Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Got a spare gas mask?

A little more than a decade ago, when I was working at the local American Red Cross chapter, I found myself on an assignment that I'd rather never repeat. It was during the first Spring Valley operation when the Army sent in explosives experts to dig up World War I era shells and mustard gas canisters long buried there. When they were first disposed of, the area was woods and well off the beaten track. A lot has changed since 1918. Large, upscale houses were built on the long forgotten ammo dump. Construction turned up some suspicious looking metal objects. Families were forced out of their homes while the Army moved in to search and seize any more munitions. Being a disaster, the Red Cross responded. Some families checked into hotels for the duration, while others chose to stay close by, in a community club house that Red Cross and the development's builder stocked with food and drink. Residents spent the day there then returned to their homes at night. This went on for several weeks. The Red Cross is famous for feeding everyone during disasters. This, of coure, includes the disaster workers -- in this case the U.S. Army. When my day came to work the disaster, I was assigned to a canteen truck. We were sent in, past the yellow tape to where the soldiers were working. They were happy to have hot and cold drinks all day long, and OF COURSE, doughnuts. For lunch we heated up cans of beef stew and served it to the soldiers. As the young G.I.s approached the truck, I noticed they wore hazard suits and had gas masks strapped to their wastes. Hmmm -- did they think one of those mustard gas canisters might accidentally. . . ...?!! Here we were, in our Red Cross canteen truck, windows and doors open, wearing street clothes, our Red Cross aprons, and smiles.

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