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
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
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
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
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
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
Sharon: Oh, then it is all into the sand to be part of the
Jon: Yes.. There is a bunch of stray dogs and cats and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Jon: No, I don’t think so, no. They were the cheap, spongy
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
Sharon: Well then, you were 24/7 then; you were not getting away
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
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
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
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
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
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