So there you are, sitting with your family members, amazing them all with stories about how you just graduated boot camp and are about to attend MCT. Just as you finish telling them how you’ll be wearing cammie paint all day and running thru the jungle with your M-16 Crazy Uncle Larry, a former Marine, jumps up spilling his PBR all over the family Cockapoo and screams, “OUTSTANDING! WHAT’S AFTER THAT?!”
Flash scene to Fort Leonard Wood Missouri. It’s an incredibly hard place to find, so hopefully you have transportation via government travel office. If not, get on Google Maps and search for St. Robert, Missouri. This will dump you about 3 miles away from the main gate. But don’t worry; it’s not a small installation, so it’ll be easy to manage from there.
After billeting figures out your room and barracks information you’ll more than likely be put in a holding platoon, referred to as “MAT” platoon. This simply stands for Marines Awaiting Training. Since this is your first experience away from the structure and discipline of Boot Camp/MCT I feel obligated to let you in on some advice for MAT platoon right away.
1) If anyone offers to tell you how the Marine Corps “really works” or offers ANY legal advice, stay as far away from them as possible and heed none of their smoke and mirrors. Unless they have a blood stripe, or are a Legal Officer I promise you they don’t know the first goddamn thing about the Marine Corps and are only seeking to demotivate you and/or talk themselves up so as to seem cooler than they actually are.
2) You will do a PROFOUND amount of Police Call and cleaning duties. Don’t let it get you down. Remember, you have nothing better to do until your class picks up, so you might as well help out where needed and the hard truth of it is a lot of times what’s needed is cleaning.
3) MAT platoon is a great opportunity to do the right thing and rise up as a leader right from day one. It is always easier to start ahead than try to play catch up. That said the best way to earn a meritorious promotion is to start by proving your worth at MAT and keep up the good work in class!
4) Keep your chin up! Haters gonna hate. It turns out Haters mostly hate successful, leadership oriented, hard charging, motivated Devil Dogs such as you undoubtedly are. Jokes on them, cause you’re a squad leader or class leader, and they’re still getting NJP’d for underage drinking and fraternization. Not you tho! Class will start soon and the degenerates of MAT platoon will be a long distant memory and easily forgotten at that.
Let’s move on! MAT will be dead, may she rest in unholy hell, and you’ll be enjoying class… and by enjoying I mean trying to stay awake. STAY AWAKE! This is incredibly important information you need for the entire 3 months your class is at school. Remember what I said about staying in the lead and not having to play catch up? Well it still applies. Stand up, drink ice water, drink a cup of coffee, energy drinks are the nutritional equivalent to Napalm so don’t drink them. Feel free to slap yourself in the face. Feel even more free to slap the Marine next to you, who has not heeded my word and fallen asleep, in the FACE! Whatever you do, stay awake.
The first five weeks of class are going to be what you call “A” block. This is actually the information that you will have to teach upon arrival at your first unit. If you don’t pay attention and learn the information you will most assuredly show your ass as soon as you get to your unit. Don’t be that guy. Classes that you will cover are basics over Chemical Weapons of all types, Biological Warfare Agents, and Nuclear weapons history. If you want to be a motivator you should check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. You’ll be tested on your ability to stand up and give a class to a group of people. PRACTICE! Do this either by yourself or within a group. Just know that it’s easier to find your teaching style and voice before you give the class than be a stuttering, blithering, nervous idiot when the times comes cause you didn’t prepare. The CDC Website will have a list of everything you’ll cover in the school on a basic level. Learn it now to save yourself the trouble. Start ahead, right?
Within “A” Block you will have an introductory 2 mile and 4 mile hike thru Ft Leonard Wood. These will be performed in MOPP (chemical protective suit) and during a small portion of the hike you will be wearing your Field Protective Mask. Get used to it. As time goes on there will be two more 6 miles hikes and a final 8 mile hike. They too take place within the MOPP suit including the Field Protective Mask. A great way to get used to the mask and suit is to play video games on the weekend wearing the gear you’ll hike in. Sounds stupid, I know, but I’m dead serious when I tell you it helps. At the end of this and all blocks of instruction you will have a COC operation. This is a little radio based drill that checks to make sure you can actually employ the skills you’ve been taught. You’ll communicate with the instructors and the other squads of students all via radio transmission. As a little hint, when speaking to someone thru a mask over a radio, take the receiver of the radio and hold it firmly against the side of your throat and speak in a NORMAL volume and tone. It’s amazing how much that improves over screaming thru a mask.
