I worked on an Army installation for 3 years. During that time, I heard soldiers brag and laugh about killing women, about running children down in the street, about giving young children dip and making them sick, just for a laugh... and in the end, all of that combined with my general discomfort about helping people improve their education so they could command more people to hurt others. And I left. Many of the people I worked with day-to-day were wonderful, and there were certainly some bright spots among all the jingoistic, violent comments. And not all of the students fit into the same mold. There were many I met with whom I have more in common with than my own family - freethinkers, peacemongers, and medics who wanted nothing more than to piece people together again. Hawkeye Pierce is alive and well in today's Army, too.
One of those bright spots - one of the brightest, in fact, is now facing some pretty scary darkness.
When I was still in lots of history coursework, I took a couple of classes dealing with the Vietnam War. As part of one of these courses, we talked with a group of men who'd struggled to survive their exposure to Agent Orange. And we talked to their families - their children with astoundingly high rates of birth defects, with heart problems, and Cystic Fibrosis. There's no chance of Agent Orange in the sandbox, I always reassured myself, so these soldiers I served wouldn't face the same misery.
Of course, being the hopeful person I am, I discounted the American talent for creating new, more horrible miseries.
Today, Lamprecht's list of ailments reads like a tour through a medical dictionary: tuberculosis, dysentery, acid reflux, hemorrhoids that required surgery, infected cuts, cysts, nerve problems caused debilitating numbness, night sweats, lapses of memory, joint problems and tremors.I read this story, having known Jeff and Donna for many years, trying to understand what my friends and their daughters are going through. Of course, I have no frame of reference for anything like this. Not many of us do.
So far, he has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which is characterized by long-term pain throughout the body, including the joints and muscles. He also has isolated nerve damage associated with neuropathy. He has bouts of tremors because of Parkinson's-like symptoms.
I kept wondering to myself.... in what universe is this kind of negligence remotely okay? Not just this:
Throughout his tours, Lamprecht was stationed next to burn pits that the military employed to dispose of everything from human feces to batteries to computer hardware. His second tour was at Balad Air Base, Iraq. His third was at Camp Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq.And Jeff isn't alone.
Hundreds of personnel say they have been sickened by toxic fumes and debris from these pits, and Lamprecht is pretty sure he's one of them.
"There was particulate matter," he said. "There was invisible dust falling from the sky, and it was in our skin and in our water, and we're bathing in it. And then it's in our food. We brushed our teeth with it. We washed our hair with it. I mean, we lived in that filth."
After a lung biopsy, Le Roy Torres was diagnosed in 2010 with constrictive bronchiolitis, an irreversible disease that squeezes off airways. In 2007 and 2008, he was stationed in Balad, Iraq — home to what may have been largest military burn pit — the size of 10 football fields. Torres, for a time, performed his daily calisthenics near the dark plumes emitted by the smoldering crater.There are the Vietnam-era vets and civilians who are bearing the effects of Operation Ranch Hand:
Forced by breathing problems to later retire from his post-Army job as a highway patrolman, Torres is one of thousands of veterans who have filed more than 50 lawsuits against defense contractors hired to handle waste management in the war zones. The Motley Rice law firm is representing Torres and other veterans and their survivors in one of those class-action suits.
Service members, however, have complained for a decade that burn pits scattered across Iraq and Afghanistan were making them sick with cancers and other diseases, and were killing some young troops. In 2007, Army and Air Force health inspectors went to Balad and measured airborne, cancer-causing dioxins at 51 times the “acceptable levels.” They determined the cancer risk for people serving at the base for more than one year was eight times higher than normal. In 2008, the Military Times reported that single burn pit might have exposed tens of thousands of troops to dioxins and toxins such as arsenic.
How many people have been exposed? Between 2.1 and 4.5 million Vietnamese civilians lived in areas sprayed with dioxin-contaminated herbicides at the time of spraying. The U.S. Veterans Administration presumes that any of the 2.8 million U.S. veterans who had “boots on the ground” in Vietnam from 1962 to 1975 were exposed to dioxin-contaminated herbicides, including Agent Orange.And those "sufferers of medically unexplained illnesses," otherwise known as veterans and civilians from the first Iraq war who were exposed to oil fires and depleted uranium, among other chemicals. I worked with a medically retired DI whose unit had lived under particulate from the burning oil wells in Iraq who later had to have a number of trans-sphenoidal (behind the nose) brain surgeries to remove tumors on his pituitary gland. To this day, he takes remarkably expensive medications to keep him alive.
So many parts of these equations make no sense. The only real thread throughout, as I see it, is a common disregard for the ramifications of decisions compounded by a perceived cheapness of human life: spray chemical defoliants and send people walking through; kip under fallout from burning oil wells; dig trenches and burn human waste, heavy metals, plastics and chemicals.
There's very little systematic thought here: something I find intriguing, since I know there are some very intelligent men and women making decisions in our military machine. But we seem to keep making the same mistakes - not just the mistakes of wars for their own sake - but these wholly avoidable mistakes that destroy so many lives, so very slowly.
When will we ever learn?
I know this isn't an IGTNT diary, but I respectfully ask that you follow those same rules. I don't know that Jeff or Donna or their family members would ever see this diary, but I would hate for their first introduction to this community to leave them with an unseemly understanding of us. Thanks.For more information on the burn pit registry, or if you or a family member have been exposed, visit www.burnpits360.org