Cover Story

The Real Deal

This paper was written by SFC Red Thomas (Ret) Armor Master Gunner Mesa, AZ

Issue: "Weapons of mass hysteria," March 15, 2003

Since the media has decided to scare everyone with predictions of chemical, biological, or nuclear warfare on our turf I decided to write a paper and keep things in their proper perspective. I am a retired military weapons, munitions, and training expert.

Lesson number one: In the mid 1990's there were a series of nerve gas attacks on crowded Japanese subway stations. Given perfect conditions for an attack less than 10% of the people there were injured (the injured were better in a few hours) and only one percent of the injured died. 60 Minutes once had a fellow telling us that one drop of nerve gas could kill a thousand people; well he didn't tell you the thousand dead people per drop were theoretical. Drill Sergeants exaggerate how terrible this stuff was to keep the recruits awake in class (I know this because I was a Drill Sergeant too). Forget everything you've ever seen on TV, in the movies, or read in a novel about this stuff, it was all a lie (read this sentence again out loud!)! These weapons are about terror, if you remain calm, you will probably not die. This is far less scary than the media and their "Experts," make it sound.

Chemical weapons are categorized as Nerve, Blood, Blister, and incapacitating agents Contrary to the hype of reporters and politicians they are not weapons of mass destruction they are "Area denial," and terror weapons that don't destroy anything. When you leave the area you almost always leave the risk. That's the difference; you can leave the area and the risk; soldiers may have to stay put and sit through it and that's why they need all that spiffy gear. These are not gasses; they are vapors and/or air borne particles. The agent must be delivered in sufficient quantity to kill/injure, and that defines when/how it's used. Every day we have a morning and evening inversion where "stuff," suspended in the air gets pushed down. This inversion is why allergies (pollen) and air pollution are worst at these times of the day. So, a chemical attack will have its best effect an hour of so either side of sunrise/sunset.

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Also, being vapors and airborne particles they are heavier than air so they will seek low places like ditches, basements and underground garages. This stuff won't work when it's freezing, it doesn't last when it's hot, and wind spreads it too thin too fast. They've got to get this stuff on you, or, get you to inhale it for it to work. They also have to get the concentration of chemicals high enough to kill or wound you. Too little and it's nothing, too much and it's wasted.

What I hope you've gathered by this point is that a chemical weapons attack that kills a lot of people is incredibly hard to do with military grade agents and equipment so you can imagine how hard it will be for terrorists. The more you know about this stuff the more you realize how hard it is to use.

We'll start by talking about nerve agents. You have these in your house; plain old bug killer (like Raid) is nerve agent. All nerve agents work the same way; they are cholinesterase inhibitors that mess up the signals your nervous system uses to make your body function. It can harm you if you get it on your skin but it works best if they can get you to inhale it. If you don't die in the first minute and you can leave the area you're probably going to live.

The military's antidote for all nerve agents is atropine and pralidoxime chloride. Neither one of these does anything to cure the nerve agent, they send your body into overdrive to keep you alive for five minutes, after that the agent is used up. Your best protection is fresh air and staying calm. Listed below are the symptoms for nerve agent poisoning:

Sudden headache, Dimness of vision (someone you're looking at will have pinpointed pupils), Runny nose, Excessive saliva or drooling, Difficulty breathing, Tightness in chest, Nausea, Stomach cramps, Twitching of exposed skin where a liquid just got on you.

If you are in public and you start experiencing these symptoms, first ask yourself, did anything out of the ordinary just happen, a loud pop, did someone spray something on the crowd? Are other people getting sick too? Is there an odor of new mown hay, green corn, something fruity, or camphor where it shouldn't be?

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