Monday, March 23, 2009

O is for Oxygen

I know I kind of dropped off the radar last week. It was a very frustrating week. I was wrangling with Paypal, Quickbooks Pro, too tight sock edges, losing instructions for sock heels, finding them but not understanding them. Teeth-clenching week. ETA: Started this post on March 23rd. The wrangling continued. I do this to myself every year. I wait until about a week before I need to hand it in, then I tackle 12 months worth of receipts, bank statements, credit card statements, check registers. sigh. Every time, I tell myself, "NO MORE! Next year, month by month. Here it's April and I haven't done a thing with this year's mess! But last year's mess is now my accountant's problem. I enter everything, print it all and pay him to sort it out!

Breathe..... breathing's good.

Going back to Basic Training today. Let's see...
covered Reception, Shock Treatment, PT, Drill Sgt. shenanigans, Chow Halls, Firing Ranges/M-60 machine guns and the occasional, errant hand grenade.

Today we'll go to the gas chamber. Good times!

We all get issued gas masks and get training on the proper usage of gas masks, hazmet suits, Atropene injections. We get taught the symbol for alerting your fellow soldiers about impending gas attacks - put your arms straight out to your sides, shoulder height. Pump your fists to your shoulders and straight again, 3 times, while yelling, "GAS, GAS, GAS". If the gas is too close, do the fist pumping thing without yelling then throw your mask on.

You have about 3 milliseconds to give the symbol and throw on your mask before you're gassed. Actually, if I remember right, you had 10 seconds to do this:

Close eyes and hold breath
With closed eyes and held breath, get mask out of it's holder on your hip
With closed eyes and held breath, get mask on
With closed eyes and held breath, tighten mask and make sure seal is tight
Open eyes and breathe

The main problem here is that to make sure the seal is tight, you have to breathe. You breathe in and out and the circles in front of your mask are supposed to move with your breathing. (or not move? I can't remember. I think they're supposed to move) If you're seal isn't tight and you're breathing to check? Yea, you die.

If your mask isn't sealed tight, the lenses of the gas mask fog up somethin' fierce. Also, getting a tight seal without a male's military buzzed hair cut is fairly impossible. And forget about seeing, if, like me, you wear glasses. The gas mask will rip them off your face while you're putting it on and it wouldn't seal properly with them on anyway.

I have to say that, aside from landmine training, the gas training was, for me, the scariest. Forget the fact that long hair and blind without glasses means you can just hand me the Atropene injectors and let me die a hopefully-too-stoned-to-feel-the-agony-of-getting-gassed death. Yea, forget that, the real reason you can just Atropene me is that those masks gave me the hyperventilating, rather stick my hand in a running blender then put the mask on, heebie-jeebies. I've never been claustrophobic, but those masks made me feel unable to breathe which always made me panicky.

After all the training, we get to experience the gas chamber. They use a version of strong pepper spray. Think law-enforcement grade mace. We went into the chamber about ten at a time. We had to stand in lines of 5, one line in front, one in back. Even as you enter the gas chamber, you know you're in for it (not that the name "gas chamber" wasn't a hint). The small concrete room was already filled with a thick fog of gas. We were told to remove our gas masks and then put them back on and reseal them. Here's where the fun starts.

As I mentioned, these things don't seal too well with a bunch of hair, which we all had. People were already coughing and whinging.

Our next orders were to take off our gas mask and take a deep breath. Wha-Wha-WHAT?! Yea. They want us to get a full dose of the mace so we can experience the effects of the least painful gas that is out there in this cruel world. Of course, the DS's kept their seemingly custom-fitted masks on. They were going to be in the gas chamber most of the day, so they didn't ever take them off.

Did I say the fun started? Oops! This is where the fun started. Mainly because in my group, one soldier completely lost her mind. This soldier attacked DS McCoy and ripped off DS's mask and put it on her own head. DS McCoy got a full dose of gas before she got her mask back. But, as punishment, that soldier had to stay in the gas chamber, unmasked for several minutes.

The rest of us, once we got our dose (of about 30 lifelong seconds) got to file out one by one. Tiny was in front of me and DS Ski (one of the biggest guys in the world) was being funny and blocking her way. Tiny, this little 96 pounder, knocked his ass into the wall to get past him and out of the fog of choking, burning mace. He tried to block me, too, but I faked left, weaved right and squirted out past him. I totally juked him! HAH!

So we get out alive but wishing we were dead. If you've never been maced, I suggest avoiding it at all costs. As you leave the gas chamber, the Drills order you to keep your hands straight out from your body to keep you from clawing your own eyes out. They don't say it's to keep you from blinding yourself, but it does sort of come to mind naturally. Yes, clawing at your eyes seems, suddenly, like a really great idea. You want to claw your eyes out and you also realize that every orifice in your head that is able to is leaking uncontrollably. To make things even more pleasant, they take your picture as you're leaving the gas chamber. Think I'm kidding?.....

Excuse the quality of the photo, it's a photo of a photo. I have the "yearbook" they let you buy after Basic Training and yesterday I took photos of the photos with me in them from the book. We don't have a flat bed scanner.

Anyway, see how I'm holding my arm out? I remember thinking, "NO! Don't take my picture now! I have snot!" So that's a pic of me trying to block the photographer from pic'ing me. You can't tell from this pic, but yes, I had snot rolling with wild abandon from my nose all over my face. If you try to wipe away the snot, you just spread the mace all over your face again. I think you can tell from this pic that I'm coughing. You cough like you're trying to lose a lung.

There's a station where you go to flush water over you face but no matter how much you attempt a dry-land drowning, it doesn't seem to help. Only time helps the mace fade. Fade from your skin if not from your memory.

The next day at breakfast, Kirsten (who's usually quite fastidious) stuck her fingers in her food and started swirling her hand around. No talking allowed during meals, remember, so I whispered, "Kirsten, are you OK?" She said, "Yea, it's just these eggs need pepper and I'm pretty sure my skin still has some." Across the table, Amy spit-taked milk out her nose all over me and we all got in trouble for howling laughter. See? Good times!

This Military Monday is brought to you by the letter Wednesday, Ruth!


k said...

No. Not. Ever.
But a funny story.

Sam said...

I love your stories Ruth. And laughed out loud at the 'don't take my picture... I have snot' comment. Still making me beam... :))))

Becca said...

I swear I have that same photo from my Basic yearbook. I was at Jackson in 1990-1991, so maybe I do!

I have almost the same gas chamber story except they were short on masks. So I had to wait for the 1st batch of people to go, then use one of their masks. It was already full of mace when I put it on! I was stinging and choking before I ever got in there.

The soldier in front of me fell over as soon as she took her mask off and scared me to death. I have NEVER not wanted to do something so much. Our DSs made us say our SSN and spell our names in the military alphabet so we couldn't hold our breath.

I didn't puke when I left, but lots did. As a result, I've never been able to eat chili mac again. Guess what we'd had for lunch that day.

Heide said...

Been there, done that. I spent 6 years in a combat comm squadron so in addition to this initial training we also had the priviledge of operating equipment, defending our site and living in MOPP 4 for hours on end in 100+ degree weather. Nothing like rivulets of sweat streaking down the charcoal stains on your body to make you appreciate a shower. We had a version of banana oil... sounds benign, but it's nasty crap in our chamber. Some of the morons in our group tried to see who could stay in the longest without a mask. Of course they were male, no self-respecting female would do this.

Nell said...

That's crazy. I had no idea that stuff like that happened.