Corson-Stoughton Gas, commonly known as "CS gas" or tear gas, has been a part of military culture since it was first mass produced in the 50s. Technically, it's less-than-lethal — death from inhaling CS gas is rare, but it still hurts like hell to breathe in. You're going to cry and all of the mucus in your body will try to escape at once. It's not pretty.
So, why not subject troops to it regularly, on a every-six-months basis? What could possibly go wrong?
No really, I'm not being sarcastic. There are actually many good reasons to subject troops to a bi-annual deep cleanse in the CS chamber — and it's a much more valid reasoning than the standard "it builds character" excuse that first sergeants use.
The very first moment troops are exposed to CS gas is the most important one — during initial training. This serves many different functions.
For starters, it builds confidence in your equipment. All of the "lowest bidder" jokes tend to go away when you realize that the mask you were assigned is perfectly capable of stopping the painful gas from entering your lungs.
It also serves as a way of teaching troops that pain is temporary. Troops have nothing to fear from temporary discomfort. Yeah, it's going to hurt like hell, but you shouldn't cower from it — just accept it and move on. Think of it like the scene in Dune when Paul Atreides faces the pain box.
"Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration."
Troops will walk in with their mask on, knowing that they're to take it off in the middle of the chamber. And before you start coming up with a plan, no, you can't just hold your breath to escape the pain. The drill sergeant will likely ask you to recite the Soldier's Creed, sing the Marines' Hymn — whatever gets you to open your mouth and take in a breath. And then you can leave.
Feeling the pain of CS gas is universal experience throughout the U.S. Armed Forces — but it doesn't last long. Twenty or thirty minutes later and you're back on your feet — until the exercise is put back on the training calendar.
Heading into the CS chamber twice a year can actually help you build up a tolerance to the gas that lasts a lifetime. The first time hurts like a motherf*cker. The second time just hurts like hell. The third time is a little better than that, and so on, until it just makes you slightly uncomfortable. It's not a complete immunity, but it's a strong tolerance.
Your eyes will still water but you're not vomiting in the corner at the very least — so that's good.
This is one of those moments where the phrase "suck it up, buttercup" is completely applicable because it will get easier the more you do it.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Caleb Barrieau)
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