- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

KILLEEN, Texas Troops with the Army's 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood trained in their Nuclear, Biological and Chemical suits this week to be better prepared when the division deploys to the Middle East.
While the 4th Infantry's tanks, helicopters and other heavy equipment are sitting on cargo ships in the Mediterranean Sea outside the Turkish port of Iskenderun, its troops remain at Fort Hood, awaiting orders to ship out.
If sent to southeastern Turkey and eventually south, toward Baghdad, the division, about 20,000 troops, will travel through the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
In 1988, the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces gassed an estimated 5,000 people to death in the Kurdish town of Halabja.
"We're taking [the threat of chemical weapons] more seriously," said Staff Sgt. Juan Francis, of the 4th Infantry's chemical unit.
About three dozen journalists who arrived at Fort Hood this week with expectations of traveling into Iraq with the 4th Infantry also received extensive hands-on training on how to wear and operate the protective gear.
The gear includes a gas mask, rubber gloves and boots, and a hooded, full-body suit capable of resisting nuclear, biological and chemical, or NBC, agents.
Troops and journalists are trained to don gas masks in nine seconds or less and secure the NBC gloves, boots and hooded suits in eight minutes in the event of an attack.
The training exercises gave journalists here more experience with the NBC gear than was provided during the weeklong "media boot camps" orchestrated by the Pentagon for more than 250 journalists since November.
But the 4th Infantry Division insists the additional training for journalists is protocol and hasn't been prompted by the prospect that reporters may join troops entering areas where chemical weapons have been used.
"Everybody that deploys with us, including civilian contractors, gets trained on NBC gear," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Wolz, a veteran of the 1991 Persian Gulf war and member of the 4th Infantry's chemical unit.
"To me, it's bad business not to train everybody that goes with us to the same level of proficiency that we have with this equipment," he said.
Sgt. Wolz added that the typical 4th Infantry soldiers gets a lot of training in NBC gear that and this week's exercises at Fort Hood served mainly as a refresher, to ensure the troops don't make mistakes if required to fight in the gear.
Military officials have suggested that reporters and troops expect to be wearing at least a portion of the gear for most of their time in or around Iraq.
Sgt. Wolz said that for the duration of the 100-hour-long ground war in 1991, he and other soldiers fought in Mission Oriented Protective Posture level two, meaning they wore their hooded NBC suits and rubber boots but carried their gas masks and gloves.
The highest protective posture is level four, during which soldiers wear all the NBC equipment. On a typical deployment, troops carry protective posture suits in freeze-locked packages.
Sgt. Wolz said the 4th Infantry Division, the Army's only "digitized" division, is equipped with technology to almost instantaneously alert troops positioned across a battlefield of wind direction and where a gas can be expected to spread in the event of an attack.
Journalists, wary that traveling with a division will mean exposure to a heightened threat of chemical or biological weapons, said the extra practice was invaluable.
"I was really glad to go through some more training that specifically used the Army's equipment because you only get one shot at doing it right," said Erik Campos, 31, a photographer with Knight Ridder Newspapers.
Mr. Campos, who previously took part in a privately run hostile-environment training course, said he's concerned chemical weapons will be used in the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq.
"You really just don't know if these weapons are going to be used again," he said. "Sometimes lightning does strike twice."

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