They call it “The Disco Hut.”

It was a small cabin like building with two doors. One opened in, and one opened out. It was a rite of passage of sorts for those of us in US Army Basic training. The entire exercise was designed to give you confidence in the Protective Mask used by the military. The protective mask is designed to protect you from the effects of chemical, biological, and at least some of the effects of nuclear warfare by filtering out the effects of gas, some biological agents, and fallout.

Now for why they called it “The Disco Hut.”

You go in and the experience is so horrible, you end up break dancing in an effort to get out of there.

They had us all lined up to go in there, and we were instructed to put on our masks. For those who have never worn a protective mask, you put it on and you seem to morph into some low rent version of Darth Vader. Your breathing sounds more like someone on a ventilator, and it’s an almost claustrophobic experience. One young lady in our unit described it as drowning while still able to breath. You peer out at the world through two view ports that limit your vision, and you find walking challenging because you can’t see everything. I began to realize what a horse wearing blinders must feel like when all they can do is look straight ahead.

Slowly they herded us in one or two at a time. Every time they opened the door, music blasted out.

Then it was my turn. The door opened and I stepped through. I knew about tear gas. As a police officer before I ever went into the Army, I’d used it to help in riot control and barricaded subjects.  I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I stepped into what I can only describe as a London Fog of tear gas. The far wall, which couldn’t have been more than five yards away seemed incredibly remote and distant. It was dimly lit, and in true disco tradition, had colored lights. A stereo playing the sound tack from Saturday Night Fever was turned up loud. Like a wraith in a horror film, a man materialized in the smoke. He wore a protective mask and seemed at perfect ease.

“What I want you to do,” he said, “is take off your mask and then tell me where you’re from.”

I took off my mask, and the gas hit me. “Oh, my God !” I said.

“Where you from?”

I stammered out something. For all I know I told him I was little green man from Alpha Centauri. I wanted was out and I’d have admitted to shooting President Kennedy if got me out of there!

My eyes were two pools of flame and my nose and lungs felt as if someone had shoved a red hot poker down them. I coughed, but the cough didn’t want to come, and my eyes seemed to swell shut.

“Get out of here,” the instructor said. Hands guided me out through the back door and into the cool spring air. Relief washed over me.

“Face into the wind,” a voice said. I did as instructed, and opened my eyes. Blessed relief as the wind washed the tear gas away. The flames in my eyes went out, my nose cleared after a couple of sneezes, I could breath again.

Within minutes, the Disco Hut became just one more milestone behind us.

A funny aside concerned a young lady who went through Basic and AIT with me. If I live to be a thousand, I’ll never forget Pvt. Lancaster. She talked at a shout, and I’m sure she became a drill instructor. But she walks into the Disco Hut, pulls off her mask, looks at the instructor and smiled. They had her in there for a good five minutes and the girl didn’t cough or shed a single team. Finally one of the instructors asked her, “Private, what did you do before you came into the Army?”

“I worked for Dow Chemical, Drill Sgt.”

“And what did you do at Dow Chemical?”

“I made tear gas, Drill Sgt.”

She’d built up an immunity to it and the little London Fog was no worse to her than walking through the rain.

So back to using tear gas in a situation like described in my previous post. In it, Will and his take down team used tear gas to tip the scales in their favor. They had to go in after a suspect who had shot and killed his wife, fired on them, and several civilians. The cops must pass through a door they’ll break open.

As mentioned, we call this the fatal funnel. A man with a weapon can cause real damage to a strike team because they’ve got one point coming in. This is a choke point and as a result is very dangerous.

The tear gas is used to blind the shooter so he’s not as much a threat when they come in.

The whole team is wearing protective masks. in this case, Army Surplus cast offs. The M17A2 mask was same mask we used in the Gulf War. One of the interesting features of M17A2the mask is a small tub that allows you to drink while wearing the mask. You hook your canteen (there’s a small flip top on the canteen cap) to the external tube, lift, and as you do, a straw goes to your mouth. You can now drink in an NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) environment.

The mask has to fit tightly least gas filter in. In the case of our strike team, we have a couple of issues. First, Pam is a woman, and she has longer hair than the guys. If hair gets in between the skin and the mask, it can be enough to break the seal and she’d be breathing tear gas. She’ll have her hair back in a ponytail.

RJ and Will both have goatee beards. They can’t be full beards, nor can they be long. That said, what they have might be enough to keep the mask from sealing properly. Bob has a mustache, and it’s not enough to present a problem.

Now about the munitions involved. There’s a lot of ways to deliver tear gas. One is the good old fashioned way with a grenade. This is a small munition, about the size of frozen juice can. It has a fuse, and a lever and pin like the grenades one sees in movies.

One of the problem with tear gas grenades is some get very hot. If using the wrong kind of munition in a house for instance, there’s a chance you could start a fire. That’s why Will has the fire department on standby, and while he’s using the correct munition for the assault, he doesn’t want to take chances.

Another way is to use a grenade launcher. The Tri-County SRT team doesn’t have a grenade launcher, and probably never will, but it’s a useful weapon still. One thing it’s used for is in riot control. You can stand away from the action, and land tear gas grenades’ into where ever you need them to go. They’re also handy for putting tear gas through windows or doors.

The downside of the launcher is people have been seriously injured from the grenades.

Will also has EMS standing by. While there’s the chance someone could get shot in the take down, one of his big concerns is if the guy they’re going in after will be able to breath afterwards. Some people have had coughing fits that put them down, or thrown up and inhaled their vomit. All this can be a serious medical emergency.

Despite tear gas being used for years in situations such as Will and his team are going into, he recognizes it as a tool, one to be used with care.