EJ Smyth & Company - April 2020

My Brush With Biological ‘Warfare’ (631) 271-7500 EJSmythco.com April 2020

I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps reserve in 1989. I left for Parris Island the day after I graduated high school. The Marines offered an exciting array of training and job opportunities. Everything my 17-year-old self found utterly amazing — from tanks to air traffic control, flight crew, artillery, and even embassy duty. Now, 31 years later, I can still vividly remember the crushing disappointment I felt when I was assigned the military occupational specialty (MOS) 5711, Nuclear Biological Chemical Warfare Defense (aka NBC). Ugh ... I received orders to report in June to NBC school located at Fort McClellan, Alabama. Only Uncle Sam could think military training in full-body protective suits with thick rubber gas masks and plastic hoods in the Alabama summer is a good idea. One of my classmates summed it up with the rhetorical question, “Does the Corps do anything at room temperature?” Frankly, I always thought the NBC lesson plans were a bit absurd. For example: Use a handheld compass to measure the width of a nearby nuclear mushroom cloud to determine the yield of the explosion. I’m not kidding! Nobody ever adequately explained to me how I was expected to do this in the midst of a nuclear attack as I burrowed myself in the deepest hole I could find. “Selective unmasking” is another memorable favorite. We were trained to select one Marine at a time to remove their mask to determine if poison gas had dissipated. If they asphyxiated shortly after removing their mask, then everyone else would keep theirs on. If they survived, the “all clear” signal was given. The lesson plan included the very practical first step: Disarm the Marine selected to unmask before they know they’ve been chosen.

Observe social distancing and wash your hands frequently are both solid pieces of advice. Avoid areas of high contamination at all cost, and only go to hospitals and medical clinics as a last resort. Self-quarantine if you are not feeling well.

The recent outbreak of the coronavirus has brought back a flood of memories concerning my biological defense training, or more accurately, a trickle of memories. The biological defense training evolution was surprisingly short. While I recall very little of the highly technical nuclear or chemical training, I recall almost all of the biological defense training because there is so little to remember: Keep inoculations and vaccines up to date, maintain personal hygiene — even in the field — and keep the food and water supply protected. That’s it. I wish I could offer a magic cure for this outbreak, but unfortunately there isn’t one. However, the most important principle of decontamination is avoiding contamination in the first place, and it’s the best defense.

And don’t stockpile toilet paper ...

P.S. Our office is still operating remotely. If you have questions about real estate, estate planning, or civil litigation, please email me at ESmyth@EJSmythCo.com.

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