The 91st Chemical Company, commanded by Capt. Harmit "Mitti" Randhawa, 28, of Bamberg, S.C., has a "secret weapon" in his arsenal of chemical and biological detection and decontamination gear -- six state-of-the-art German-made M-93 Fox amphibious chemical warfare vehicles.
The Fox vehicles, each with a specially trained crew of four, are designed to roam the battlefield, sampling the air and earth for traces of deadly chemical warfare substances.
Lt. Bob Campbell, 23, of Troy, N.Y., commands the 24th Division's Fox Recon Platoon and commands one of those six Foxes, which can go more than 80 miles an hour.
Operating from a rear-facing seat, Sgt. William Saavedra, 25, of Huntington Beach, Calif., controls two small silicone sampler wheels that roll behind the Fox.
At regular intervals, or in the event that contamination is suspected, Sergeant Saavedra deploys the wheels and then lifts them and touches them to a sampler head, heated to 500 degrees. The gas that comes off the sampler wheel is sucked into a closed system and tested by a computerized mass spectrometer analyzer.
The analyzer displays the results on a computer screen monitored by Spc. Ricky Catelano, 21, of Hayward, Calif., and sounds an alarm if any toxic substance is detected.
Sergeant Saavedra then drops a weighted warning flag out a rear hatch, and the vehicle begins testing and marking off the perimeters of the area of contamination.
The amphibious vehicle is totally alien on a battlefield full of U.S. tanks and fighting vehicles.
"We have found ourselves being tracked by the main gun of M-1A1 tanks," Sergeant Saavedra said. "They have circulated silhouette identification pictures of the Fox to help keep us from getting blown away, but we wanted something that immediately identified us Americans."
Their solution: A big black skull-and-crossbones flag to fly from one of their antennae.