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In modern times, there’s an award called the Order of the Dragon. It’s granted by the Chemical Corps Regimental Association to honor current and former Dragon Soldiers — the members of the US Army’s Chemical Corps.

The idea to use chemical weapons in warfare had been thrown around as early as the American Civil War, and was taken seriously enough that a section of the Hague Convention forbade it. Nevertheless, German forces in World War I used chlorine and mustard gas, while the French used a form of tear gas. The Chemical Warfare Service was formed both to develop chemical weapons for the US and to create and test counter-measures.

The specialized unit languished between wars, but was reinvigorated as it became clear more trouble was brewing overseas. Among the weapons developed by the Chemical Warfare Service were flame throwers fueled by napalm (probably the reason they are called Dragon Soldiers) and smoke bombs. Chemical smoke generation was among the most important tactics of the CWS, since it created cover for troop movements and protected stationary targets like cities and bridges from aerial attack.

This branch of service again languished after World War II, but the world remained restless through the Twentieth Century. Renamed the Chemical Corps, they were called into service many more times. Perhaps their most notorious operation was the deployment of agent orange in the jungles of Viet Nam. The “tunnel rats” of that same war were also members of the Chemical Corps.

After the Viet Nam war ended with public controversy about the use of napalm and agent orange, the Chemical Corps’ mission changed significantly. The service no longer creates new chemical weapons, but instead is focused on protecting soldiers from such weapons. They develop and test gas masks, hazmat suits, and similar gear, and train soldiers in their use. Still active today, their mission includes chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear threats (CBRN). Their recruitment and training center is located at Fort Leonard Wood, MO. The Regimental Association’s museum is also located there.

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