FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. --- Fort Leonard Wood’s Chemical Defense Training Facility integrated the use of a non-pathogenic biological agent into their ongoing training Aug. 1 to prepare soldiers for updated field missions.
The agent, Bacillus Globigii, a naturally occurring biological substance found in soil, is an irradiated spore resembling the anthrax spore in size and form. Although the two look similar, Lt. Col. Daniel Murray CDTF director, said the BG spore is not hazardous to work with.
“It’s a dead spore. It’s been irradiated,” Murray said. “The protection required with it is minimal. If you get it on your skin you just wash it off. However, all of our personnel are in full chemical protective posture, complete with the M40 protective mask, because we handle the BG in our toxic area. And all personnel in the toxic area must be in full protective posture.”
The BG spore replicates the more dangerous anthrax as part of new training that focuses on the Chemical Corps’ more recent mission of Sensitive Site Exploitation (SSE). When used, the practically harmless spore is treated with the same respect as its treacherous twin. It’s kept in powder form in a light-proof, air-tight container within a designated toxic area.
For training, small amounts are mixed with distilled water by certified instructors in full protective gear and then poured into the equivalent of a petri dish, Murray said. Samples are then placed within one of the facility’s engineering controlled training bays for students to locate, sample and detect.
The training differs from what they’ve been providing since 1985, which centered on unit-level chemical defense scenarios designed to build confidence in protective masks and other chemical defense equipment.
“It was focused on personal and unit level chemical defense type measures,” Murray said.
When the war on terror began, the mission of the Chemical Corps expanded to include encountering, searching and identification of weapons of mass destruction production sites. It was the dawn of the SSE mission. Without any previous training relevant to this new threat, many chemical units had to adapt and overcome.
“People were looking to the Chemical Corps to go in and exploit sites, do sampling and detection and find out what was in there,” Murray said. “The doctrine was really in its infancy as far as how that was done. SSE has built upon the experience of those first units who were told to do that.”
As the war progressed, the U.S. Army Chemical School began pursuing pertinent training scenarios, and in July 2005 implemented their SSE training.
“The threat facing our chemical specialists has evolved, and our training has evolved to address the new threat,” said John Morrissey, CDTF deputy director. “While a chemical attack remains a very real possibility, a chemical specialist today is more likely to find him or herself inspecting a discovered make-shift laboratory, and our new training scenario is based upon this new reality.”
Detecting deadly substances
CDTF training is just one portion of the SSE doctrine, which has a broad range of factions. With the integration of the biological agent, students are now able to train in the detection of three potentially deadly substances.
“What we’re doing here is the chemical, biological and radiological exploitation aspect of SSE,” Murray said. “There are a lot of other dynamics involved with the mission that other soldiers and units have some sort of expertise for.”
The SSE training, which recently opened up to the Officer Basic Course and the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course, consists of three central scenarios: chemical, with a mock laboratory, where students can detect and identify deadly chemicals; radiation, where students can locate radiological material within a mock dirty bomb device; and biological, where liquid containing the BG spore is placed in certain areas for the students to locate and identify.
Soldiers use such military and commercial devices as a Multi-Rae gas meter for detecting hazardous vapors, and hand-held assays, something akin to a pregnancy test, for detecting biological agents.
“For biological agent detection, students will use a cotton swab on the suspected substance, break the swab off into a bottle containing a liquid dilution buffer, cap the bottle and shake it up, then uncap it and squeeze some droplets onto the hand-held assay and wait for a reaction,” Murray said.
Although the irradiated BG is relatively safe, some of the chemicals used in the training can be hazardous and are used in lethal doses. Because of this, safety is the school’s first priority. Since toxic chemical agent training began about 20 years ago, the chemical school has trained more than 75,000 students without having one health incident attributed to contact with substances used. All training is closely monitored to make sure the facility meets and exceeds federal standards, Murray said.
The toxic training building at the CDTF is under negative air pressure, drawing air in from the outside. All air within the toxic training areas continuously travels through 180 carbon block and Hepa filter systems, and is then monitored with commercial low-level detection systems to ensure no toxic material is released into the environment through the air stacks.
“The air coming from our stacks is arguably cleaner than the air we breathe anywhere on post or in town. All of the environmental safeguards and safety practices in place are critical in providing continuing assurance to both our local elected and military leaders that the CDTF and the training conducted inside is safe and poses no risk to the community,” Murray said.