This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, January 29, 2003. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.
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GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST:
VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back.
I'm sitting in a United States Army reconnaissance vehicle with Colonel Thomas.
COL. THOMAS SPOEHR, U.S. ARMY, FORT LEONARD WOOD: Thank you, Greta. And I'd like to welcome you to Fort Leonard Wood. We're delighted that you're here.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, we've had a fabulous reception. I'm sure it's a much better reception that Saddam Hussein's going to get from the military. It's very different.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. So what is this? This detects chemical weapons. Explain how it works. First, how do you pick up chemical weapons?
SPOEHR: Greta, we're sitting in the, as you see, the Fox reconnaissance vehicle, which is the most advanced chemical reconnaissance vehicle in the world, and it is designed to accompany U.S. forces, as they travel across the battlefield, detecting contamination, finding clear lanes and contaminated areas.
It carries a crew of three, has a top speed of up to 65 miles per hour, and maybe, most importantly, is completely sealed so that the crew in the back here breathes purified air all the time, and they can work in our uniforms just like they're doing.
VAN SUSTEREN: So, if you come across some chemicals in the battlefield, it's not going to affect the crew inside?
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. How do you know if there are chemicals in the battlefield?
SPOEHR: OK. Great question, Greta. And as -- if you can look down here, we've got two wheels which are constantly going into contact with the ground as this vehicle travels across the battlefield.
As those pass across the ground, if they picked up any contamination, it would be brought up to that heated probe surface right there, which is heated to 500 degrees, and that's going to vaporize any contamination that was on those wheels.
And then that contamination is then going to passed up through this tube into this device here, which is the mass spectrometer, which is really a piece of chemical analytical equipment that would be similar to what you'd find in a major university, except that we have one in this vehicle here.
Now this mass spectrometer is going to bombard that sample with electrons, and those electrons are going to produce a unique signature, and it's going to compare it -- that signature to the library of signatures which is on file in the computer.
If it was to get a match, that would, obviously, indicate that you had a chemical warfare agent, and then you could take a number of actions from there.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. It appears on the computer screen. The computer screen I'm looking at -- I don't think the camera can catch -- would indicate the presence of a chemical weapon that was -- then what do you do? I mean, once -- once you've identified -- you're ahead of the troops, by the way, right? You're out front?
SPOEHR: Alongside. You could be ahead of them. And, yes, that's quite likely. You've got a number of things you could do, Greta. First, you would want to notify your higher headquarters and tell them exactly where you'd find the contamination so that other forces could avoid it.
VAN SUSTEREN: Do you mark it? I mean, there must be some...
VAN SUSTEREN: How do you mark it in the field, the chemicals?
SPOEHR: This is the marking flag that the Fox reconnaissance vehicle uses. Again, I mentioned we're in a sealed environment. So you can't just open the door and drop this out.
So what we have here is a specially designed air lock, and you would insert the chemical marking flag into this air lock, obviously seal it so that we would not introduce any contamination, and then when you are ready to drop that flag, you would release it.
And where you were, that flag would indicate that you had chemical contamination.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Now how would you know what chemical it was? Is the computer smart enough -- or is this Fox vehicle smart enough to tell you what chemical is out there?
SPOEHR: This Fox vehicle has a library of all of the known chemical agents known to mankind, and it's contained on the computer there. So, as it's analyzing these chemical agents, it's comparing them to all of the signatures which are on file in the computer, and, if it matches, that means you have a chemical agent.
VAN SUSTEREN: So then what do you do? I mean, once you have -- I mean, like you've now identified a chemical agent in the battlefield. I mean, what do you do?
SPOEHR: We have a number of procedures. We know, for example, if -- what type of agent, what the weather is like.
And this vehicle, by the way, has a whole suite of weather instruments that can tell us the wind speed and the direction so we can tell you which way that chemical agent is going and how long we would anticipate it to be in the area.
And then we can advise the commander how long should you stay in the area, should you avoid it, will the contamination linger in this particular area.
VAN SUSTEREN: Have we used these in battle yet?
SPOEHR: Absolutely. These were proven in Desert Storm, and, after that, we took and upgraded the entire system from what we learned during that experience.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Desert Storm -- we didn't develop this vehicle, did we?
SPOEHR: This vehicle was originally developed by the Germans, and, in fact, during Desert Storm, they provided a number of these for U.S. forces to use.
VAN SUSTEREN: In terms of training, your training is done here at Fort Leonard Wood, right?
SPOEHR: All of the training for the operators of these vehicles is done right here at the chemical school at Fort Leonard wood.
VAN SUSTEREN: And how long does it take to train to learn to operate this?
SPOEHR: This is a five-week course where we go through the entire A to Z on how to use every system on this vehicle.
VAN SUSTEREN: How -- once you come across chemical weapons, does the outside skin of this become contaminated, at risk?
SPOEHR: It's quite likely that, if you were to drive through contamination, particularly the wheels and the undercarriage of the vehicle would become contaminated.
Fortunately, we have other chemical units staffed by professionals that know how to decontaminate this vehicle and get it back into use and not to spread the contamination.
VAN SUSTEREN: So you can get out of the vehicle safely even if it's been contaminated? It would be decontaminated before someone even got out of the vehicle?
SPOEHR: Absolutely. And then there is the possibility that the chemical agent you encounter may not be persistent, and, by the time, you've gotten back to complete your mission, it may have already dissipated.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Colonel. Thank you very much. Appreciate it very much. It's a fascinating piece of equipment. Appreciate it.
SPOEHR: It was our pleasure.
Click here to order the entire transcript of the January 29 edition of On the Record.
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