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Feature Stories

NEWS | Feb. 12, 2020

Alpha, beta, gamma oh my!

By Story by Sgt. 1st Class SHAIYLA HAKEEM Area Support Group - Jordan

Dealing with a chemical threat is more than donning a gas mask and adorning oneself in protective gear; sometimes the best protection is proper detection.

In maintaining readiness for unsuspected chemical agent exposures, U.S. Army Soldiers, with 655 Regional Support Group (RSG), 316 Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) (ESC), 377 Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), in collaboration with the Canadian Armed Forces, partnered with the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) Quick Reaction Force (QRF) Female Engagement Team (FET) for a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Subject Matter Expert Exchange (SMEE) at a base outside of Amman, Jordan in February.

Despite what many may think, CBRN threats are not limited to poisonous gas and nerve agents. Alpha, beta and gamma, the first three letters of the Greek alphabet, are categories physicists use to describe types of radiation that can be omitted from radioactive materials. They are known to cause the most harm when absorbed, injected, swallowed or inhaled. Alpha rays can be blocked by a single piece of paper, Beta particles, which will burn skin, can stopped by proper protective gear, but Gamma rays require lead or concrete to block the toxic emissions. Gamma rays can pass through the entire body, including bones, causing unseen catastrophic damage.

Depending on the means of attack, CBRN assaults may not cause onset death, but can potentially lead to long-term and complex complications. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Aimee Ouellette, CBRN safety noncommissioned officer with 655 RSG, 316 ESC, 377 TSC, served as one of the SMEs during the exchange. According to her, though CBRN attacks may not necessarily be lethal in nature, it can function as generating a different kind of casualty.

“While unlikely to cause massive casualties [death], it causes massive disruption and is psychologically terrifying,” explained Oullette, “Unlike bullets and bombs, it is [CBRN threats] generally an invisible and poorly understood threat.”

The SMEE covered basic CBRN concepts, threat theories, proper wear of protective gear and use of various detection agents. The Soldiers practiced donning a gas mask, dressing in Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology garments (full-body protective equipment), individual and buddy-assisted decontamination techniques. The use of chemical and radiological technology-based detection equipment was also examined.

The culminating exercise for the SMEE required the Soldiers to properly and efficiently react to a notional chemical warfare substance report. This entailed receiving an intelligence brief, donning all protective gear and surveying the outlying areas for possible chemical agents. They also conducted personal decontamination, extracted Soldiers mimicking a casualty and proceeded to a notional operational decontamination site.

“It’s not often that we get to train Soldiers who are eager to learn about CBRN, honestly that doesn’t happen much in the U.S.,” explained Ouellette, “These women were engaged and it created an environment that made the training fun and allowed us to learn a lot from each other.”

One Soldier who was not afraid to display her enthusiasm to learn was JAF Pvt. Hebah Al-Weshah, with the QRF FET, who has been in the military for two years. She said the SMEE was the first time she has trained on CBRN threats or donned a gas mask. She enjoyed the joint training and looks forward to working with the U.S. again in future engagements.

“Everything was new to me,” explained Al-Weshah, “This training helps us be better because it teaches us a different way to protect ourselves.”

Ouellette believes that training within a joint environment not only increases military knowledge, but cultural knowledge, coalition friendships, international force strength and informal language capabilities. An expression she learned and used was the Arabic term, “Yalla,” which translates in English to, “Let’s go!” During the SMEE, time was taken to discuss perspectives on overcoming challenges, their personal stories of origin, but most importantly, their genuine support for one another.

“I think we all understand that there are improvements to be made in all military forces for gender equality, and that knows no borders,” explained Ouellette, “It’s pretty cool to train with all women from multiple countries, it’s a sight we don’t get to see often and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it.”

The Canadian Armed Forces, whose primary focus in Jordan is to help empower women and contribute to regional stability, served as facilitators for the SMEE. The U.S. military has a long-standing relationship with Jordan to support our mutual objectives by providing military assistance to the JAF consistent with our national interests. Our people and governments have a historic, unbreakable, strategic relationship that spans decades and different administrations. Jordan is not only one of the United States’ closest allies in the region, but in the world as a whole. This is not going to change.