"Fit to Fight" a must in wearing the chemical defense ensemble

  • Published
  • By Robert Kaschak
  • 452 AMW Emergency Management

   One of the critical skills emphasized in Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) skills training is the proper wear of the chemical ensemble, the technical name being the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology (JSLIST). However, there will be personnel tasked to participate in the upcoming ATSO exercise in October who may have not been to training for several years. This article will highlight some of the concerns to address when donning the ensemble to ensure a proper fit. To be clear, if suit is properly fitted, it will provide the protection required from chemical threats.


Let's start with sizing the suit. It is important that the suit fit but not so tight as to be restrictive. You need to have some room to be able to perform essential duty operations. Conduct a visual inspection of the suit for serviceability. Check zippers, velcro, hood, barrel locks, hood draw cord, coat retention cord, webbing strip snap, rear retention cord loop on jacket, suspenders as well as overall condition of the suit. While the suits you will be using during October are training ensembles, it is paramount that you get in the habit of inspecting the gear for defects and usability. If there are issues which will compromise your ability to use the suit, take back to mo-bags and swap it for a serviceable one.


Key facts to remember about the suit:

- Operational suits, good for 120 days once removed from vacuum sealed bag.

- Suit can be laundered 6 times, mark label on the inside of pants and jacket

- 45-day continuous wear life

- Use olive drab colored tape (commonly referred to as duct tape) to make an ID label.

- Label may vary depending on command guidance but should include Service component (e.g., USAF), first and last name preceded by rank.

-Label locations:

* CPO coat (right breast pocket area).

* Front and back of hood.

* Front and back of helmet.


Some important facts to remember when fitting the M50 mask:

-loop at the base of the harness assembly should sit at the neck line to ensure mask is centered on head -To properly tighten the straps, adjust bottom straps first, then the Velcro on top and finally the locking latches in the middle -Exhale sharply expelling the air inside the mask -Cover the holes on the filter and inhale drawing mask to face -breathe normally for about a minute, if no fogging occurs, seal on mask is good, if fogging does occur, re-adjust straps, check hair for seal compromise and re-accomplish clear and sea, process


-when donning the ensemble, put the hood on prior to donning gloves. Ensure you tuck the hood around the perimeter of the mask to prevent it from creeping over the face lens.  Connect the barrel keepers and pull the lanyards tight.

-Verify the Velcro on the suit is properly closed all the way up to the beard of the mask. To do this successfully, in the standing position, turn your head to the left and lean back working the Velcro up the suit to ensure there are no gaps. Utilizing the buddy system is highly recommended to ensure a proper fit.


You will be wearing either green or black over boots on top of your combat boots. If wearing the black, 2 sizes bigger than your combat boot size should do the trick. If wearing the green ones, you might have to go up 3 or possibly 4 sizes. Highly recommend using the disposable plastic bags in the boot donning process. Simply place the bag over your combat boot and slide the rubber boot over it. Allows for a much smoother donning process. You can acquire the plastic bags at certain locations to include commissary, BX and GNC to name a few. The flimsy plastic bags work best as they will reduce the friction between the combat boot and rubber boot.


Gloves include the standard 14 ml thickness neoprene rubber with cotton inserts. Don the cotton gloves and then the butyl rubber gloves. Again, a reminder to route the hood around the mask prior to donning gloves as dexterity will be critical in configuring the hood around the mask.


A properly donned chem suit will have all Velcro tabs adjusted and attached, pants over the chem boots, sleeves over the gloves, rear carrier sling attached to the front of the jacket and tied off, mask carrier closed, hood properly routed around mask and barrel keepers mated and pulled tight. When directed, the M9 tape will be installed on the ensemble in 6 different places-biceps, wrists, and ankles. The tape contains sensitive dyes that change color in the presence of liquid nerve agents and blister agents. When utilizing M9 tape, check it constantly for color changes. If you do pick up discoloration, assume contamination, take the appropriate precautions, and inform your Unit Control Center (UCC) immediately.


Mask carrier is worn on the left hip regardless of dominant hand. The flap should open out and away from you. The top strap will be your waist strap and the lower one your leg strap. Attach both and tighten as necessary.


We will delve into more aspects of procedures and processes in a war time environment. If you can acquire access, the following technical references provide more in-depth information: T.O 14P3-11-141, T.O. 14P4-20-1 and AFTTP 3-4, Airman's manual. Practice the donning process when you get a chance. Utilizing the buddy system will facilitate successful and rapid donning. The gear works, but in order to protect you, it must be worn properly. If you have any questions, contact your EM office at 655-3024.