The ABCs of War

Mar 10, 2003  •  Post A Comment

In the middle of the northern desert, just kilometers from the Iraqi border, the U.S. military is preparing for a different sort of war. As they prepare, they go over their ABCs, which in medical jargon is airway, breathing and circulation, a well-known medical protocol. They are also learning about NBCs-nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Beyond bullets and bombs, sarin (an extremely toxic chemical warfare agent) and smallpox are more than ever a concern today. I had a chance to spend some days (and nights) in the desert, really understanding how an enormous institution like the military prepares for such things.
The old adage “practice makes perfect” certainly applies to the preparations for biochemical warfare. Over and over again, we watched the military put on chemical suits, boots, gloves and hoods and, of course, the gas mask, which has to be in place within nine seconds. We attended classes with the soldiers as they learned not about trench and urban warfare but about atropine and the anthrax vaccine.
Most of all, we just watched the soldiers interacting with each other, discussing their thoughts and their fears. It seemed that most of the marines and soldiers with whom we spoke were not particularly scared of gases and spores. They seemed very comfortable with the equipment and seemed assured that it would work. They took solace in knowing that on their uniforms would be not only the mandatory sidearm but also six syringes, containing the antidotes for most nerve agents.
With surprisingly little emotion, many members of the military watched videos of these agents at work in previous conflicts. I didn’t see anybody flinch, but a few young soldiers clutched their gas masks just a little tighter.