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DoD Experts Testify on Much-Improved Troops' Chem-Bio Defense Gear

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 19, 2003 – American troops deployed overseas for the war against Iraq are much better equipped to deal with possible chemical or biological attacks than their Gulf War predecessors, DoD experts said on Capitol Hill today.

"I can assure you our war fighters are much better prepared to fight and win in a weapons of mass destruction environment than they were in 1991," Dr. Dale Klein, assistant to the Secretary of Defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs, remarked to members of the House Armed Services Terrorism Subcommittee.

The U.S. government has warned Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and his military commanders not to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction against U.S. or coalition troops, the Iraqi population, or neighbors in the event of war.

If Iraq does deploy WMDs against U.S. or coalition troops, American officials have said that swift and severe retaliation would follow.

Yet, even if Saddam resorts to a chemical or biological attack, "our war fighters are prepared to continue on their mission and enforce the U.N. resolutions and assure us that weapons of mass destruction will not be in Iraq under a future regime," Klein emphasized.

U.S. troops deployed to the Gulf have "the best equipment in the world" for use against chemical and biological weapons, noted Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Reeves, program executive officer for chemical and biological defense.

Reeves displayed an improved protective mask and over garment, a skin decontamination kit, an automatic injector device for use against nerve agents, anti-chafing lotion for use with the suit, a hand-carried radiation detection device and more.

The new mask "is a substantial improvement" over previous masks carried by troops during the 1991 Gulf War, Reeves pointed out.

It closely conforms to the shape the wearer's face for a better seal and comfort, he explained, and "protects against all known - and suspected -- biological and chemical agents that are in the Gulf today."

The new mask's lenses are anti-fogging for improved vision, Reeves pointed out. It also provides some ballistic protection, he added, and can be adjusted for drinking from a canteen while being worn.

The filters which should be changed within 24 hours after exposure to chemical or biological agents -- are much easier to replace, too, he pointed out. And the filter canister can be worn either to the right or left, so it doesn't interfere when a soldier aims to fire his or her weapon.

Another product, the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology, also protects against all known or suspected biological and chemical agents, Reeves said. The new suit, he continued, has an integrated hood "so that when you put the mask on you have a completely encapsulated seal."

The new chemical-biological suit, he added, is lighter, more durable, and it can be laundered up to six times.

Reeves said he has personally worn the new mask and suit in 90-degree August heat for six hours in a live chemical agent environment.

"Was it uncomfortable? You bet," the general told the committee members. "Was it survivable? Absolutely.

"We're confident that this equipment works," Reeves declared, noting that each service member in the Gulf is issued two such suits.

With U.S. and coalition troops prepared to operate in a chemical or biological environment, Klein pointed out there are no chemical weapons in the United States, other than those in an obsolete stockpile that is being dismantled.

And the United States has "no biological weapons," he emphasized, noting the U.S. military ceased such a weapons program more than 30 years ago.

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