CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- Standing in the blazing sun, Marines and civilians covered head to toe in what appears to be thick, oversized trash bags test air quality.
The devices used for the testing beep, buzz and pop as they react to possible air pollution during a simulated hazardous materials spill.
Marines and civilians attended a hazardous waste operations and emergency response course April 7-11 on Camp Foster to learn the appropriate response procedures should a hazardous waste event occur.
“We are teaching these students how to identify hazardous chemicals, research them from a safety and health standpoint, analyze them, and make safety considerations for cleanup,” said Steven Wood, a contracted specialist and lead instructor for the course. “This intense weeklong course covers selecting the right respiratory protection, cleanup strategies, personal protection equipment and analysis equipment.”
The course is open to service members ranging from junior enlisted to officers, as well as civilians involved with hazardous material and environmental protection programs.
“A lot of these students’ positions require that they take this course as a minimum,” said Wood. “This is one of the more stringent courses in the environmental military occupational specialties. It is a time-intensive, hands-on course that is half instruction and half practical application.”
Following completion of the course, students will become hazardous material specialists within their units, and will often act in an advisory role for commanding and executive officers.
“Most of these students have very little hazardous material experience,” said Mitchell Ferrell, the comprehensive environmental training and education program manager with Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler, Marine Corps Installations Pacific. “They will leave this course experienced enough to act as individual unit hazardous material specialists.”
During the course, students learned specialized information that is essential for success within their current occupation.
The students gained practical knowledge that was not covered during prior classes on environmental protection issues, according to Erin Aylsworth an environmental protection specialist with MCB Camp Butler.
“I’m happy to see how all the information from my studies actually works in real-world emergency responses,” said Aylsworth. “All of the students in this course are now capable of dealing with hazardous materials effectively.”
After two days of in-class training, the students spent two additional days working with their equipment during the practical application portion of the course.
“Working in those (hazardous material) suits is hard to describe,” said Staff Sgt. Lorenzo Hernandez, the hazardous material chief with Combat Logistics Regiment 35, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “It really takes you out of your comfort zone. It’s hot in those things, and it is also hard to move.”
The final stage of the training requires the students to pass a written test thereby completing the course and earning a certificate.
The test is used as a final teaching technique, according to Wood. However, the practical experience is where the students gain the most knowledge, skill and ability. The students’ participation in the practical exercises better prepares them to support hazardous waste requirements across MCIPAC and III MEF.