H. Scud Missile Impact

During the Gulf War, 88 Scud missiles impacted within the Kuwait theater of operations.[147] The attack against Al Jubayl occurred a little over a month into the war and was the 66th missile Iraq launched.[148]

At approximately 2:00 AM on February 16, 1991, Iraq launched an Al Hussein variant of the Scud missile. Sensors detected the missile early in flight and provided prompt warning of the launch. The Scud impacted in the harbor waters, approximately 150 meters from the commercial pier (the location of an ammunition storage site) and approximately 1,000 meters from the USS Tarawa. Other ships in the harbor at the time included the USS Button, the USS Cleveland, and a Merchant Marine vessel—the Santa Adele.[149] The missile’s warhead did not detonate and caused no damage. The US Navy’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Detachment 33 recovered most of the missile’s components, including the warhead, from the harbor floor.

A Patriot missile battery in Al Jubayl on February 16 received the launch warning, but the battery was not operational for maintenance reasons and did not engage the incoming missile.[150]

According to excerpts from the US Navy’s EOD Detachment 33 log, air raid sirens sounded in the city, the Harbor Defense Command went to condition Red, and the Rear Area Operations Center went to condition Yellow.[151] The Port Security Unit 301 (PSU-301) duty officer heard an explosion outside the command tent, in the air and to the west. He recalls seeing white-hot luminescent objects still in the air. He ordered the unit to general quarters, the highest level of alert, and contacted the Harbor Defense Command. After the duty officer increased the alert level, PSU-301’s three remaining Raider patrol boats got underway.[152]

PSU-301 and EOD boat crews responded rapidly to the Scud impact site. By 2:30 AM, an EOD boat and a PSU-301 Raider had arrived at the scene. However, due to smoke and the strong smell of missile fuel,[153] the PSU 301 boat backed away. The EOD team surveyed the harbor’s surface near the reported impact site and focused on an area that was bubbling and emitting strong smelling fumes. Approximately 20 minutes later, the EOD team marked the area with a buoy and returned to base.

At 7:20 AM, the EOD team returned to the site to check the status of the marked area. Bubbles were still rising to the surface and the same strong smell remained in the area. At approximately 9:30 AM, an EOD boat equipped with an Underwater Damage Assessment Television System (UDATS) surveyed the harbor bottom. After lowering the UDATS and surveying the area around the buoy, the team located missile debris, including an item that resembled a warhead. At 2:50 PM, the EOD team made its first dive at the impact site. The divers confirmed the location of an intact Scud warhead, along with the guidance section, rocket engine, and miscellaneous components. The missile’s major components had separated from each other, confirming that the missile had broken apart.[154]

1. Scud Missile Recovery Operation

In preparation for recovery operations, EOD personnel spent February 17, 1991, consulting with their technical information center at Indian Head, Maryland. EOD personnel also made the requisite notifications to their command in Bahrain and to other commands located in the immediate port area. As expected, they also responded to numerous requests for more detailed information.

On February 18, the detachment’s divers continued their survey of the harbor floor, and mapped the site using the UDATS. From February 19 to 21, the EOD team extensively searched the harbor bottom and recovered smaller Scud components with the aid of the underwater camera system. Divers also located and marked a fuel tank for retrieval.

At 8:00 AM on February 22, the EOD team began salvage operations. Using lifting balloons, they retrieved three major components: the fuel tank (Figure 18), the guidance section, and the rocket engine (Figure 19). A crane hoisted the missile pieces out of the water. While the components were suspended, EOD personnel sprayed them with a fire hose to flush out seawater and any remaining caustic substances. The EOD crew flushed out the pieces for a second time once they were on the pier. Later, the team took the components to the EOD base camp for temporary storage.[155] After the EOD team finished examining the recovered Scud components on February 23, they transferred custody of the missile to the Joint Captured Material Exploitation Center, a Coalition entity responsible for collecting captured foreign military equipment throughout the Kuwait theater of operations.[156]

Figure 18. The recovered Scud’s fuel tank[159]

Figure 19. The recovered Scud’s guidance section and rocket engine[160]

Recovery of the warhead began on March 2, 1991, at 6:00 AM. Although EOD divers reportedly collected sediment samples from the area near the warhead before its recovery from the harbor, we have found no records of these samples.[157] By 1:20 PM, EOD personnel had removed the warhead from the water and had begun to defuse the warhead. Subsequent test found the warhead contained high explosives and not chemical warfare agents.[158]

During the operation, EOD personnel used an M18A2 kit[161] chemical detection kit to check for the presence of chemical warfare agents.[162] The operation ended at 5:15 PM. During the entire recovery operation, EOD members found no evidence of chemical warfare agents.

