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American children in South Korea get new protective masks

CAMP RED CLOUD, South Korea — Diapers? Check.

Sippy cup? Check.

Infant-child Chemical Agent Protection System? Check.

Yes, the continuing threat of attack from North Korea makes for some unique provisions U.S. servicemembers and their families must keep on hand when living in South Korea.

“It’s just a [matter of] preparation,” said Army Capt. Allan Garcia, the 2nd Infantry Division’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear operations officer. “You just never know what the capability … is of [North Korea].”

In hopes of making things a little easier in the event of a chemical attack, 2nd ID officials this month are requiring soldiers with children living in South Korea to pick up new child-friendly protective masks.

Garcia said the model being replaced was good only for children 3 and younger, and was “more like a plastic bag that you put your kids in.” The new model, he said, is good for children 8 and younger and “looks more like a space suit.”

The XM52 Joint Service Chemical Environment Survivability Mask will continue to serve adults and children as young as 9.

Garcia said the new mask allows young children more room inside, a greater field of vision and even a built-in straw for drinking.

“This is more comfortable for them,” he said.

The new mask may still be a tough sell for the youngest of children. Garcia said his 4-year-old daughter, Danielle, initially balked when he asked her recently to try on the mask.

“Then, as soon as she put it on and she feels the air flowing on her face, she wants to do it again,” he said. “The next day, she was asking, ‘When can I put that on again?’ ”

When the mask was demonstrated Monday on Spc. Ione Barrera’s 16-month-old daughter, Sariah, the child cried and fended off every attempt to place it over her head. Still, her mother said the new mask is an improvement.

The old masks, Barrera said, “kind of creeped me out — it’s like a plastic bag thrown over them. Now, they look like little astronaut suits, so I think it is a little more kid-friendly and doable.

“I mean, it’s a weird concept to think about your kids having to wear a [protective] mask, but at the same time you have to look at the bright side — you can tell them they’re astronauts … for that period. Try to flip it around and not make it scary for them.”

In the event hostilities ever resume on the peninsula, the threat of a chemical or biological attack from the North is very real, according to experts on the subject.

The Associated Press reported earlier this year that it is “widely believed the North has a chemical capability that it could unleash in the early stages of a land war to demoralize defending forces.”

A 2007 Popular Mechanics investigative report, quoting a variety of well-placed sources, said North Korea has built “one of the world’s most extensive biochemical warfare programs.”

“The weaponry is thought to have the potential to decimate [South Korea] and the [28,500] U.S. troops stationed there,” the report said.


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