US, South Korean soldiers practice taking out chemical-weapons labs

By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 23, 2017

RODRIGUEZ LIVE FIRE RANGE, South Korea — Heavy infantry soldiers traded tracks and wheels for a trip through the clouds during air-assault training this week in South Korea.

Four hundred U.S. and South Korean troops took part in the two-day Warrior Strike 6 exercise, which wrapped up Wednesday at Rodriguez Live Fire Range near the tense border with the North.

Soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division dropped in from Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters to meet local ground forces before assaulting a mock village containing multiple booby-trapped labs suspected of making the lethal nerve agent sarin.

The proliferation of chemical weapons on the battlefield remains a concern, said 1st. Lt. Stephanie Hetland, 25, a chemical officer from St. Augustine, Fla.

“They kill very quickly with very small amounts, and the means to make them has been pretty widespread for a long time,” she said.

Soldiers are trained to clear the sites before calling in chemical-support personnel to identify the agents, Hetland said.

North Korea is thought to possess up to 5,000 tons of chemical weapons and a capacity to create 12,000 tons, according to a December 2015 report by Nuclear Threat Initiative, a Washington-based anti-nuclear proliferation group.

Capt. Shane Murray, 28, a fire support officer, said the soldiers from the Fort Riley, Kan.-based combat team — in South Korea for a nine-month rotational deployment — would be ready to hop on helicopters and do this for real tomorrow.

“We’ve been practicing this since we’ve been here,” the Chicago native said.

Warrior Strike 6 ran alongside Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, bilateral exercises underway on the peninsula.


Soldiers from the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division storm a mock village during training at Rodriguez Live Fire Range in Paju, South Korea, Tuesday, March 21, 2017.

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