David H. Hackworth
2 December 97
GASSED IN THE GULF - WILL IT HAPPEN AGAIN?
Desert Storm ended almost seven years ago. Remember the victory parades, the talking heads gushing over the generals, the generals praising each other and everyone from President Bush on down going on and on about the magic high tech stuff that supposedly did such a number on Saddam's finest?
Everything was just rosy, everything worked like a charm. Right?
Oh, there were reports that Desert Storm veterans were poisoned by nuclear, biological and chemical weapons (NBC). But Pentagon and Veterans Affairs brass countered they were malingerers manufacturing another stress syndrome just like their Vietnam-era fathers with Agent Orange and their grandfathers after the post-World War II A-bomb tests.
But then hundreds of Gulf vets started dying and over 100,000 more reported in sick. Finally, like a deeply embedded wisdom tooth, the truth slowly came out, and now we all know the generals, the Pentagon and the VA shamefully lied.
Back while reporting Desert Storm, I noticed how poorly equipped and trained our forces were for chemical or biological war. Most of the protection gear was old, worn and obsolete, and the detection gear was either aged or non-existent. Matter of fact, we had to borrow Soviet detection gear because we didn't have the right stuff.
With the distinct possibility of another shoot out in the desert against a madman with an awesome chemical, biological and perhaps nuclear capability, I asked the troops if they now had the right NBC protection-detection gear and the right training.
Sadly, here's what our warriors say:
A Marine leader: "You would be shocked at the condition of our masks and NBC gear; filters don't work, suits are torn, gloves are ancient and untrustworthy. With the kind of nasty stuff Saddam has waiting for us, one drop on the skin would kill you in a matter of moments."
An Army leader: "Yeah, we walk through the gas chamber every once in a blue moon, but serious NBC training doesn't happen."
A Marine Captain: "I am an NBC officer, and I can tell you that nothing has changed as far as NBC preparation since Desert Storm."
An Air Force major: "I just came back from two years duty in South Korea. The (NBC) equipment we had was junk. We had worn out leftovers from the Gulf War."
A Marine leader: "The Brits have superb NBC suits, and I know that a lot of our guys had them in Desert Storm, but they were the rear echelon pogues closest to the newly arrived gear. Guess what the front-line rifle battalions were wearing?...same stuff you had 40 years ago."
A Navy leader: "If Saddam puts a Scud downrange with (the nerve gas) VX in it, we are going to have to write a lot of letters to parents. Why? The gear is not sexy enough, it is not expensive enough for a contractor or congressman to get excited about and it doesn't fly or drive through the water and therefore does not provide jobs in Pascagoula (Miss.) or Newport News (Va.). Of course, poor NBC gear will result in a lot more dead sailors and soldiers than an 'obsolete' (that is 3-year-old) F/A-18 or stealth fighter."
A Ranger sergeant: "I am an NBC NCO in the reserves. It's difficult to get NBC training taken seriously in peacetime. The NBC portion of our monthly training schedule is systematically ignored in favor of sexual harassment classes.
"Oh, I get pretty vocal -- memos, meetings with the CO and 1st Sergeant. I make a stink so big on occasion I fear a reprimand for insubordination, but still NBC training falls by the wayside.
"What I am concerned about is having soldiers whose training is my responsibility dying like cockroaches in the Iraqi desert from VX, anthrax or other chemical-biological agents because I didn't push hard enough."
The fuss with Saddam Hussein is all about his capability to use NBC. He has them, and in future fighting he'll use them. As will the other America haters - Iran, Syria, Libya and North Korea.
Why won't our military brass learn from the 100,000 wounded who fell from NBC weapons during Desert Storm? Are they so stupid and criminally careless that our sons and daughters might pay the same horrible price all over again?