There is a distinct possibility that a chemical, biological, or radiological (CBR) attack may occur in the next major war of the future. Although the physical damage to a ship or station as a result of a CBR attack may be minimal, the possibility that dangerous levels of contamination will remain after such an attack is real. Therefore, all personnel should understand the nature of such attacks, the methods of reducing their effects, and the treatment of casualties resulting from such attacks.
Defense against a CBR attack is both an individual and a group responsibility. What an individual does before, during, and after such an attack will affect both his own and his activitys chances of survival. Individuals are responsible for first aid and self-aid, proper use of the protective mask and clothing, and personal decontamination. Group responsibilities include the setting of proper material conditions, detection of agents, isolation of contaminated areas, and decontamination and restoration of the ship or station and equipment.
You, as a hospital corpsman, are responsible for recognizing the signs and symptoms associated with exposure to chemical or biological agents and knowing the treatment to be rendered. It is your job to maintain the health and welfare of those personnel for whom you are responsible. You must also protect yourself and others in a nuclear attack. This can only be achieved by being aware of and understanding the effects of a nuclear blast. Thus, you will be able to render the appropriate treatment and return to duty those personnel under your charge. Table 12-1 provides a summary of symptoms and treatments.
CHEMICAL WARFARE The use of chemical agents in warfare, frequently referred to as gas warfare, may be defined as the deliberate use of a variety of chemical agents in gaseous, solid, or liquid states for the express purpose of harassing personnel or producing casualties, rendering areas impassable or untenable, contaminating food and water, or initiating incendiary action.
The first large-scale use of chemical agents came in World War I when, in 1915, the Germans released chlorine gas against the Allied positions at Ypres, Belgium. Over 5,000 casualties resulted. There were other gas attacks by both combatant forces during World War I, and it is well-documented that approximately one-third of all American casualties in this conflict were due to chemical agent attacks.
During the interval between World Wars I and II, each of the major powers continued to develop its capability for chemical warfare in spite of the Geneva Treaty banning it. In isolated cases in the late 1930s, toxic chemicals were used; however, they were not used during World War II.
Toxic chemicals were not authorized for use in Korea or Vietnam. Defoliants and riot control agents were used with some degree of effectiveness in the jungles of Vietnam in tunnel and perimeter clearing operations.
A naval unit afloat finds itself in a unique situation concerning defense against toxic chemical agents. Since agents can be released as clouds of vapor or aerosol, they can envelop the exterior of a vessel and may penetrate within the hull. Because of the use of artificial ventilation aboard ship, extensive contamination may result from such an attack. As the ship, in most instances, cannot be abandoned, it must be decontaminated while the personnel manning it continue to eat, sleep, live, and maintain combat.
The medical officer or the hospital corpsman on independent duty must organize his or her department to meet the medical needs of defense against chemical agents well in advance of actual need. All hands must be indoctrinated in the use of protective equipment and self-aid procedures. Close liaison and planning must be maintained with damage control personnel responsible for area decontamination, and all medical personnel must know the approved methods for treating chemical agent casualties.