Diary

Business (of Earmarks) as Usual

In February 2003 my Navy Reserve (SEABEE) Unit was mobilized for duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom. We didn’t actually call it that at the time, it was Desert Storm II, or “Operation Go Find Sean Penn and Whup His Butt Back to Hollywood”.

We were excited, nervous, and anxious to go after not being used for Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan after 9/11. Folks were definitely sure of one thing; we were gonna get slimed at some point in the operation, so everything we had been taught about CBR suddenly took on a huge new sense of importance. It went beyond the normal “Oh we hafta get gassed in the chamber again” to lengthy discussions about “Who takes their masks off first?”, and “Where do we put all this stuff?” we were issued to protect us from what we all saw in the videos. The Kurds laying lifeless all over town, men women and children, gassed by Saddam and his goons.

We arrived in Kuwait the first days of March still wishing we had more time to practice with the new MOPP gear we had been issued (strangely forest green camoflage, on Fox News Navy sailors on ships were shown wearing Desert Camo, nice touch), packing and re-packing the stuff we were issued to make sure we could pull it out in the order we would need it.

We thought we had the latest and greatest gear for protecting us against the WMD. As Seabees, generally we got the Marine hand-me-downs. M60s instead of the M240B or G, big long M16 rifles, (cobbled together A1 lower receivers with A2 uppers, never been fired, and likely to jam) rather than the folding-stock CAR we’d need as we would be driving trucks mainly. Cool PASGT vests for protection against shrapnel, but bullets would be happy to see us wearing them. But at least against the nerve agents and mustard gas, we felt we were up to par with our Devil Dog brothers and sisters.

One strange thing we were given (we thought) was the M-291 Personal Decontamination Kit. On the front was the warning “May be slightly irritating to skin”. Slightly less than nerve agent, we hoped!

“The M-291 Skin Decontamination Kit consists of a wallet-like carrying pouch containing six individual tear-open decontamination packets, enough to do three complete skin decontaminations. Each packet contains an applicator pad filled with a non toxic/non-irritating decontaminating powder. The M-291 Kit is designed to completely decontaminate the skin through physical removal, absorption and neutralization of toxic agents. The M-291 replaces the M258A-1 Decontamination Kit.”

The stuff we were told was like a “charcoal powder”, messy but would when used in conjunction with the Atropine Self-Injector (eww) would keep us alive to fight on.

We were told there was a new decon kit on the horizon, but for some reason (nobody knew why), it was held up. Supposedly it would be less messy, easier to use, and makes one’s skin soft as a baby’s behind [ok, they didn’t say that last part]. However, until the new kit became available we would have to make due with the M-291, the powder from which we were told may result in residual agent hazard in decon areas.

Now we thought the new kit would be better. Called JSPDS [.pdf file] (Joint Service Personnel/Skin Decontamination System);

“Reactive Skin Decontamination Lotion (RSDL) provides the Warfighter with improved capability over the existing M291 Skin Decontamination Kit (SDK) to reduce lethal and performance degrading effects of Chemical Warfare agents. Additionally it can be used to decontaminate individual equipment, weapons, and casualties on unbroken skin.”

“The Joint Service Personnel/Skin Decontamination System (JSPDS) is an Acquisition Category (ACAT) III program. The JSPDS is a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-cleared, individually carried skin decontamination kit. The JSPDS provides the warfighter the ability to decontaminate the skin, after exposure to Chemical/Biological (CB) warfare agents, in support of immediate and thorough personnel decontamination operations. Reactive Skin Decontamination Lotion (RSDL) provides the Warfighter with improved capability over the existing M291 Skin Decontamination Kit (SDK) to reduce lethal and performance degrading effects of Chemical Warfare agents. Additionally it can be used to decontaminate individual equipment, weapons, and casualties on unbroken skin.”

A plus would be not having to deal with powder in windy or dusty conditions. Sounds good to me! So where is it?

Here it is!

Scientists have discovered a lotion that can save the lives of U.S. soldiers exposed to chemical weapons — a product vastly superior to the standard-issue decontamination powder.

Naturally, the Defense Department wants to scrap the powder and switch to the more-effective lotion.

But there’s a problem: After being lobbied by the companies making the powder, several members of Congress pushed through two earmarks worth $7.6 million that forced the military for the past two years to keep buying the inferior product.

Huh? What members of Congress would hold up deployment of a new and better system to protect the troops? Remember “I support the troops!”? Oh yes, there was always a “but” after that phrase.

Here’s the “butt” “but”. Chucky, is that you? Hilary! Say it’s not so!

So much for the B.S. about earmarks, huh? Thanks guys, thanks a lot. To say I’m disgusted is putting it mildly.