Former Ind. National Guard officer suing over exposure to chemical in Iraq dies

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by Melissa Swan

WHAS11.com

Posted on December 1, 2009 at 5:50 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 1 at 7:22 PM

(WHAS11) - Indiana National Guard troops gathered to say goodbye to one of their commanding officers on Tuesday, Lt. Colonel Jim Gentry. Gentry believed his terminal cancer was directly related to his service in Iraq and even after death the 52-year-old Indiana National Guard commander is continuing a fight for his troops through a lawsuit.

 Veterans from several wars held the stars and stripes as members of Jim Gentry's family, both by blood and by military arrived for a final, formal goodbye.

“He was the type of person that loved the challenge, loved soldiers, loved to work with soldiers,” said Major General Dan Colglazier, a retired member of the Indiana National Guard.

Inside the chapel, were many of Jim Gentry's soldiers, their patches for the infantry and for Indiana worn proudly on their sleeves.
     
Gentry entered the Army in 1981 as an infantry man and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was among the first National Guard troops in the country to be deployed to Iraq. There he commanded soldiers throughout the country.
 
 “We always talked about how to take care of the troops and how to fulfill his mission..Never about how he was doing, what kind of condition he was in..It was always his soldiers and the unit and the mission,” added Maj. General Colglazier.

It was during Gentry's first tour of duty, in 2003, he and other Indiana National Guard soldiers first noticed a yellow substance in the sand near Basra.

They were guarding American contractors restoring the Iraqi oil fields. That yellow substance was later confirmed to be a cancer causing chemical, sodium dichromate. 

Gentry would later come to believe that the sodium dichromate led to his terminal cancer.
 
Before his death, Gentry joined in a federal lawsuit against KBR, the American military contractor restoring the Iraqi oil fields.

In a deposition given in 2008, Gentry blamed the contractor, KBR, for failing to warn the soldiers about the toxic chemical. Less than two months ago, Gentry gave another deposition, in which his weak voice stood strong for his men.

In a small cemetery, near a small southern Indiana town, the soldiers who honored Lt. Col. Jim Gentry knew that to be true.

The military contractor KBR says it's conduct was governed at all times by the terms of its contract with the United States Military.  

The contract required the military to ensure that a work site was "benign" and free from environmental hazards.

The US. Military is currently investigating to see if the current action was taken in this circumstance.


 

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