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Field Sanitation Teams Sought for Gulf War Information

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 1999 – The Defense Department wants to interview Gulf War veterans who served as field sanitation team members and who may know about potential health hazards U.S. service members were exposed to before and during the war.

Investigators in the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses seek information from soldiers who served in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield and in Iraq and Kuwait during Desert Storm. They're looking for possible links between environmental exposures and the illnesses some veterans are experiencing.

"We really don't know a lot about what the Army field sanitation teams did and what they saw during the war," a member of the Environmental Occupational Exposure Division said. "Their observations could have an impact on a variety of investigations."

Aside from hostile fire, the principal threats to force readiness are naturally occurring diseases and illnesses caused by environmental exposures. For example, hot and cold weather injuries, insects, pesticides, unpurified water, vehicle exhausts and other potentially hazardous elements prevalent in a deployment area can affect troop health.

Field sanitation teams advise and assist unit commanders in reducing the threat of hazardous exposures. Ultimately, the success or failure of a military operation can rest upon effective preventive medicine, officials said.

"The field sanitation team becomes the eyes and ears of the commander," said Army Dr. (Col.) Frank O'Donnell, director of medical outreach and issues for the special assistant's office. "The team's attentiveness to the water and food supply, waste disposal and insect control is important to the mission, because it impacts the effectiveness of the unit."

Investigators have found it difficult to identify soldiers who worked on the teams because field sanitation is normally performed as an additional duty. They're requesting, instead, that Gulf War veterans who worked on the teams call the special assistant's office toll free at (800) 497-6261 to report their observations.

Topics the investigators are most interested in discussing include food service sanitation, water supplies, waste disposal, insect control, medical threats associated with heat and cold during the war, and team training.

This effort is part of a DoD initiative to ensure that veterans' accounts of their Gulf War experiences are incorporated into investigations. To date, the office has published 14 case narratives, two environmental exposure reports and two information pages. All are available at DoD's Gulf War Web site.

Officials said many of the findings and lessons learned from the Gulf War will be used to change DoD policy and doctrine to increase readiness and improve service members' survivability during future deployments.

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