to the back of each student's hand.  He then waved to the back of the room.

Every student turned to look.

A Marine entered through the double doors at the back of the classroom carrying a large jar of liquid.  

He was wearing a butyl rubber suit. 

The butyl rubber suited-Marine carefully carried the large liquid-filled jar to the front of the class, placed it gingerly on a table, and slowly unscrewed the top.  He then dipped a wand into the liquid, dabbed the tiniest of drops onto a large square of cardboard. and then carefully replaced the jar's lid.  The cardboard square was passed around the room for all to examine.

"Marines," intoned the head instructor solemnly, "this tiny amount will cause a severe blister on your skin."  

To emphasize a point that frankly needed little emphasis at this point, a slide projection of a horribly blistered hand flashed on the screen at the front of the classroom. 

A Marine muttered "[expletive deleted] this," and stood as if to leave.

"Siddown, Marine!," bellowed the head instructor.  "This is not a voluntary exercise!"   

The butyl rubber suited Marine returned to the large jar on the table at the front of the classroom and slowly and carefully removed the lid.  He then tucked the slender wand under one arm and picked up the jar in two heavily-gloved hands.  Turning slowly around to face the class, he stepped toward the first row of desks.  

The slender wand slipped out from under his arm.

In one quick motion, the butyl rubber suited Marine attempted to cradle the jar in one arm and attempted to grab the falling slender wand with a free hand.

Both attempts failed. 

The jar's liquid contents sloshed heavily across the front row of students in a scene reminiscent of the splash zone in front of Shamu's tank at Sea World.


Unmanly screams.

Loud wailing combining fervent prayer and frequent use of the words [expletive deleted] and [expletive deleted].

At the back of the classroom, a tight knot of ten or twelve Marines attempting to escape the horrors at the front of the classroom, were attempting, at the exact same moment, to exit the four-man wide double doors.

Both attempts failed.

Deep sobbing and other-worldly moans of anguish and despair became suddenly and incongruously mixed with gales of hilarious laughter.  

The Colonel, attempting to extricate himself from the tangle of Marines clogged at the rear exit, and attempting to demonstrate appropriate officer conduct by leading the chemically contaminated classroom exodus from the front (both attempts failing), heard the laughter and deduced that the experience of dying a horrible and excruciating death, in addition to eliciting prayer mixed with the words [expletive deleted] and [expletive deleted], must also cause one to laugh uncontrollably.

The next ten and one-half minutes can only be described as a free-fire zone of expletive-filled indignation, the most frequent refrain being repeated use of the phrase, "That [expletive deleted] ain't right!"   

The Colonel learned an immensely valuable set of lessons that day.

1.  Fear ain't funny, unless you are the one doin' the scarin'.

2.  Marines are heartless fatherless creatures who'll do anything for a laugh.

3.  Never trust a man in a butyl rubber suit.     
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