Chemical weapon disaster training at Fort McClellan

Nearly 500 soldiers from the Georgia National Guard are in Anniston this week to train for disasters.

Most of them spent Thursday in protective hazardous material suits as part of a training exercise which simulated the possibility of a chemical hazard.

"We're trained to respond to any kind of chemical, biological, nuclear incident that may occur," Lieutenant Colonel Mike Maddox said.

"We're also trained to respond to natural disasters and to assist citizens.{} This exercise allows us to come together collectively as a group and to practice our skills, which [include] search and extraction, collapsed structure type stuff, chemical decontamination, and we also have medical treatment."

The story line for Thursday's involved a steel manufacturing plant which collapsed in a tornado.{} Coordinators created an incident site using large metal containers, concrete, and rubble.

Soldiers had to search for victims, with the idea that there were 600 to 1,000 casualties including many dead.

It gets worse.

"Part of the scenario is there was a chemical plant nearby is there may be some chemical contamination," Maddox said.

"Once we pull them out of the rubble and send them through our decontamination line and they get all the contaminants off of them, then we send them right through medical treatment."

Adding to the realism of the exercise is community assistance for the soldiers.{} Salvation Army teams from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia practiced their response strategies.

Director of emergency disaster services Thad Hicks said his unit's role is to support whatever's happening, whether it is an active disaster scene or a training site.{} This is their training, too.

"This year we didn't have any major events during hurricane season," Hicks said.{} "If we don't get out and train, if we don't get out and work our units, we get a little bit soft, so this is an opportunity for us to get out, exercise our units and the teams that are housed within them, and that way we're ready to go the next time we're called out."

Commander Maddox said it is great to have the Salvation Army's support.

"For the soldier and the airmen, it's not only a morale booster, it helps them stay hydrated and motivated," he said.