Memorial Day 2010
To those who served, to those serving and to those unlucky who continue to serve a lifetime sentence of unrecognized disability through our own military and governments, Look The Other Way.
After writing of this neglected horror twice, I interviewed a submarine sailor who was stationed in Baghdad 10 months. Jonathon Carr offered a different perspective of what we are doing over there as well as look at a deadly disease our military is not acknowledging nor training our troops how to survive .
Vanderbilt University – “Since 2004, physicians serving the Fort Campbell Army base have been referring dozens of soldiers with exercise-induced shortness of breath to Vanderbilt, to see Robert Miller, M.D., associate professor of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine”. – holds the key to hope. Will our military and government wake up soon enough to turn the key and protect our troops?
A short reminder…
Our Returning Soldiers and Constrictive Bronchiolitis
Too many of our returning soldiers have it – the Agent Orange of
2010 – lung disease leading to the good, the bad and the ugly.
The only thing “good” about the following is that it is bringing public attention to an invisible disease and the 4th leading cause of death in the nation, killing 120,000 people a year. COPD is expected to be the 3rd leading cause of death by 2020.
INTERVIEW WITH JON CARR
Sharon We are sending our military to fight in a different culture and live among people in jeopardy, but many are coming home with unexpected results similar to Agent Orange.
Vanderbilt contacted CNN but not surprisingly, they are not interested in the story. I am not surprised about CNN, but Navy Times apparently is not interested in the story either
Jon: I don’t know. It seems like something right up their alley that they would like to publicize because they are always talking about health care and Tricare. There is a section in the back that has veteran’s affairs where all the veterans can write in.
Sharon: I was told Navy Times showed some interest, but have they actually written about it? We must do something about it.
Jon, I know you were on submarines but I want to ask about your 10 months of duty in Baghdad and if you ran into some of the things talked about in the article that may have led to air pollution.
Jon: On the base where we were, all the trash that we get, we bag it up, separate the recyclables, and anything that’s not recyclable, they take to a big burn pit,. There is one right on the base.
It is a big ’hole where they throw all the trash and they burn it just about every night. There are all kinds of stuff going into the air, including fecal matter and whatever else is in the sand over there. When the dust kicks up, so you are just breathing all that stuff in.
Sharon: You are not wearing masks or anything.
Why isn’t the military jumping on this to protect our people there now and in future? Nothing can be done about the past…but now . . . you have been there, Jon. You could have picked up something that has not shown up yet.
Jon: Right after I got back, I was reading in Navy Times about exposing the burn pits that are over there. I remember reading about a female sailor who had gone over there and she was talking about how it is like black lung, almost like the coal miners get. They were burning all kinds of trash – anything that would burn was put in there. In addition, it was just going out in the air and people were breathing it in.
Sharon: What was the area you were in?
Jon: It was Baghdad, Iraq.
Sharon: How long were you there, Jon?
Jon: I was there for ten months.
Sharon: And you actually breathed this stuff.
Jon: Oh, yeah. The smoke . . . because every night at the same time, they would start the burn pits and they would burn all the stuff for that day. During the winter months, it was not as bad because it would rain, causing the fine sand particles and whatnot to turn into mud. But during the summer, when it’s all dry and there was no rain and the wind’s blowing, we would get huge dust storms, so that’s kicking all that stuff up, too.
Sharon: How often would you say, out of a month, out of 30 days, that you had conditions that you were breathing that, noticeably breathing that?
Jon: Right before I came back for a period of about a month and a half, I would say the longest that we went in a sand storm was probably about 4-5 days, then it would clear up for about two weeks. Then it would come back for a couple days then clear up again, it was just all depending upon the wind kicking all that stuff up.
Jon: It was bad. When I was over there, I had to go to medical because I had gotten a piece of sand in my eyelid like where your eyelashes come up. It had lodged in there and gotten infected.
Sharon: Oh, my gosh. Yes, I guess it would be infected. In addition, not one person over there, none of the military people, wore masks, filters, or anything.
Jon: No, not during sand storms. Some of the guys that would do burn pits, mainly the 3rd company nationals, the local people there that they did security screening, they would hire on the base to do odd jobs, Most of those guys operated the burn pits but we would always have soldiers there escorting them, making sure they were doing the right things. Those guys, the 3rd company nationals and the soldiers that were operating to put stuff on the burn pits would have just basic masks that cover your nose and mouth, the white ones that have the straps going behind the ears.
Sharon: One of the nurses at the University of Washington told me that they fill up after 20 minutes. So did they change out?
Jon: No, they would use them until they got to a point where they were obviously not white any more.
Sharon: (laughing) and that was the criteria.
Jon: And then they would change it out.
Sharon: Based on the Vanderbilt article, most of the people sent there for examination had the lung condition.
