Chemical Company clears the air in Kuwait

By Spc. Amanda J. Solitario

Kuwaiti Naval Base, Kuwait — In an effort to keep troops safe, groups of highly trained individuals are always ready to tackle potential nuclear, biological and chemical threats. 

Working at the small Kuwaiti Naval Base just off the coast of the Arabian Gulf, the 44th Chemical Company, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) strives to offer NBC protection to the service members and civilians in Kuwait. 

For the last six months, the Soldiers in the unit have been donning their gas masks and protective gear as they patrol the area looking for NBC dangers.

Their mission of protecting Kuwait is an important one, said Capt. Timothy Graber, the commander of the 44th Chemical Company.

This small Middle Eastern country, just southeast of the Iraq border, is the major hub for the thousands of troops who are training and in-processing before moving up north. 

“We ensure Soldiers get to Iraq safely to do the job they were sent to do,” said Graber, from Bethlehem, Pa.

The company has a variety of equipment to help them in surveying, detecting, and decontaminating NBC hazards. One of their greatest assets is the Fox M93A1 NBC Reconnaissance System, said Pfc. Bradly Sletto, a chemical operations specialist with the unit.

To the average person, this massive vehicle with all its protruding wires and mechanical limbs may look like some specialized military vehicle. Sletto, who normally drives the Fox, said it is like a chemical laboratory on wheels.

He said one of the Fox’s best features is that Soldiers can test the terrain for contamination without exposing themselves during the process. 

“We can detect, identify and sample the environment from inside the vehicle,” Sletto said. “We can do this without putting a person outside.”

Fortunately, NBC attacks are not a frequent occurrence in the Kuwait area, but this does not mean that the Soldiers in the unit let their guard down. 

“In the case of a chemical attack, we are the first to head out there,” Sletto said. “We need to be prepared.”

Since they are not out decontaminating the terrain every day, this leaves lots of time for training and maintaining for that one time that something does happen, Graber said. 

The Soldiers check their equipment every day for deficiencies and are always doing drills, said Pfc. Matthew Long, a chemical operations specialist with the unit.

“Maintenance is our main priority to make sure the equipment is working properly,” said Long, a Tishimingo, Okla., native.

Operating primarily with decontamination systems, Long said the teams spend long hours training for all sorts of different scenarios.

“We need to be ready for whatever the insurgents may throw at us,” he said.

Graber said he tests the Soldiers on everything from responding to mock chemical incidents to sampling soil on their normal routes.

“We kind of vary it up,” he said. “One week, we will focus on decontamination. Another week, we will focus on responding to an unknown liquid.”

But not all chemical scares are inflicted by the enemy. Recently, the 44th Chem. Co. had to react to an actual chemical explosion not too far away from KNB. 

A civilian company off the shore of the Arabian Gulf had a pipeline belt explode, which leaked large amounts of sulphur into the environment. Just a half a mile down the beach, the Seaport of Debarkation, a coalition-run facility had to be evacuated.

2nd Lt. Nathalia Harvey, the Toxic Industrial Chemical platoon leader for the unit, said the unit responded within 90 minutes of the explosion and shut down the area for more than four hours.
During that time, the unit checked for casualties and continued to monitor the air.

“As a first responder, we checked for skin irritations and lung irritations,” she said noting those are all the signs of sulphur exposure.

Harvey said the high winds helped to clear the air and brought the sulphur concentration in the area back down to safe levels quickly.

“This is the first time within three years that a belt actually exploded or broke and hopefully the last,” she said.

Harvey attributed the success of the containment and control of the chemical explosion to the unit’s preparations. 

“Our platoon is trained to do these missions,” she said. “We loaded our vehicles and moved down range.”

Graber said he is very proud of his Soldiers, their accomplishments, and their mission in Kuwait. 
“Sometimes it is easy, sometimes it’s not,” he said. “But, like all other Soldiers we accomplish our mission.”