How the military decontaminates itself after WMD attacks

While nuclear weapons usually get the big, scary headlines when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, the whole triad is a serious threat. Chemical and biological weapons are easier for rogue states to produce and deploy and any WMD can cause severe damage to American warfighters.

Beyond the immediate threat as the weapons rain down, weapons of mass destruction leave agents that can persist for anywhere from minutes to years, leaving vehicles, buildings, and even the ground lethal for soldiers.

Of course, the U.S. can’t just avoid their equipment or the battlefield for years. Instead, they send specialized troops in to spearhead decontamination efforts.

1. After a chemical attack, the U.S. is left with few good options. Decontaminating takes time and resources, but leaving the chemicals in place could result in dead troops.

ALLIED SPIRIT VI-gas-attack-response-decontamination

(Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Malik Gibson)

2. Typically, specially trained crews will rush with their gear into a staging area and prep for decontamination.

CBIRF-chemical-response-marine-corps

(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christian J. Robertson)

3. Once all gear and personnel are certified ready-to-go, the troops get to work.

Airmen react to chemical dangers

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Christopher Maldonado)

4. Teams have to wade into the target area, assessing what areas have been affected by the weapon, whether chemical, biological, or nuclear.

Marine-corps-CBIRF-decontamination

(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christian J. Robertson)

5. Of course, these teams face the chances of follow-on attacks and have to be ready to defend themselves.

ALLIED SPIRIT VI-gas-attack-response

(Photo: U.S. Army Spc. Malik Gibson)

6. These teams will report to their headquarters what areas have been affected and specialists will assess how long it will take for the threat to dissipate on its own (if ever).

Marine-corps-CBIRF-decontamination

(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Christian J. Robertson)

7. Any equipment in the affected area, whether present at the time of the attack or that entered during combat operations or decontamination efforts, has to be thoroughly decontaminated.

Soldiers conduct detail aircraft decontamination training

(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Josephine Carlson)

8. Chemical, biological, and nuclear threats are all broken down and removed using different techniques, but soap and water help in nearly all cases.

Soldiers conduct detail aircraft decontamination training

(Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Josephine Carlson)

9. Depending on the type and extent of contamination, the cleaning process may be completed by special teams or by the vehicle’s normal crews.

NATO Allies synchronize capabilities during CALFEX0cbrne-chemical-decontamination

(Photo: U.S. Army Capt. John Strickland)

10. Many biological and chemical agents spread throughout all the nooks and crannies of the vehicles, making them a nightmare to clean.

tank-CBIRF-chemical-decontamination-training

(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Julio McGraw)

11. And any mistakes could be lethal. If the wrong biological agent is left behind, it could get into someone’s system and doom them, possibly triggering an epidemic.

tank-CBIRF-chemical-decontamination-training

(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Julio McGraw)

12. Some positions, like aircrews, require especially challenging decontamination efforts. Their personal gear includes everything from g-suits to breathing gear.

AFSOC hosts aircrew chemical decontamination exercise

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost)

13. And each crewmember and pilot has to be kept separate until they can be decontaminated, leading to hilarious photos like this one.

AFSOC hosts aircrew chemical decontamination exercise

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost)

14. One of the more common powders used is the specialized resin in M291 Chemical Decontamination Kits. It absorbs many agents and facilitates their destruction.

AFSOC hosts aircrew chemical decontamination exercise

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melanie Holochwost)

15. One of the most important things about personnel decontamination is preventing recontamination, so troops are washed in a set process, typically top to bottom.

AFE Airmen practice decontamination techniques

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

16. And protective gear has to be switched out at set intervals, so this process has to be repeated multiple times per day.

AFE Airmen practice decontamination techniques

(Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Abby L. Finkel)

All in all, WMDs are terrifying at worst and a hassle at best. Let’s hear your MOPP gear stories.

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