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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.

Exhibit One:  

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.

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 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.  

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.

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."

And Jeff isn't alone.
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.

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.

There are the Vietnam-era vets and civilians who are bearing the effects of Operation Ranch Hand:  
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
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Comment Preferences

  •  Long Time Passing... (28+ / 0-)

    It's all I could think of while I read...

    Where Have All The Flowers Gone

    Southerners are remarkably careless with their history. - Jane Daley, 2011 SHA Meeting

    by khowell on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:11:50 PM PST

  •  Hey, khowell. I am so sorry for your friends and (10+ / 0-)

    for all veterans and people presently in the military who face these horrors and the resultant illnesses. I hope that they win those lawsuits and lots of money leaves the contractors' pockets. That's the only thing that they understand. It will take a lot of lawsuits and a lot of loss of money to change their procedures. As for the military, I cannot begin to imagine how they could let negligence of this sort continue. You are correct, we never learn, not ever. About this, the climate, education, racism and on and on and on...we are an ignorant and reckless people.

    Thanks for the diary.

    "Southern nights have you ever felt a southern night?" Allen Toussaint ~~Remember the Gulf of Mexico~~

    by rubyr on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 03:38:19 PM PST

  •  So, so sad. So much of human behavior seems to be (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    khowell, cotterperson, northerntier, rubyr

    looking about five inches down the road and impulsively acting. Why on earth is it so hard to have some real perspective and weigh, if not all costs, more of the salient human costs?

    Good to see you, dear - happy new year.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 05:12:02 PM PST

    •  good to see you, too (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cotterperson, Wee Mama, rubyr

      I've been lurking... Two classes and a thesis stand between me and May, so I have no time for anything, it seems. :-(

      I hope you had a relaxing holiday, and happy 2013 to you, too!!

      Southerners are remarkably careless with their history. - Jane Daley, 2011 SHA Meeting

      by khowell on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 05:26:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The MIC (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wenchacha, khowell

    exists to deploy technology. Wars happen so that new and sometimes old technology can be tested and played with in real situations. The mentality that engages in this kind of battlefield Monopoly is not concerned with the pieces on the board. The only way to stop this is to have a strong counter to armed forces recruiting--an anti-recruitment office as it were--that can offer blunt facts about what recruits are facing if they enlist in the armed forces (not armed "services"--there is no "service" involved in going into another country, killing its people, polluting its air and ripping its economy to shreds).

  •  Area 51 employees got shafted (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The government of the time could have done the honourable thing and handled it quietly yet honestly.

    Beth Hawkins has an article in the latest issue of Mother Jones (it's also in the front-page slider today) about American soldiers who believe they have been sickened by the fumes from military "burn pits," which are exactly as unpleasant as you might suspect:
    In the past 17 months, more than 500 veterans have contacted Disabled American Veterans (DAV), a national nonprofit serving vets, to report illnesses they blame on the burn pits. Throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, contractors—many of the burn pits are operated by companies like former Halliburton subsidiary KBR—have dumped hundreds of tons of refuse into giant open-air trenches, doused the piles with fuel, and left them to burn. The trash includes plastic, metal, asbestos, batteries, tires, unexploded ordnance, medical waste, even entire trucks. (The military now operates several actual incinerators and has made efforts to create recycling programs, but the majority of war-zone trash is still burned in pits.)
    What Beth doesn't mention in her story is that the military's use of burn pits has a long and fascinating backstory.

    The Other Burn Pits

    All things in the sky are pure to those who have no telescopes. – Charles Fort

    by subtropolis on Tue Jan 15, 2013 at 11:38:11 PM PST

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