HERMISTON - The two men who sent an M55 rocket filled with deadly nerve agent to its destruction Wednesday do so many things together they are nicknamed the "C-crew twins."
Thirty-one-year-old Corey Grabeel and Paul Cook, 35, met Nov. 11, 2002 when they both applied for jobs at the Umatilla Chemical Depot. Then they spent five weeks in training together, sitting at the same table every day.
"You get to know someone really well when you spend five weeks sitting next to him," said Cook, a resident of the Tri-Cities.
Grabeel is from Hermiston.
After training, not by design, they ended up on the same crew when they reported to their job at the depot. They now work 12-hour shifts together (from 5 a.m. until 5 p.m.) as the senior workers on the "C" crew, which is made up of about 70 people. (The depot has four shift schedules identified by the first four letters of the alphabet.) On their days off, they still hang out, often playing golf or football.
Cook and Grabeel found out Tuesday night they were going to be the guys on the first crew to process a rocket at the depot, which began destroying its stockpile of chemical weapons Wednesday. But they still weren't betting money on it - the startup date and time had been pushed back several times already.
"When we showed up everyone was saying one o'clock, but it was still, even then, OK yeah, one o'clock," Cook said. "But then the announcement came."
Grabeel said he was glad to hear it.
"We were ready," Grabeel said.
Processing actually began at 9:29 a.m., not long after Cook and Grabeel clocked in. A meeting was called first thing to prepare the guys on the "C" crew for their task. Emergency plans and procedures, down to the most minute detail, were reiterated.
Neither man said he was nervous. In fact, both they and the crew were discussing baseball as they dressed in the rubber aprons meant to protect them when they handled the rocket.
Then, it was time. Another worker read the standard operating procedures, what they call "SOPs," as both Cook and Grabeel, as the senior crew members, began unwrapping the rocket from the pallet.
"Cut the bands, lay dunnage off to the side, push the pallet in front of rocket metering machine," said Cook, repeating what he knows by heart after two years of training. "One guy goes to chuck the wheels. Then one guy on one end, one guy on the other. Pick it up with both hands. Place it on the rocket metering machine."
When it was over, they went on break.
Now they're looking forward to being the first guys on their crew to make an entry into the contaminated room. Such entries are usually done for routine maintenance or when a mechanical problem needs fixing.
"I'm going to push for it," Grareel said. "I want to be first."