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Tracings in the Sand


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Charles Simmons

Date Posted:March 14, 2002
Email Address:simmons_mark@yahoo.com
Personal Website:Not Disclosed

Army Reserves - 12/00 to 06/01 - Stationed all over the theator. - 3rd Armored Div. Public Affairs Officer

I believe it was the 2nd night of the "Air War" in January 1991.  I was stationed at Khobar Towers.  Early that evening I was called to a meeting for the highest-ranking officers and NCO's of each unit.  Even though I was just a 2LT (+ prior enlisted), I was the highest-ranking officer present for my unit.  We were told at that meeting that we had satellite photos showing the Iraqi's were fueling SCUD missiles with chemical weapons. 

The Sergeant Major in charge of the meeting handed out PB pills (I didn't know anything about them at the time.).  He said that we were to offer the pills to everyone in our units, but not to force them on anyone since they were experimental.   When I got back to my unit I offered the pills to the guys.  About 50% took them.  The dosage was supposed to be 1 pill every 2 hours that night.  The meeting was around 9pm.

Anyway, I decided to take the PB pills because the Sergeant Major said that they believed that they would increase your chances of survival.

About 5 to 6 hours later, after several SCUD attacks, we were given the "all clear" signal from outside.  Each of us took turns standing by the window so we could hear the information being given by bullhorn from a jeep.  As I stood there by the window, I suddenly smelled something foul.  To be honest, I thought it was another Captain in my unit.  He had a tendency to fart a lot (I don't remember why he didn't go to the meeting instead of me.).  After the first whiff, I started to ask him if he had farted.  Suddenly, they started announcing "MOPP 4! MOPP4!" from outside the window.  This scared the hell out of me because I knew from training that some chemicals give off a smell.

I swear to God all those years of Army training saved my life!  Immediately, I closed my eyes, stopped breathing, and dawned my mask.  After clearing my mask, I noticed that my vision was blurry.  Several seconds later, my right cheek started twitching.  Before I could get the rest of my chemical suit on I was twitching everywhere (legs, arms, face, etc...). 

It was about then that I noticed the chemical alarms going off outside.  We moved everyone in the unit from the window side rooms to the inner portion of the building (near the stairs).  I had a "buddy" picked out ahead of time.  His name was SFC Gail Seaman.  Even though he didn't like me, he was one of the best EM I ever met.  Anyway, I told Sgt. Seaman that I had been exposed to some sort of gas.  At first he didn't believe me.  To be honest, I still don't know if he believed me.  But, I asked him not to let anyone else know since it seemed like I was the only one sick, and I didn't want to frighten the others.  Everyone was accounted for and in full MOPP gear. 

We sat there in MOPP gear for several hours.  After a short while, I started feeling dizzy and a little confused.  I was surprised that I didn't have any nausea, but I did start to wonder if I was going to die.  At one point, I actually pulled out my atropine injector.  I'm not sure, but I think I gave it to Sgt. Seaman.  Wow!  What a frightening moment.

Anyway, once the sun started to rise, Gail suggested that we go out on the balcony to search for dead birds.  He thought that might give us some indication of what was going on.  Outside on the balcony, we couldn't see anything.  After standing there for several minutes, the muscle contractions in my stomach became so bad that I knew I was going to lose control of my bowels.

I remember telling Sgt. Seaman, "Oh my God.  I don't know what I am going to do!"  I kept saying, "Why don't the give the all clear!"  Gail told me, "Go inside and use the restroom."  At this point, I was so sick that there was no way I was going to remove my mask or my MOPP suite.  I remember he told me, "I'm sure it's got to be clear by now.  It's been 4 or 5 hours since they gave us MOPP 4."  I told him, "If you are so sure, why don't you take off your mask first.  If you don't get sick then, I'll remove mine."  He wouldn't do it.

I eventually ended up crapping my pants.  This was easily the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me.  Finally, around 6am they gave the all clear.  Half way through changing my clothes, we had another attack.  Talk about bad luck.  Anyway, we went back into MOPP gear for another hour or so.

As soon as the sick call opened, I headed over there.  I was still amazed that I wasn't throwing up.  My vision had returned to normal, but I still had muscle contractions going on all over my body.  I showed the doc how my arms and legs were twitching.  I told him that I had been gassed.  He said, "No.  You are just experiencing a very bad reaction to the PB pills.  We've had people in here all morning complaining of being sick."  I tried to convince him that it was more than that.  I told him that I was bleeding internally from going to the bathroom so hard.  He set me up with an appointment for a proctologist.

I left there in dismay.  I never went to the butt doctor.  After several days the twitching finally stopped.

It wasn't until I was back home and at work (6 months later) that I started noticing some problems.   You must think it is very strange that it took me so long to pick up on these things.  Here’s the deal, I have had terrible problems with names and lists every since the war.  By problems with names, I mean that sometimes, I can't even recall my own sister's name.  The problem with remembering lists was most evident with phone numbers.  To this day, I cannot remember a phone number for more than about 2 or 3 minutes max.

When I left Kuwait, I tried to get them to write something in my records.  All they would put is that I had a bad reaction to the PB pills.  The same thing happened with the doctor at Fort Lewis where I out processed.

When I got home, my own wife wouldn’t even believe me.  The whole thing was so embarrassing and un-provable that I never did anything about it with the VA.   Well, actually I did register to take the Gulf War registry in 1992 or 1993, but they scheduled me for the 24th of December.  So I didn’t go.

A couple of years back I started having some strange problems.  (An unexplained rash; headaches that wouldn’t go away; terrible back pain; and some other things.)  I finally went down and took the registry.  The doc at the VA was sympathetic, but kept changing my statements.  I’d say, “I’ve had problems with my memory every since the war.”  He’d say, “Well, that sort of thing happens as we get older.”  I’d say, “The gas has changed my temperament.  I’m afraid of my own temper now.”  He say, “Well we all get crankier as we get older.”  Finally, I could see that I was wasting my time.

Anyway, there’s been a little more history with the VA since then (not worth going into and a little off track). 

It’s funny; I received a letter from the Department of the Army right after I took the registry.  It stated that I had been exposed to chemical at some ammunitions dump that I had helped blow up. 

After being ill for several years, I had a tooth doctor mess up my teeth trying to get rid of the headaches.  After having to have my teeth pulled, I decided to see the VA shrink because I was so upset over everything (the tooth problem, being sick, and the war).  They’ve suggested on a couple occasions that I try to get some sort of compensation for what happened.  To be honest, I think I deserve it.  But, until they (US Government) really come out with the truth, I’m not going to do anything.  The whole thing just pisses me off.  Like I keep telling them, it’s not like I waited 6 months or so to tell my story.  I went to the doctor then next morning!

Ms. Patricia Browning of New London, I read your story, and I felt I had to add mine because I’m pretty sure that we were in the same place at the same time.  For what it’s worth, no one ever believes me too.


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