Toxic Tour of Duty: Part 1

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by Melissa Swan

WHAS11.com

Posted on November 2, 2009 at 6:15 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 2 at 10:54 PM

(WHAS11)--Tell City, Indiana is the small Perry County seat.  It's where a giant We Support the Troops banner hangs on the county courthouse and many a man here has served in the military.

It's where I visited recently with Clinton Hammack who told me, " I enjoyed being in the military or I wouldn't have stayed and retired." 

Hammack reenlisted while he was in Iraq and while there he had a huge portrait of him and his wife painted from a photo he carried to war with him.

Lucas Whistle leaves just down the road from Hammack and agrees that military service was good for him.   He told me, "The military gave me a lot of opportunities that I would never get in just a regular life."   

Whistle has permanent reminders of his military days.  Tattooed on his chest are the initials U.S. and the sword of the infantry.     His son, three month old Tikelan is named for Lucas's best army buddy. 

Russ Kimberling, a newly remarried father of two was their captain in the 1-152 infantry battlion.   They were sent to Iraq in 2003 and assigned to Task Force RIO -- Restore Iraqi Oil.   

According to Hammack the National Guard Soldiers were basically like bodyguards for the American contractors paid to get the oil flowing again.   Hammack puts it like this, "Make sure I'm looking out over the horizon and they ain't nobody on the roof start to shoot."

The contractor, KBR, then owned by Halliburton is headquartered in Houston, Texas.  Everyday the soldiers rode out in non-descript white pickups and SUVs with the KBR contractors. 

They traveled to the oil sites that were likely sabotaged by Iraqi forces just before the American invasion.  One of the work sites was a water injection facility in Qarmat Ali near the southern Iraqi town of Basrah.   The water from the injection plant was used to force oil out of the ground. 

Now, Hammack, Whistle and Kimberling along with 48 other National Guard troops from Southern Indiana have filed a federal lawsuit again KBR.  

They believe it wasn't what was on the horizon that put them in the most danger it was what was on the ground at Qarmat Ali.

"Orange, I would say and it was all over the ground...saturated the ground, " Kimberling says.  "There were ripped opened bags strewn all over the site ...away from the building. 

The soldiers would work in it all day, eat in it, the wind could be blowing on the food then they take it back to the sleeping quarters because it was all over their uniforms, boots so they really never got away from it.

Hammack says . " It was kind of an orange, yellow color."  And you can see it in a military document sent to the National Guard members in August of last year.    

Now, six years later the soldiers know its name.    Sodium dichromate.  It's toxic component is chromium hexivalent the same chemical at the center of the movie, Erin Brockovich.

The lawsuit c laims KBR knew about the toxic chemical at Qarmet Ali and failed to warn the soldiers.   Mike Doyle the attorney for the Indiana guardsmen who have filed suit says the soldiers were getting nose bleeds, rashes and having difficulty breathing.

Kimberling says, "I didn't have any issues until I hit that site.  When I hit the site I started having sinus problems, headaches, bloody noses and then I got a perforation in the left nostril of my nose.   

When the ENT, he was looking in my nostril hit the light and you could see it inside my nose."

Lucas Whistle also has mysterious rashes on his nose and congestion.  

He told me, " I get nose bleeds and usually when I get them ..they're pretty bad..bad enough to where the towels and clothes I'm wearing we have to throw them away.  When I lay in there at bed at night and I get to coughing and I can't breath."

Clinton Hammack says, " I do worry about it and I worry about what's going to happen later on."

But they believe they know what might be in store.    Dave Moore was from Dubois County and the 42 year old father of a little girl.   He died in 2008 from an inflammatory lung disease.   

According to his attorney Mike Doyle,  Lt. Colonel Jim Gentry was a robust commander when he was in Iraq in 2003.   Now  at 52 years old he's dying from lung cancer. 

Last year while taping a deposition for the federal lawsuit, Gentry said, "We should have been told."   Jim Gentry is currently undergoing radiation treatments in an Indianapolis hospital.

The National Guard soldiers who have filed suit against KBR say they have recently obtained a document that proves the company knew about the toxic chemical before the soldiers were told.    

As for KBR, the corporation strongly denied the claims made by the National Guard members.   In part two of this report, see what KBR says about the orange substance at Qarmat Ali.

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