MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- “Gas, gas, gas,” shouts the gas chamber moderators as recruits clear their M-40 gas masks as a part of the final exercise they conduct in the chamber.
The small building becomes filled with chlorobenzalmalononitrile, or CS gas, which is very similar to tear gas, when the moderators burn the capsules to create the effect.
Training day 24 is when recruits must conquer both the 47-feet rappel tower and the gas chamber.
Going through the gas chamber in recruit training is an experience seldom forgotten. Before the recruits even enter the chamber, they are given a class on how to properly use the gas mask which they are about to entrust their health.
“I’m not going to lie – this will be painful,” said Cpl. Walker, the chamber moderator, to the recruits during the class. “This mask will do what it was made to do – minimize, but not eliminate the effects of the gas.”
CS gas induces a burning sensation that immediately causes tearing, spitting, sneezing and sometimes vomiting.
“As we went in, I just focused on what we were taught to do,” said Rct. Randle “James” Merritt. “I realized that if I just pace myself and don’t panic, I’ll be okay.”
Once recruits finish conquering their fear of the unknown, there still stands one more obstacle they must overcome—the rappel tower.
Just a few hundred yards away from the chamber stands the rappel tower, with one way up, and two ways down for the recruits.
The tower offers two variations of rappelling—a vertical wall face and a simulated helicopter skid.
Rappelling down the wall requires them to run backward down a vertical wall, with the rope in-hand.
“They just need to overcome their fears,” said Sgt. Ivan Velazquez, a rappel master/instructor. “They may not always think they’re safe but we know they are. The methods have been tested and proven thousands of times over.”
Velazquez, of Houston teaches recruits how to form a “seat” with rope and connect to the rappel rope they use to go down the tower.
“It builds confidence for recruits,” he explained. “These guys are scared and nervous, but with a little motivation, they overcome their fears.”
With helmets and gloves, recruits climb the tower, some becoming more and more nervous with each step upward.
“A lot of recruits go up there thinking they can’t do it,” explained 1st Lt. Will Patrone, the follow series commander of, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion. “If they have a fear of heights, the biggest challenge they face is actually leaning over the edge and trusting the rope will hold them.”
Training day 24 acts as a bridge from first phase to second phase of recruit training, and brings them one step closer to earning the eagle, globe, and anchor.
“This is the gateway to phase two,” Patrone explained. “It gives them a set of skills and the confidence that enables them to succeed in what they do for the rest of their lives.”