A woman soldier puts on a gas mask
This is a newer model than the one I wore. It covers with a head covering.

One of the weapons a soldier might face in war is poisonous gas, or nerve agent. It’s not that modern of technology, though. When I was in junior high (now middle school in California), I was assigned All Quiet on the Western Front, which is a book about World War I. There was one description that really stuck with me about what happened to a soldier’s lungs after he was gassed.

So every time I put on the mask, even in training, it was hard not to think about All Quiet on the Western Front!

The mask itself is, in a way, like a scuba face mask from Sea Hunt. It forms a tight seal over your face, but, unlike the face mask, it fits over your entire face, from your forehead to under your chin. It’s very close-fitting. Your entire world is seeing everything through two eye pieces. There’s no peripheral vision, and you have to turn your head to see around. They’re redesigned the eyepieces in the newer masks so they’re more like a scuba face mask and have a better visibility.

But the mask really wasn’t made for people who wear glasses, and you can read more about that experience over on my post called My Relationship with my Glasses.  It’s surprising how normal, everyday things get changed in the face of war!

Once you put it on, it’s like your world closes up to this tiny space right in front of your face. You could see things happening outside, but the mask is like this barrier. The voices of your fellow soldiers are muffled — if you’ve seen the TV show Emergency (airing on Me TV), they sound like the firefighters when they’re in their breathing gear. It’s very isolating.

Hearing your own breathing in it sounds like Darth Vader. That’s a little hard to listen to it after a while because it emphasizes something else unintended. During Desert Storm, when one of the first scuds was fired near us, we went into the masks and took cover in a fox hole. All we could do was sit in the darkness, listening to our breathing, and not know if there was poison gas out there.

The mask got hotter and hotter inside, and smelled like rubber. I wasn’t claustrophobic, but being in it started to add up to that sense of being closed in without an escape, because escape might mean death.

Then, a cry from somewhere outside: “All clear!”

Everyone instantly yanked off their masks, and the air cooled our faces. We were safe again. There’s training, and there’s reality.

Next up will be “when war takes you away from Home,” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.  This was a post suggested by one of my commenters, and it actually spawned a total of four posts.