Jon: It doesn’t surprise me. It’s a dirty country over there with all the stuff that’s in the sand and then when the sand storms come thru and kick it up, then everybody’s just breathing all this stuff.
Sharon: It never occurred to me that sand was dirty. I thought the sand was always clean.
Jon: No, not over there. Because they have all those stray animals and there is some people over there that don’t have indoor plumbing.
Sharon: Oh, then it is all into the sand to be part of the environment.
Jon: Yes.. There is a bunch of stray dogs and cats and goats.
Sharon: What do you think that could be done for our military men and women over there that would protect them against the threat of getting this? Because this disease is permanent.
Jon: It is such a big area over there. At the least they could . . . because the burn pits were on the outskirts of the base where we were but they were still on the base. In addition, I know there is some risk about taking all that stuff out in the middle of nowhere because they have to worry about roadside bombs and all that stuff and all the trucks going out. They could take it further away from the base or maybe develop better respirators or something that aren’t . . . because the respirators that would prevent inhaling this stuff, over there in that environment is impossible to wear for 24 hours a day or however long that you are outside. The job that you’re doing with all the other gear on it’s just impossible …
Sharon: You had trouble breathing through it then.
Jon: Yes. Because you have the helmet on, you got your body armor on, and then you are carrying around magazines, weapons, and all that stuff while you are outside the base, so it is just one more thing. When we were going through training, they trained us on chemical and biological attacks and we got the suits and all that stuff, so we learned how to put those on and you have a certain amount of time from when they sound that alarm to get that stuff on. It comes with a full-face respirator and it has a big canister filter, charcoal filter. To wear that thing for greater than 45 minutes, you’re sweating. It’s crazy. If they make those little masks like we were talking about before, if they make them readily available and at least wear them during the sand storms, that would cut down not 100 percent but it would decrease the risk a little bit.
Sharon: A little is better than nothing is.. If our military people were forewarned . . .
Jon: Oh, yeah, that too. Give better training before you get over there.
Sharon: Absolutely Some of the greatest strides forward in our history have been the need to have something, so it is invented. If we’re going to be there lets train in air quality survival. I it is bad enough. You go over there and you expect to get bombed and shot at… you’re getting things you expect .Respiratory disease is not something you expect. We have to spread the word…. It has to become known.
Was your group mainly sailors over there?
Jon: No. I was on one of the biggest bases in Baghdad where the higher-ranking officials were in charge of everybody over there, a big base headed by General Petraus.
Sharon: Did he ever at any time wear a mask while he was there that you ever saw?
Jon: I did see him, but I didn’t see him that often and never wearing lung protection. He was flying around checking on other things and coming back to Washington to do Senate briefs and all that stuff.
Sharon: Well, he probably wasn’t aware then. Generals or officers leading their troops protect those troops as best they can. That is their job.
Jon: He did a good job, too. He is a good guy.
Sharon: Wow. Good. Well, thank you for saying that. My gosh.
Jon: The way the process works now for the Navy guys, because that is totally out of our element, was going over there. We’re used to going out to sea and doing all that stuff. Drop us in the middle of the desert with only bottled water around and we’re out of our element a little bit. However, we did go to training, and the training that I went to get us ready to go over there was only two weeks. Now since I’ve gone over there, they have extended that. Now you’re in training getting ready to go over there for about a month and a half. Therefore, they have incorporated more things. I don’t know if they . . . because I didn’t find out about how bad the dust storm and all that stuff were until I got over there. Now I’m sure that they’ve worked that in there because of all the feedback that all of the people coming back have provided.
Sharon: Right. However, did any of them talk about this?
Jon: No. As I said, I didn’t know anything about this until probably two months after I got back. I was reading Navy Times and I saw an article in there about the postal clerk where she was talking about the burn pits and all that stuff.
Sharon: OK. I wonder if they have incorporated using masks or protecting the service people against the stuff they’re breathing.
Jon: They might have. I don’t know.
Sharon: Who would know? Whom could I contact to find out?
Jon: The Wounded Warrior program is a good program for injured service members.
Sharon: The Wounded Warrior program? I never heard of that. How do you get in touch with them?
Jon: I know if you goggled the Wounded Warrior program, they come up. They have a website, they have contact numbers, and all that stuff on there. They have done documentaries that have been on TV; I saw one . . . they usually come on like HBO like HBO documentaries. I saw one probably about a month and a half ago. The one that I saw was pretty much the same one that shows repeatedly. It was talking about the guys who were there during the first wave and they were being hit by ID’s, getting burns. The Wounded Warrior program was just kicking into effect and now they’re steadily getting bigger and incorporating more things so this would probably a good thing to talk to those guys…
Sharon: Absolutely. I’ll give them a call.
Jon: While I was over there, during those sand storms, we always kind of jokingly talked about how we’re probably going to come down with something ten years down the road and they are not going to know what in the world caused it. Moreover, this is exactly. . . I didn’t have a clue about any of this stuff until after I got back. Now, looking back in irony. We were just joking about it.
