A Soldier’s Viewpoint on Surviving Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Attacks
From: SFC Red Thomas (Ret) Armor Master Gunner Mesa, AZ
Since the media has decided to scare everyone with predictions of chemical,
biological, or nuclear warfare on our turf I decided to write a paper and
keep things in their proper perspective. I am a retired military weapons,
munitions, and training expert.
Lesson number one: In the mid 1990s there were a series of nerve gas attacks
on crowded Japanese subway stations. Given perfect conditions for an attack
less than 10% of the people there were injured (the injured were better in a
few hours) and only one percent of the injured died.
60 Minutes once had a fellow telling us that one drop of nerve gas could
kill a thousand people, well he didn’t tell you the thousand dead people per
drop was theoretical.
Drill Sergeants exaggerate how terrible this stuff was to keep the recruits
awake in class (I know this because I was a Drill Sergeant too). Forget
everything you’ve ever seen on TV, in the movies, or read in a novel about
this stuff, it was all a lie (read this sentence again out loud!). These
weapons are about terror, if you remain calm, you will probably not die.
This is far less scary than the media and their “Experts,” make it sound.
Chemical weapons are categorized as nerve, blood, blister, and
Incapacitating agents. Contrary to the hype of reporters and politicians
they are not weapons of mass destruction they are “area denial,” and terror
weapons that don’t destroy anything. When you leave the area you almost
always leave the risk. That’s the difference; you can leave the area and the
risk but soldiers may have to stay put and sit through it and that’s why
they need all that spiffy gear.
These are not gasses, they are vapors and/or air borne particles. The agent
must be delivered in sufficient quantity to kill/injure, and that defines
when/how it’s used. Every day we have a morning and evening inversion where
“stuff,” suspended in the air gets pushed down. This inversion is why
allergies (pollen) and air pollution are worst at these times of the day.
So, a chemical attack will have it’s best effect an hour of so either side
of sunrise/sunset. Also, being vapors and airborne particles they are
heavier than air so they will seek low places like ditches, basements and
underground garages. This stuff won’t work when it’s freezing, it doesn’t
last when it’s hot, and wind spreads it too thin too fast. They’ve got to
get this stuff on you, or, get you to inhale it for it to work. They also
have to get the concentration of chemicals high enough to kill or wound you.
Too little and it’s nothing, too much and it’s wasted.
What I hope you’ve gathered by this point is that a chemical weapons attack
that kills a lot of people is incredibly hard to do with military grade
agents and equipment so you can imagine how hard it will be for terrorists.
The more you know about this stuff the more you realize how hard it is to
We’ll start by talking about nerve agents. You have these in your house,
plain old bug killer (like Raid) is nerve agent. All nerve agents work the
same way; they are cholinesterase inhibitors that mess up the signals your
nervous system uses to make your body function. It can harm you if you get
it on your skin but it works best if they can get you to inhale it. If you
don’t die in the first minute and you can leave the area you’re probably
gonna live. The military’s antidote for all nerve agents is atropine and
pralidoxime chloride. Neither one of these does anything to cure the nerve
agent, they send your body into overdrive to keep you alive for five
minutes, after that the agent is used up. Your best protection is fresh air
and staying calm.
Listed below are the symptoms for nerve agent poisoning:
Sudden headache, Dimness of vision (someone you’re looking at will have
pinpointed pupils), runny nose, excessive saliva or drooling, difficulty
breathing, tightness in chest, nausea, stomach cramps, twitching of exposed
skin where a liquid just got on you.
If you are in public and you start experiencing these symptoms, first ask
yourself, did anything out of the ordinary just happen, a loud pop, did
someone spray something on the crowd? Are other people getting sick too? Is
there an odor of new mown hay, green corn, something fruity, or camphor
where it shouldn’t be? If the answer is yes, then calmly (if you panic you
breathe faster and inhale more air/poison) leave the area and head up wind,
Fresh air is the best “right now antidote.” If you have a blob of liquid
that looks like molasses or Kayro syrup on you; blot it or scrape it off and
away from yourself with anything disposable. This stuff works based on your
body weight, what a crop duster uses to kill bugs won’t hurt you unless you
stand there and breathe it in real deep, then lick the residue off the
ground for a while. Remember they have to do all the work, they have to get
the concentration up and keep it up for several minutes while all you have
to do is quit getting it on you/quit breathing it by putting space between
you and the attack.
Blood agents are cyanide or arsine which effect your blood’s ability to
provide oxygen to your tissue. The scenario for attack would be the same as
nerve agent. Look for a pop or someone splashing/spraying something and
folks around there getting woozy/falling down. The telltale smells are
bitter almonds or garlic where it shouldn’t be. The symptoms are blue lips,
blue under the fingernails rapid breathing.
The military’s antidote is amyl nitride and just like nerve agent antidote
it just keeps your body working for five minutes till the toxins are used
up. Fresh air is the your best individual chance.
Blister agents (distilled mustard) are so nasty that nobody wants to even
handle it let alone use it. It’s almost impossible to handle safely and may
have delayed effect of up to 12 hours. The attack scenario is also limited
to the things you’d see from other chemicals. If you do get large, painful
blisters for no apparent reason, don’t pop them, if you must, don’t let the
liquid from the blister get on any other area, the stuff just keeps on
spreading. It’s just as likely to harm the user as the target. Soap, water,
sunshine, and fresh air are this stuff’s enemy.
