What a gas, man.

“I’m getting tired of sitting here.” I told Norm Dijon. He’d talked me into following him to observe some secret event and I’d gone along, somewhat dubious. We had three days to sit around Fort Dix after basic training as we waited for our transportation to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Both of us had drawn Artillery training and our orders had us on a transport that left McGuire Air Force Base two days hence.

“Relax,” Norm replied, smiling. “I guarantee you that you’re gonna love this. Ooh! Get down!” He ducked behind some hedge and I followed suit. As I peered around the foliage I saw a platoon of basic trainees marching in formation. “They’re going to CBR training.” CBR, or Chemical, Biological and Radiological training was an introduction mostly to chemical warfare. They used to call it ABC, for Atomic, Biological and Chemical. Recruits are taught to put on gas masks in a hurry and also introduced to the sensation of being gassed –by being gassed. Of course, it was just tear gas, but the way it was administered was a bitch. The sergeants would pop a few tear gas grenades inside a small building and then have the recruits don their masks and go inside. Once in, they would be required to remove their masks and experience the joy of concentrated CS gas as they had to clearly recite their name, rank, date of birth and their service number. Once they managed to complete the task, they would be permitted to exit the building. Everyone who came out would be gushing tears and drool, and their uniforms would feel like a briar patch. Of course, the sergeants never removed their gas masks and they fared quite well and took great pleasure in making absolute certain that the recruits were as miserable as possible. Norm, along with probably every recruit that passed through CBR training had an intense dislike for its master of ceremonies, Staff Sergeant Ronald Dickerson.

Norm and I stayed out of sight because if the training sergeants saw us, they would assume that we liked CBR training so much we’d come back for a second helping. Since we’d rather eat our own feet, we stayed out of sight as we watched the poor sacrificial lambs don their masks, check each other out, and then file into the little building. Even from a distance of a hundred feet away, enough of the tear gas leaked that it caused our throats to itch and made our eyes water.

We didn’t have to wait very long. We could hear the recruits, one at a time, yelling out their name, rank, birth date and serial number and see them come flying out of the door, hacking and coughing, and spitting contaminated drool while trying hard not to throw up. Suddenly a voice much louder than the humble recruits sounded; SON OF A BITCH! and Sergeant Dickerson, the CBR training instructor, staggered out of the gas building and threw up. He coughed and then let loose a stream of projectile vomit and fell to his knees. Norm was laughing hysterically, so hard he was making tears of his own.

“What the hell?” I looked at Dijon.

“I saturated his filter cannisters with sulphur dioxide.” said Norm. Sulphur dioxide is an absolutely rank and easy to make compound. High school students make it in chemistry class traditionally. It smells revolting, like rotten eggs. Now I was laughing with Norm Dijon, envisioning Dickerson getting a couple of clean breaths from his mask  inside the gas chamber and then getting a concentrated dose of the chemical. He would, of course, rip off his mask to get away from the repulsive and emetic odor only to take a gulping breath of CS gas. No human being could go unmoved by such a one-two punch, both haymakers. Dickerson was on his knees, hacking and dry heaving and swearing a blue streak between body spasms. “We need to get out of here.” Norm said, giggling.

We ran at a crouch, trying to keep below the hedge tops. When we got a couple hundred yards away, we straightened up and sauntered innocently in a round about course towards the barracks area.  As we finally neared the row of buildings that housed the various basic training platoons about fifteen minutes later, we could hear the cadenced thumps of boots on pavement in double time. Wearing their ponchos and helmets with their mask bags hung across their shoulders came the platoon of recruits fresh from the CBR course. Every one of them was grinning widely. They were being led by one of the appointed squad leaders, recognized by the blue arm band marked “SL.” The sergeant was not with them.

“That sum bitch made me go through the building twice.” said Norm. “Said I left the chamber before I was finished reciting my stuff. I swore I’d get him back somehow. I promised myself.”

“Bullseye.” I said.

Two days later we lifted off from McGuire headed west to Oklahoma.