This Case Narrative provides information concerning significant events that occurred in and around the greater Al Jubayl area during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (ODS/DS). The narrative contains a discussion of each of the three significant events that occurred: "Loud Noise," "SCUD Impact," and "Purple T-Shirt." Included is a short history of the area and a discussion of the environment in which the units stationed in the Al Jubayl area existed.
The "loud noise" event occurred in the early morning hours (0332 local time) of January 19, 1991. A very loud noise was heard throughout the entire Al Jubayl area. General Quarters (GQ) was sounded and Mission Orientated Protective Posture (MOPP) level four was implemented throughout the area. The loud noise has been described as a single explosion, as two explosions, and as a sonic boom. Some people also reported seeing what appeared as a flash of light or fireball in the sky. As part of the response, NBC teams began testing for the presence of biological and chemical munitions. Although some locations reported an initial positive test for nerve agent and blister agent, all subsequent tests were negative.Two coalition aircraft have been identified as the most likely source for the loud noise. Electronic data from Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft was analyzed by personnel of the 552d Computer Group located at Tinker AFB, OK. This data shows that two coalition aircraft were exceeding the speed of sound, causing a sonic boom as they flew over the city of Al Jubayl at approximately the same time the "loud noise" was heard and reported. A second incident of loud explosions was reported on January 20-21, 1991. As on the previous day, units in the Al Jubayl area sounded General Quarters and went to MOPP level 4. NBC teams checked for the presence of biological and chemical agents with negative results. However, these explosions were probably caused by a SCUD missile. The time of this event corresponds approximately to the time that a SCUD missile was launched towards Dhahran and was most likely intercepted by a Patriot air defense missile at very high altitude. Although there is no record of a reported impact site, this event is confirmed by numerous command log entries and the SCUD launch database. Based on the information that is available to date, our assessment is that the presence of a chemical or biological warfare agent in the Al Jubayl area during SCUD IMPACT the time period in question (January 19-21, 1991) is judged to be "Unlikely."
On February 16, 1991, the 66th SCUD missile launched during the war was against Al Jubayl. The missile was an Al Hussein variant of the SCUD missile. It impacted in the waters of Al Jubayl harbor and broke up at approximately 0200 hours on February 16, 1991. There was no damage or injury to coalition personnel or equipment. Eyewitnesses to the event report seeing an explosion that looked as if the SCUD was intercepted by a Patriot missile. There was a Patriot Missile Battery located near the harbor. However, during this time period, the battery was not operational and could not have engaged and shot down the SCUD missile. Salvage operations of the missile began on February 22, 1991. During the operation, EOD personnel used an M18 chemical detection kit to check for the presence of chemical warfare agents. The operation ended on the March 2nd with the recovery of the warhead. During the recovery and render safe operations, EOD members found no evidence of chemical or biological agents. Based on the information that is available to date, our assessment is that the SCUD was "Definitely Not" armed with a chemical or biological warfare agent.
Purple T-Shirt Event
On March 19, 1991, seven personnel from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24 (NMCB-24) required medical attention after becoming exposed to unidentified airborne noxious fumes. These fumes resulted in acute symptoms, such as burning throats, eyes and noses, and difficulty in breathing. In addition, portions of their brown T-shirts turned purple. It was also reported that portions of some of these same individuals' combat boots also turned purple. The NMCB-24 personnel who were involved in the incident said they experienced a choking sensation when a "noxious" cloud enveloped them. None of those who were affected saw the origin of the gas cloud but all believed the cloud came from an industrial plant that was located near Camp 13. One individual, a Master Chief Equipment Operator (EQCM) (E-9) is the only eyewitness positively identifying the source of the noxious cloud as a fertilizer plant located near the camp. The majority of those who were exposed immediately sought medical attention and, after removal of contaminated clothing and showering, returned to work with no further symptoms.
Three analyses have been done to determine what could have caused the T-shirts to change color. The first study was supposedly conducted in Saudi Arabia shortly after the incident occurred; but no record of the analysis exists -- only the recollections of NMCB-24 medical personnel. They claimed they bagged the T-shirts and turned them over to a group of Marines and Saudi officials. The second analysis was conducted by the U.S. Army Materiel Test Directorate, White Sands Missile Range, in July 1993. They tested a T-shirt with small holes on its front and back. The origin of the T-shirt is unknown but it is not believed to be one of the T- shirts that turned purple. They could not definitely determine what caused these particular holes, but they surmised from a previous study that the holes were caused by some type of an acid. The third analysis was conducted by Natick Laboratories in May 1994. The report is quite specific, and states that ammonia (a suspected cause) would not change the color of the T-shirts. The color change could only occur in response to a strong oxidizer such as nitric or sulfuric oxides -- by products of industrial area operations. Although studies were conducted on T-shirts, no testing was done on combat boots. Based on the information that is available to date, our assessment is that the presence of a chemical or biological warfare agent at Camp 13 and the surrounding area on March 19, 1991 is judged to be "Definitely Not."
Environmental Factors & Other Related Topics
The Purple T-shirt event illustrates the heavily industrialized environment of Al Jubayl. The heavy concentration of industries there meant personnel who lived and worked in Al Jubayl could possibly have been exposed to a variety of industrial chemicals. During interviews of personnel who were stationed in Al Jubayl, investigators asked for each person's impression of Al Jubayl's environment. As might be expected, investigators received both positive and negative comments. To provide as clear a picture as possible of Al Jubayl and the surrounding area, the last section of this case narrative is devoted to discussing Al Jubayl's environment.
During the pre-deployment phase of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (ODS/DS), military planners became aware of the heavy concentration of industry in Al Jubayl. The large number of industrial complexes located within a relatively small geographic area was of special concern. Many of these facilities used, produced, or stored industrial chemicals that could pose a serious health risk to military personnel, if they were exposed. The large number of personnel and equipment that were scheduled to deploy and redeploy through Al Jubayl compounded the problem. Because of the concern, several studies were done to determine what hazards existed in Al Jubayl.
Despite Al Jubayl's heavy industrialization, studies have confirmed that the Saudi Arabian Government had stringent environmental standards in place long before the commencement of ODS/DS. The city of Al Jubayl, together with Yanbu, "are believed to be among the most environmentally clean of any comparable urban concentrations in the world." It has been reported that the Saudi environmental standards parallel those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).