There’s always a lot of talk and media coverage and rumors about the CS gas chamber mandatory for new recruits. As with any other new experience, there’s reason to be anxious, but chances are good that what you’re imagining is worse than the reality. Unless you’ve participated in riots or are into some weird recreational activities, most people right out of high school haven’t been pepper sprayed or serious allergic reaction, and certainly haven’t stepped into a gas chamber voluntarily. If you’ve been worried about it, then stop it. Millions of other recruits before you have stepped in and out of it without their world crashing down, and some are lucky enough to not experience any effects at all.

Chances are pretty good, however, that you will experience some mild to moderately unpleasant sensations as soon as the cs gas starts making its way into your happy, healthy lungs. The compound that makes up CS gas acts by irritating the mucous membranes in your body, which in turn causes the below side effects. Although every branch does things differently, recruit drill commanders like to mix things up a bit in terms of everything leading up to the evolution (session), often for their added enjoyment. It’s tough to blame them, though-everyone needs to have a little fun on the job once in a while.

The whole procedure goes something like this:

First, you’ll be briefed on what the most common side effects of CS gas. And they are:

  • Crying
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Temporary blindness
  • Excessive salivation (drooling)
  • Runny nose
  • Itching/pain in the eyes
  • Skin irritation

It’s not hard to see why this stuff is so frequently used in riots.

Second, your recruit commander, drill sergeant, etc will explain the logistics of the evolution. The order in which you enter, how to properly don (put on) and adjust your gas mask, when to take it off, what to say while in the chamber, put it back on, etc.

Once upon a time, Navy recruit drill commanders demanded that once you remove your gas mask, you hold it in one hand, while cupping your other hand upward against your chest, to catch whatever mucus made its way out of your head. We were told that this was to minimize subsequent cleanup time, but who knows. Also, prior to the next phase in the evolution, it’s not uncommon for a drill commander to ask who in the division considers him/herself to be a badass or tough guy. There’s  a reason for this. 

Third, your division will file into the unpolluted chamber, which allows the commanders to repeat the instructions one last time beforehand. In most cases, they’ll ensure everyone has properly donned and adjusted their gas masks, as one of the main purposes of the exercise is to give recruits the chance to see first-hand that the masks are reliable and function properly. In a real, bio-hazardous situation, it’s a good thing to be able to trust the gear. Unless there happens to be a recruit commander in the chamber supervising, the other supervisors file out into an outside chamber and observe through a glass window, or wait outdoors.

Fourth, the fun starts. Tablets of CS gas are vaporized on a plate that looks similar to a Bunsen burner, filling the room with a thick fog which is familiar to anyone who has seen video of the rioting that characterized the 60s and 70s. During the briefing, you were most likely told to recite something like “name, rank, social security number” when prompted by your recruit commander, who may be prompting from the other side of the glass or possible yelling in your face. Keep in mind another one of the purposes behind this exercise is to force you to be able to function in a high stress situation; which also sums up the whole point of boot camp. In many cases, your colleagues will freeze up, focusing too much on breathing or frivolously trying to minimize the discomfort by rubbing or scratching. You’ll most likely keep your mask on until approached by your drill sergeant, who tells you to remove your mask and recite your script. Once done, you’ll most likely be excused out of the chamber or outside to recover.

Those of us who claimed to be badasses in the briefing were given the distinct privilege of being kept last. Once our chance to shine came up, we were instructed to start doing jumping jacks as soon as our masks came off, while singing “Anchors Aweigh”, the original version, until we got it right. Lesson learned. 

Although it’s not the most pleasant experience, it’s important to remember all throughout that it can and does serve a number of purposes. Not the least of which are 1) trust your equipment, 2) although extremely uncomfortable, CS is something you will live through if ever you’re exposed to it again, 3) focus on the task at hand even when you’re stressed out of your mind, and 4) never again volunteer yourself as a self proclaimed badass.

Disclaimer: If “foul language” (aka “language”, as it’s called in the military) offends you, don’t watch this video. Or join the military. Otherwise, this is pretty entertaining. 

Join our newsletter received by other visitors who are preparing for their military career!
BJtM hates spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.