On March 3, EOD personnel loaded the disarmed warhead (Figure 20) onto a barge for shipment back to the EOD base camp in Al Jubayl. Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Command personnel took custody of the warhead on March 8 and shipped the missile components to the Army Missile Command in Huntsville, Alabama.

Figure 20. The recovered Scud’s warhead

2. Summary of Findings of the Scud Impact Event

Despite eyewitness accounts that a Patriot missile shot down the Scud on February 16, the Patriot battery at Al Jubayl was not operational at the time and could not have shot it down.[163] The Scud did not detonate upon impact with the water, and it did not cause any personnel injuries or equipment damage. During the recovery operation, EOD personnel routinely tested for the presence of chemical warfare agents and found none. Testing of the missile’s warhead, recovered from the harbor, revealed high explosives and not chemical warfare agents.

I. Purple T-shirt Event

On March 19, 1991, following the cease-fire, Seabees from NMCB-24 at Camp 13 required medical attention after exposure to unidentified airborne noxious fumes. These fumes caused acute symptoms such as burning throats, eyes, and noses, and difficulty in breathing. In addition, portions of the Seabees’ brown T-shirts that were damp with sweat turned purple.[164] Besides T-shirts changing colors, portions of some of these same Seabees’ combat boots also turned purple.[165]

The incident occurred at approximately 2:15 PM and involved three separate groups of NMCB-24 personnel. Five individuals working on equipment in the Alpha Yard (a motor pool located adjacent to Camp 13) comprised the first group.[166] Group 2 consisted of two medical personnel who were emptying sandbags inside Camp 13.[167] The third group, identified during an interview of an NMCB-24 Seabee, comprised two other NMCB-24 personnel.[168] The two Seabees in the third group experienced the same symptoms as the Seabees in the other groups but did not report it to the safety officer and did not report to the medical department for treatment. We interviewed both individuals and found that one could not remember the incident[169] and the other remembered donning his mask and continuing to work.[170,171] A line connecting the positions of the three groups runs roughly north to south as shown in Figure 21. The separation of each group from the adjacent group was about 250 meters for a total spread of about 500 meters from north to south.

Figure 21. Purple T-shirt groups

The affected Seabees stated that they experienced a choking sensation when a noxious cloud enveloped them. None of them saw the origin of the gas cloud, but all believed the cloud came from one of the industrial plants located near Camp 13, as shown in Figure 22. Descriptions of the odor that existed at the time of the incident identify chlorine, battery acid, nitric acid, or methyl ethyl ketone as possible substance.[172] All experienced the same symptoms and all of their T-shirts changed color. According to one Seabee, "the areas of our T-shirts that were soaked with sweat slowly began to turn the most beautiful shade of purple I ever saw."[173] The Seabees, except for those in the northern group, immediately sought medical attention and, after showering and changing clothes, returned to work with no further symptoms.[174]

Figure 22. Camp 13 and surrounding industries

None of the Seabees exposed to the noxious gas cloud saw where it came from. However, a master chief equipment operator from NMCB-24 witnessed the event and has positively identified the source of the noxious cloud. On the day in question, he was working at a site north of Al Jubayl, but returned to Camp 13 to check on broken-down equipment. Immediately after stepping out of his vehicle at the Alpha yard, he saw purple dust falling everywhere. He could see it coming from a smokestack at the fertilizer plant. When the winds changed direction, the dust fell on him. There were nosebleeds and gagging among the exposed Seabees. Although NMCB-24 did store battery acid in the Alpha yard (a possible cause for nosebleeds and gagging), he did not recall a battery explosion at any time.[175]

We can not identify the specific plant or industrial complex that produced the noxious gas primarily because the wind direction at the time of the incident can not be accurately determined. Some of the Seabees who were involved in the incident said the winds were from the north, northwest, and the south.[176] In addition, the Center for Naval Analysis reported that in March, the prevailing winds in the Al Jubayl area are from the northwest 46 percent of the time.[177] If one of the fertilizer plants did produce the noxious gas, as reported by the master chief equipment operator, the winds would have to have come from the northeast. In our earlier discussion of the white cloud, we learned that the closest industrial complexes were located to the northeast of Camp 13 with one plant located as close as 500 meters.