Sharon: Here it is, it is real.
Jon: It is kind of unnerving a little bit. Because now it’s like a waiting game. What’s going to happen in ten years down the road from me being over there? Nobody knows.
Sharon: Nobody does know, no. Nevertheless, you do have healthy genes, right?
Sharon: OK, well, that is a step in the right direction. You’ve led a relatively clean life; you’ve never smoked.
John: Well, I have but . . .
Sharon: Not . . . I was a hard-core smoker for 40 years. You certainly didn’t do that and you certainly don’t smoke now.
Sharon: Well, you see that’s a step in the right direction, so you are not doing anything that would exasperate this sort of condition but you could still get it. However, I don’t remember how long it was after they came home when they had a problem. You’ve been home about a year, more than a year.
Jon: I got back in July of 2008, almost two years.
Sharon: Well, you may be one of the lucky ones because not everybody is hit with this stuff.
Jon: I know up here in this area for the Navy guys returning, there’s a hefty screening process when you get back.
Sharon: What sort of things do they do?
Jon: You fill out about a 50-question questionnaire and if you have had any issues . . . it is mainly geared toward PTSD-type symptoms. Nevertheless, there are some questions about have you have had any respiratory issues; it is just a questionnaire and then if you check Yes, I guess they go further into detail. Then they do chest x-rays and all kinds of that stuff.
Sharon: They follow through with it. I didn’t know that. I didn’t think about it. How did you feel about it, coming home?
Jon: Oh, about this? It’s like I said, it’s kind of unnerving It’s kind of a waiting game, because right now all seems fine, but ten years down the road, something else could trigger something that’s been lurking.
Sharon: That’s exactly right. I know that’s what COPD was–just the beginning for me. Now it’s about 12 diagnosed things. Each one is nastier than the one before. Then it could be that nothing is going to happen, Jon.
Sharon: And so you might be one of the lucky ones. I suspect that you will. You led a healthy life as a kid, healthy and active. Well, I think that makes a big difference. Everything that I’m reading nowadays talks about exercise being mandatory for everybody with any disease. That you’re going to do better than if you do not exercise.
Jon: That is one good thing about being in the military; you have that structured PT program.
Sharon: Those are a few of the things that Agent Orange exposed us to.
Jon: That’s some nasty stuff.
Sharon: That’s right.
Jon: And they didn’t know about this until it was about eight to nine years after those guys were coming back.
Jon: All the guys that I was over there with and have kept in contact with are doing well. I guess we might have been in one of the not-so-affected areas. Most of the guys I keep in contact with were in the same area of Baghdad.
Sharon: How big an area would you say this pit was?
Jon: It was probably about 50 feet by 75 feet. It was decent sized.
Sharon: Was it deep?
Jon: Yes, it was probably between 10 and 15 feet deep. They just dump all that stuff in there and pour whatever kind of incendiary stuff in there.
Did you ever notice anything about the citizens of the area, if they had trouble breathing?
Jon: There were some, we were out doing patrols and it was generally the older civilians there. However, yes, there were a couple of them and they don’t have, unlike here, they don’t have any kind of health care pretty much. They did it and they have to live with it.
Sharon: So you didn’t see any oxygen tanks.
Sharon: I am glad Ashley is married to you.
Jon: Me too!
Sharon: So can you think of anything? I have never done this before and this is very important information
Jon: No, basically, just get the word out there right now and that’s what you are doing. So that’s the first step.
Sharon: Is there anything in particular that you can think of, though, that people can maybe write to their representatives about getting some sort of protection for our service people?
Perhaps if people call, email their representatives and Congress people and insist that our service people be protected and be made aware so at least they could take care of themselves.
Jon: Yes. On the air conditioners, they do have filters but it’s minimal. I saw the guys that would come around and do the cleaning for the building; they would take the filters out and kind of spray ‘em off with a hose, but I don’t think they ever changed them.
Sharon: And none of them used hepa filters that you know about?
Jon: No, I don’t think so, no. They were the cheap, spongy things.
Sharon: Well maybe that would be a good idea then to protect our people, at least when they’re inside a building.
Jon: Well even during a sandstorm, over there in the buildings, you still get dust particles and all because that stuff is super fine, and I’ve noticed if I was in where my berthing area was during the middle of a sandstorm, it would be dusty inside the quarters.
Sharon: Well then, you were 24/7 then; you were not getting away from it.
Jon: No. You’d have to wait for the dust storm to blow out and then you would clean everything and wait for the next one and then clean it again and wait for the next one.
Sharon: How often did you have a dust storm?
Jon: During the summer, it was probably once every two to three weeks, maybe once a month, sometimes twice a month.
Sharon: You were there for ten months.