Now that you’re sufficiently broken in “B” block starts. This is your hazard prediction block of instruction. Still awake? If not, slap yourself in the face. This is by far the most difficult block of the entire course. It should last about 4 weeks. You will learn all the factors needed to identify possibly contaminated areas following a Chem/Bio/Rad/Nuke attack. It’s very complicated and requires a lot of homework. If you don’t do your homework prepare for the hardest week of PT, classroom, and barracks life imaginable. Just ask my class, they didn’t do their homework (I was a Sgt at the time and knew better than to slack) and they suffered greatly because of it. Good study habits on your part will ensure you stay in the lead. That being said, this block focuses mainly on how to predict the movement of contamination without use of anything other than a Compass, protractor, and a ruler. After you’ve learned this skill, you will be taught a computer program that can do it all for you in the blink of an eye. Of course, this program was written by hacks so it rarely if ever works. But given that nuclear weapons and EMP generating devices can knock out computers in the blink of an eye it is definitely in your best interest to learn it front, back, and side to side in the event a computer isn’t there to do your job for you…and chances are there won’t be one to do it for you anyway.
“C” Block begins with contamination avoidance. Let’s imagine that a weapon discharged in your unit’s area. You know how to plot the hazard from “B” Block. All that’s left now is to actually go out into the great unknown and confirm the actual area of contamination. All this goes to keeping your unit safe and providing the CO with a detailed description of how he may safely move about the battle space. You’ll learn all kinds of detection equipment for everything from Chemical to Radiological contamination. Still awake? If not, slap yourself in the face HARD! This part requires a lot of attention to detail as it will be your job to ensure the gear works before sending it out with your monitor teams. Just like you look over your car before a long trip you will look over gear like your Radiation detector before each use.
Last we have your “D” Block. Even in a seemingly perfect world where everything goes to plan there is bound to be a change somewhere that blows the contamination right back into your face. What happens then? Do we run around waving our arms in the air screaming for Baby Jesus to come save us … I sure hope not. Beside, Baby Jesus has long since gotten the hell out of dodge and is being decontaminated as we speak. You are about to learn how to set up decontamination corridors, how to safely clean all of your gear, and clean your people should the worst happen. It’s not just as simple as taking a shower. There’s a lot to consider like time of day, weather, terrain, runoff, number of people, decon solution to use, and how much time you have to accomplish your CO’s goals and on and on and on. Is your buddy next to you awwake? If not… introduce him to RICK JAMES!
Once you have mastered all these skills you will put it all together in your final exercise. This is a 48 hour drill that employs the most important skills from each block of instruction. It takes place in the field training area after an 8 mile hike. Don’t expect it to be a camping trip. One screw up during the exercise relates to tens, maybe hundreds, of deaths in the real world. Get it down now and you’ll be alright. This is the part where all your COC operations get put into use also. If you developed good communication habits thru your radio and within your teams a lot of headache will be saved. You’ll have radio messages informing you of attacks, have to plot the hazard related, make small hikes thru the areas, use the detection gear, and lastly, set up decontamination for the units affected. By the way, this won’t just happen once. It’ll be a few times and with increasing intensity each time. Be ready, be cool, and be calculated. Don’t let stress make decisions for you.
And now you’re all done! This is it for your CBRN School. You’ll have taken twelve written tests, and least twice as many practical evaluations, and a whole lot of PT while at Fort Leonard Wood. It’s a good time if you keep your ass out of the meat grinder and do what you are supposed to. You’ll make a bunch of friends and hopefully some that’ll be around a while.
I can’t stress the following enough: Our job, soon to be your job also, is one that people don’t think about until the proverbial shit hits the fan. At which point your actions relate directly to how many people die. It’s a job that largely goes unappreciated and is greatly misunderstood by the commanders of almost every unit in the Corps. Keep your nose to the grindstone and tirelessly seek knowledge. Become the world’s reigning authority regarding all things CBRN. Be the one that doesn’t have to be told to do his job. Remember that you’re a part of a very small community within the Marine Corps, so one bad apple really does ruin the bunch. Don’t be the bad apple. Good luck!