1. Searching for the Cause

The US Navy's Environmental and Preventive Medicine Unit No. 2 (EPMU-2) conducted an environmental/occupational hazard investigation and site visit of Al Jubayl in 1994. EPMU-2 personnel toured Camp 13 and local industries, and met with members of the Royal Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health and managers of the local industries. EPMU-2’s investigation noted that the Saudis monitored the air quality in Al Jubayl throughout Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (DS/DS). Saudi government records indicate that the air quality of Al Jubayl was within acceptable limits throughout DS/DS; the records from Air Monitoring Station Number 1 (the air monitoring station closest to Camp 13) for March 19, 1991, reveal no release of chemical substances that exceeded normal acceptable parameters for this area (Tab F).[178]

The EPMU-2 investigation team identified three potential sources for the irritant involved in the purple T-shirt incident—ammonia from a fertilizer plant, hydrogen sulfide from a chemical plant, or unknown chemicals from other plants. The EPMU-2 team concluded that because the purple T-shirt event was a localized event and affected a small number of people, the most likely source for the irritant was a chemical spill within the motor pool area itself rather than an emission from one of the industrial plants.[179]

According to an NMCB-24 medical corpsman, testing of the T-shirts to determine what caused them to change color began shortly after the incident. Although no record exists, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24’s medical personnel recall that they collected the T-shirts, bagged them, and turned them over to a group of unnamed Marine officials. Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24 never received a written report of the analysis but learned via telephone that an exposure to ammonia caused the color change.[180] We have found no report or record of the in-country testing.

In July 1993, the US Army Material Test Directorate at the White Sands Missile Range tested a T-shirt to identify what caused the T-shirts to change color. We do not know the rationale for this test, the identity of the requesting agency,[181] or the T-shirt’s origin. The shirt reportedly had several small holes on its front and back. Although, we do not know the relevance of the small holes, we believe the T-shirt was similar in design (fabric and dyes) to the shirts available for wear during the Gulf War. Scientists used a scanning electron microscope to analyze the holes, but could not determine what caused the holes other than the damage appeared to be chemical in nature. In a similar study conducted in 1988, fabric exposed to various concentrations of sulfuric acid exhibited damage similar to the damaged fiber ends of the T-shirt tested in 1993.[182]

In 1994, the Natick Research Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Massachusetts conducted a third test at the request of the Defense Science Board. Natick analyzed T-shirts similar to those that turned purple at Camp 13. One of the NMCB-24 Seabees whose shirt turned purple furnished the T-shirts. We do not know whether Seabees wore these shirts during DS/DS. The tests showed that brown military T-shirts of the type worn during DS/DS do turn purple when exposed to acids, such as sulfuric (battery) acid and nitric/nitrous oxides from nitric acid.[183]

2. Summary of Findings of the Purple T-shirt Event

On March 19, 1991, after the cessation of hostilities, nine Seabees from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24 encountered an unidentified noxious vapor while working at Camp 13. The exposure caused acute medical symptoms and caused portions of these individuals' T-shirts and combat boots to turn purple. Seven of the nine Seabees sought medical treatment, and after showering and changing their clothes, all seven returned to duty without further symptoms. The two Seabees who did not seek medical treatment simply continued to work, although they experienced the same acute symptoms as the others. According to the Seabees, after the incident, unnamed officials from the I Marine Expeditionary Force claimed the shirts and boots, and never returned them. Three separate post-war studies to determine the cause of the color changing agent have provided inconclusive other than to suggest a form of acid possibly caused the color change. An EPMU-2 study suggests that a chemical spill within the motor pool was the source of the irritant. However, a master chief equipment operator stated during an interview that he saw a purple substance coming from a fertilizer plant that was located near Camp 13.

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