Wednesday, March 26, 2003


A soldier wears a chemical suit during an air raid yesterday at an air base in the Gulf region. No impact was made during the attack, one of several unsuccessful attacks made on the air base since the war started last week.

Schofield soldiers
have faith in gear
protecting against
chemical attack


By Gregg K. Kakesako

As U.S. forces in Iraq face possible biological and chemical attacks, Schofield Barracks soldiers undergoing refresher training yesterday say they are confident their gas masks, suits and other devices will protect them.

Nevertheless, Army Sgt. Omar Lawrence, who just returned after spending a year in the Persian Gulf, worries about the safety of 25th Infantry Division soldiers fighting in the desert this week.

White, a 10-year Army veteran, prays for the two platoons of Wolfhound soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 227th Infantry, fighting somewhere in the Iraqi desert.

"I got them in my prayers," said Lawrence. "I hope they return safely. There's not only a special bond with those guys from here, but with the whole Army. We're all tied together. We are in combat support. We support the infantry and the infantry can't fight without us."

White said he's also worried about the Texas-based Army Spec. Shoshana Johnson, who was taken as a prisoner of war, since she is a food specialist just like him.

Army Sgt. Maj. James Baumgartner, who survived attacks of Scud missiles capable of carrying nerve agents during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, believes the soldiers in Iraq are confident their chemical warfare suits and protective masks will work.

While stationed in Saudi Arabia in 1991 Baumgartner, who is now 2nd Battalion's chief chemical noncommissioned officer, said those first Scud missiles sent everyone scurrying into full chemical suits and donning their gas masks, protective gloves and rubber boots.

"The confidence level was so high," said Baumgartner, who has been in uniform for 27 years, "that I couldn't get them to take them off. Some soldiers didn't even want to take the mask off when they went to sleep."

There has been no major changes since the Gulf War to the basic chemical and biological protective equipment issued to every military personnel, Baumgartner added. Although the protective blouses and trousers are made of more lightweight fabric, the basic protection is still a layer of activated charcoal.

Staff Sgt. Raymond Quitugua, the battalion's training officer, added that besides having "confidence in our equipment doing what they are supposed to do, the soldiers need to be properly trained to use them correctly."

Lawrence, 31, agreed.

"I take all this training seriously," said Lawrence after he spent a minute at Schofield Barracks' gas chamber getting the feel of wearing his protective uniform and mask. "This training is about saving lives. You never know when you will be called into battle."

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