Jon: I got there in September and pretty much from September to
early November; we’d have a couple of dust storms. It wasn’t as
much, and then probably about May or April to June. April to June,
it was real bad because that’s when it was coming up on the summer
so everything was really dry and the wind would start kicking up
As I said, there was a time the dust storm lasted five days, five to six days, almost a whole week.
Jon: It’s something else over there. You would take a shower and then 30 minutes later you’d be covered in sand. You would have to take another shower.
Sharon: Do you think the local people seemed receptive to you being over there or not?
Jon: For the most part yes, they did. I’d say probably 75 percent of the civilian population over there wanted us to be there because they knew that things were going to change for the better for them. The other 25 percent were in with the Taliban and those groups and they didn’t want change whatsoever.
Sharon: Right, I understand that, but the majority of the people were glad you were there.
Sharon: Fantastic. I don’t think the people over here know that. I didn’t know it anyway.
Jon: Yes and when I got back, if people found out that I was over there, then that question would always come up:
Sharon: Well, do you think those people were glad you were over there?
Jon: Yes. Because while we were over there, all you’d see on the news is all the bad stuff because that’s what will make the news, of course. However, for all the bad stuff you would see on the TV, there were probably ten good things that we were doing over there. We were helping to rebuild schools, rebuilding a light rail system over there that was destroyed when we were first over there because of all the bombings; we were repairing that. All the oil refineries over there, we were getting those back into operation so they could go back to work.
Then right outside of Baghdad, there was a water park for the civilians over there that they had built and it was destroyed so we were helping them to get that back in operation so during the summer months, the kids could have somewhere to go to cool off because it gets hot over there, hot.
Sharon: That’s what I heard. How hot does it get?
Jon: The day that I left, I took a picture and it was 125 degrees. It was nasty.
Sharon: Is it humid, too?
Jon: No, not humid. But I mean if it’s that hot, it’s hot. We’d go from an air conditioned space,, open the door and it felt like when you open your oven after it is preheated to put the food in there, it was like that but constant. If you are outside. it was like sitting in the oven with somebody blowing a hot air dryer on your face. That is how hot it was.
Sharon: How many people did we lose from that?
Jon: There was quite a few.
You know, that was part of the training. They would tell us, hey, the environment you’re going to is a lot different from what you’re used to.
Therefore, you have to drink a lot of water. In addition, they had water readily available everywhere. You could walk ten feet and it was kind of like Starbucks around here.
Sharon: That is so cool, though; that the majority of the people were glad you were there.
Jon: Yes. We would be out doing patrols and we’d see all the little kids running up. Pretty much every time that we would go out, we would have soccer balls, chocolate, footballs, anything, because all the little kids would come running up and the guy that was sitting in the turf would always throw them a soccer ball or throw them some candy and whatnot.
Sharon: That doesn’t make the news, does it?
Jon: No, it doesn’t. Because before I went over there, you’d see all the time on the news, this American soldier was killed by a roadside bomb and wonder, what am I getting myself into? Then I get over there and it’s like, wait a minute, this is not how it’s portrayed on the news.
Sharon: If you could ask a question of one of the Vanderbilt
doctors, Robert Miller, M.D., associate professor of Allergy,
Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine or Critical Care Fellow,
Matthew King, M.D, what would the question be?
Jon: I guess the number one question would be how do I as a serviceman, if I’m over there, how do I pick up the initial signs that yes, you are going start developing these symptoms, and you can cut it off before it happens, if there’s a way to do that?
Sharon: You ask a good question. I hope they will comment.
Jon: There has to be. Because if you’re over there, they do have medical clinics you can go to, but I don’t think that the military physicians that are over there are keyed into this. Pretty much everybody back here stateside is good about this, but there has to be a way over there that you can go, hey, I’m having this symptom . . . . is this what . . .?
Sharon: .any people have a tendency to discard their own condition . . . say, well, it’s the weather or I’m tired and it’s discarded.
Jon: They could incorporate that into the training prior to going over there.
Sharon: That’s a good idea
Jon: I know from that article that we were talking about in Navy Times there were some changes made because of that article. They had restricted some of the things. They tried not to burn as much stuff; they tried to recycle as much stuff as possible and burn less.
Sharon: OK, well that makes more sense. Well then, because of
this life has to be better for the citizens of that country as
We will get the word out.
Moreover, you are at Bangor in case anybody wants to know.
Sharon: I sent the information to Greta on FOX. I have not heard
I feel good learning most of the people living there appreciate what you are doing over there. I am glad to know that.
Before we close, can you think of anything at all that we could add to this?
Jon: Well, I looked at it as going to make a difference, and I did the best I could while I was over there, so that’s all you can ever do.
Sharon: You have a neat, neat attitude, Jon.
I can’t think of anything more except I am very happy that you are married to my granddaughter.
John: Me too!
. More later… Sharon O’Hara