By Laura Cohn
"THE THREAT IS REAL." The instructor, an expert in the field for 17 years, began his lesson by reminding us: "This is a no-joking sort of thing. In today's world, the threat is real." After sizing a protective mask to my head, I practiced putting it on, resting the hard, inner plastic part to the bridge of my nose, and sealing the cold, rubbery outer rim to my face as quickly as I could.
On a command of "Gas! Gas! Gas!" I learned to hold my breath, close my eyes, and don the mask within nine seconds. Ten seconds or more risks contamination, we learned. And even though we were practicing in the safety of a classroom, my heart raced every time we went through the drill.
Then we hiked across the base to a real gas chamber. We lined up by platoon, put on our masks, and entered a few at a time. Once inside the small room, our teachers released tear gas and gave us a few minutes to breathe under the protection of the gear. Then they gave the signal. We broke the seal of our masks, exhaled the poisonous air, and resealed the masks. To my surprise, my mask worked. I was relieved, yet terrified.