Bottom line on chemical weapons (it’s the same if they use industrial
chemical spills); they are intended to make you panic, to terrorize you, to
heard you like sheep to the wolves. If there is an attack, leave the area
and go upwind, or to the sides of the wind stream. They have to get the
stuff to you, and on you. You’re more likely to be hurt by a drunk driver on
any given day than be hurt by one of these attacks. Your odds get better if
you leave the area. Soap, water, time, and fresh air really deal this stuff
a knock-out-punch. Don’t let fear of an isolated attack rule your life. The
odds are really on your side.
Nuclear bombs. These are the only weapons of mass destruction on earth. The
effects of a nuclear bomb are heat, blast, EMP, and radiation. If you see a
bright flash of light like the sun, where the sun isn’t, fall to the ground!
The heat will be over a second. Then there will be two blast waves, one out
going, and one on it’s way back. Don’t stand up to see what happened after
the first wave; anything that’s going to happen will have happened in two
These will be low yield devices and will not level whole cities. If you live
through the heat, blast, and initial burst of radiation, you’ll probably
live for a very, very long time. Radiation will not create fifty foot tall
women, or giant ants and grass hoppers the size of tanks. These will be at
the most 1 kiloton bombs; that’s the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT.
Here’s the real deal, flying debris and radiation will kill a lot of exposed
(not all!) people within a half mile of the blast. Under perfect conditions
this is about a half mile circle of death and destruction, but, when it’s
done it’s done. EMP stands for Electro Magnetic Pulse and it will fry every
electronic device for a good distance, it’s impossible to say what and how
far but probably not over a couple of miles from ground zero is a good
guess. Cars, cell phones, computers, ATMs, you name it, all will be out of
There are lots of kinds of radiation, you only need to worry about three,
the others you have lived with for years. You need to worry about “Ionizing
radiation,” these are little sub atomic particles that go whizzing along at
the speed of light. They hit individual cells in your body, kill the nucleus
and keep on going. That’s how you get radiation poisoning, you have so many
dead cells in your body that the decaying cells poison you.
It’s the same as people getting radiation treatments for cancer, only a
bigger area gets radiated. The good news is you don’t have to just sit there
and take it, and there’s lots you can do rather than panic. First; your skin
will stop alpha particles, a page of a news paper or your clothing will stop
beta particles, you just gotta try and avoid inhaling dust that’s
contaminated with atoms that are emitting these things and you’ll be
generally safe from them.
Gamma rays are particles that travel like rays (quantum physics makes my
brain hurt) and they create the same damage as alpha and beta particles only
they keep going and kill lots of cells as they go all the way through your
body. It takes a lot to stop these things, lots of dense material, on the
other hand it takes a lot of this to kill you.
Your defense is as always to not panic. Basic hygiene and normal preparation
are your friends. All canned or frozen food is safe to eat. The radiation
poisoning will not effect plants so fruits and vegetables are OK if there’s
no dust on em (rinse em off if there is). If you don’t have running water
and you need to collect rain water or use water from wherever, just let it
sit for thirty minutes and skim off the water gently from the top. The dust
with the bad stuff in it will settle and the remaining water can be used for
the toilet which will still work if you have a bucket of water to pour in
Finally there’s biological warfare. There’s not much to cover here. Basic
personal hygiene and sanitation will take you further than a million
doctors. Wash your hands often, don’t share drinks, food, sloppy kisses,
etc., . with strangers. Keep your garbage can with a tight lid on it, don’t
have standing water (like old buckets, ditches, or kiddie pools) laying
around to allow mosquitoes breeding room. This stuff is carried by vectors,
that is bugs, rodents, and contaminated material. If biological warfare is
so easy as the TV makes it sound, why has Saddam Hussein spent twenty years,
millions, and millions of dollars trying to get it right? If you’re clean of
person and home you eat well and are active you’re gonna live.
Overall preparation for any terrorist attack is the same as you’d take for a
big storm. If you want a gas mask, fine, go get one. I know this stuff and
I’m not getting one and I told my Mom not to bother with one either (how’s
that for confidence). We have a week’s worth of cash, several days worth of
canned goods and plenty of soap and water. We don’t leave stuff out to
attract bugs or rodents so we don’t have them.
These people can’t conceive a nation this big with this much resources.
These weapons are made to cause panic, terror, and to demoralize. If we
don’t run around like sheep they won’t use this stuff after they find out
it’s no fun. The government is going nuts over this stuff because they have
to protect every inch of America. You’ve only gotta protect yourself, and by
doing that, you help the country.
Finally, there are millions of caveats to everything I wrote here and you
can think up specific scenarios where my advice isn’t the best. This letter
is supposed to help the greatest number of people under the greatest number
of situations. If you don’t like my work, don’t nit pick, just sit down and
explain chemical, nuclear, and biological warfare in a document around three
pages long yourself. This is how we the people of the United States can rob
these people of their most desired goal, your terror.
SFC Red Thomas (Ret) Armor Master Gunner Mesa, AZ