Fort Gordon soldiers take part in explosive chemical mission drill

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As six explosions overtook Training Area 23, Specialist Daniel Redburn and his three-member team searched for shelter.

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Members of the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion conduct a training exercise that simulates a chemical weapon attack. Simulations are used to document the alertness of soldiers, battalion Commander Felicia Heisler said.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
Members of the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion conduct a training exercise that simulates a chemical weapon attack. Simulations are used to document the alertness of soldiers, battalion Commander Felicia Heisler said.

Sure, Wednesday’s exercise at Fort Gordon was training, but for 147 members of the 63rd Expeditionary Signal Battalion it was nothing to take lightly.

“When it comes to gasses and bomb attacks, the importance of these drills have been etched in our mind since basic training,” Redburn said. “As a unit, we’re extremely prepared when it comes to knowing how to react and we understand the importance of making sure our team is accounted for.”

After the explosions, yellow smoke rose above Field 23 to simulate a chemical, biological and explosive-type mission.

Soldiers had eight seconds to put on gas masks, and no more than 10 minutes to don the rest of their protective gear.

While most soldiers remain sheltered, specially trained members of the unit dispersed to inspect chemicals.

“The moment we hear an explosion, we instantly reach in our bag and grab our mask,” Specialist Ryan Kinsey said. “Then we search for shelter until receiving clearance that the situation has been deemed safe.”

For 63rd Battalion Company Commander Felicia Heisler, drill simulations are used as a way to document the alertness of soldiers.

“Overall, I’m pleased with the sustained training that our soldiers are out here receiving,” Heisler said. “At any point in time, we can be called to respond anywhere in the continental U.S., so we have to be ready. These soldiers are on a continuous training mission.”

The 63rd Battalion – part of the 35th Signal Brigade – began a five-day field exercise Monday, and Wednesday’s simulated explosive-type mission was part of the experience.

“I’ve been on Fort Gordon for more than two years and we’ve had dozens of similar training drills,” Redburn said. “Generally, these drills are pretty darn realistic to combat because we have time frames we have to adhere to. Your respiratory system is what you want to take care of first, but then you immediately need to make sure everyone else is safe.”

Sgt. First Class Dawn White says what makes chemical or biological attacks so dangerous is the element of the unknown.

“You never know when it’s coming,” she said. “The enemy isn’t going to call and say, ‘Hey on this date and time we’re attacking.’ So the point of training exercises like this is to hit our soldiers when they’re unaware it’s coming.”

Sgt. White set clear goals for Wednesday’s exercise.

“First, we want to see how long it takes them to put on their protective gear,” she said. “Also, what is the reaction of the chemical soldiers within their formation? How long will it take them to decide what chemical it is? Is it persistent, which means it will last 12 to 48 hours, or is it non-persistent and be gone in less than three hours? These are extremely important questions and drills like this help us answer
them.”

After military officials announced the drill was complete, Kinsey praised Wednesday’s execution.

“It was great to see everyone respond so quickly and put their mask on within eight seconds,” Kinsey said. “Everything was executed really well today and I didn’t see any faults with anyone – this was a good day.”

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