Marine Corps Basic Training: The Gas Chamber

Marines learn the importance of gas masks in this exercise

Marines exiting gas chamber
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Sgt Joshua M. Souza /Wikipedia Commons

by Lance Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski

As part of their Marine Corps training, new recruits are given real time in a gas chamber, to teach them how to use a gas mask under extreme conditions. 

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. During the third week of training, they get to experience what it would be like to be under gas attack.

Non-Lethal Gas in the Marines' Gas Chamber Training

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 in the chamber, depending on how well they cooperate.

Breathing Exercises in the Marines' Gas Chamber Training

The recruits enter the gas chamber with their masks donned and clear, but once the doors are sealed, the masks come off. For their first exercise, they have 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. At this point, some of the recruits may begin to feel a sense of panic. Their eyes are now full of tears and the coughing gets worse because the gas is in their lungs.

Removing the Masks in the Marines' Gas Chamber Training

The gas also burns the skin a little too, similar to a sunburn. Some of the recruits may 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 will not be able to leave the smoke-filled room until they complete the exercise.

Once their masks are donned and cleared for the second time, they must then remove their masks completely and hold them straight out in front of 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.

Leaving the Marines' Gas Chamber

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 continue coughing until their lungs are clear.

This frightening but necessary training routine emphasizes the importance of wearing a gas mask when ordered and gives Marines confidence that the masks will protect them. It's an exercise repeated as part of Marines' annual training.