C.  Major Paint Operations

The vast majority of in-theater painting was conducted at the ports of Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia (see Figure 1). The Army Materiel Command, through the military supply system, supplied the equipment used to support these operations. The equipment included CARC, thinner, solvents, respirators, paint guns, compressors, and hoses. However, because the need for new and replacement equipment was often urgent, some of the equipment used during the operations was procured locally from Saudi sources. Plastic hoses, used to carry paint or air, frequently required replacement because they melted and cracked from the high local temperatures. Various solvents were also regularly purchased locally. The locally-procured equipment varied in quality, but served a necessary function in allowing the paint operations to stay open. [61,62] Figure 2 provides a timeline of major events associated with paint operations during the Gulf War. These events will be discussed in greater detail.

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Figure 2. Timeline of major events associated with in-theater painting

1.  Department of Army Civilians/900th Maintenance Company at the Port of Ad Dammam

A group of sixteen Department of Defense civilians from Anniston Army Depot established the first large-scale in-theater painting operation in late September 1990 at the port of Ad Dammam. In addition, a small number of persons from various private companies joined them.[63] For purposes of clarity, this operation will be referred to as the Anniston Ad Dammam site.

The Anniston Army Depot personnel set up the paint operation in three large maintenance tents—one for preparatory work and two for painting. They used the preparatory tent for taping and greasing, a process that covers the parts of the vehicle not to be painted.[64,65,66] The painters found the evening hours unsuitable for painting due to the nights’ high humidity levels along the Arabian Gulf coast. Atmospheric moisture condensing on the vehicles altered the tint of the paint. Consequently, they painted during the morning and afternoon hours, for up to 16 hours per day.

The painters applied CARC directly on top of the existing CARC surface, without the use of primers and with only minimal surface preparation. Two painters, equipped with spray guns, painted each vehicle. The larger of the two paint tents accommodated two vehicles at one time, while the smaller paint tent could only accommodate one. Consequently, a total of six painters usually worked at a time. These two-painter teams usually worked for about one to two hours in their respective paint tents before switching with another team.[67]

The group from Anniston Army Depot, experienced CARC painters, brought personal protective equipment with them to the Gulf theater, equipment that included respirators, paint suits, gloves, and boot covers. Interviews of several persons from this group report differing types and levels of availability of respiratory protective equipment when painting activities began.[68] By mid-January, the operation had matured significantly, and full-face air-supplied respirators and other personal protective equipment were available. Based on the recollections of several Anniston Ad Dammam paint site civilian painters, they reported observing no adverse health effects from their CARC paint operation.[69]

In late February of 1991, the 900th Maintenance Company, an Alabama Army National Guard unit, arrived at the Anniston Ad Dammam paint site. The 900th Maintenance Company was a general support maintenance unit primarily tasked to repair tanks. However, the unit did have experience using paint guns, respirators, and personal protective equipment.[70] Following repairs in the maintenance shop, vehicles would go through the paint tents. About ten soldiers from the 900th Maintenance Company operated the two paint tents used at this site. This group painted approximately 100 vehicles during the tan-painting operation.

A small portion of the group from the Anniston Army Depot remained at the Anniston Ad Dammam site to help train painters and supervise this paint operation. In this configuration, the majority of the painting was done by the soldiers of the 900th,[71] which assured a smooth transition of the operation to the control of the 900th Maintenance Company. Conversations with several veterans from the 900th have indicated that they believed that their respiratory equipment differed slightly from that used by the civilians. That is, they reported that the civilian painters used better-quality personal protective equipment. However, as with the civilian operation, there were no identified adverse health reactions experienced among the military paint teams as a result of the painting operation.[72]

Figure 3 shows the command hierarchy for the 325th and 900th Maintenance Companies. These units conducted large-scale CARC spray painting operations in the Kuwait theater of operations.

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Figure 3. Command relationships of units involved

2. 325th Maintenance Company

a.  Tan CARC Painting Operations at the Ports of Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl

The 593rd Area Support Group (ASG) assigned the 325th Maintenance Company, a Florida Army National Guard unit, to establish and operate the theater’s two high volume paint sites. (See hierarchy of command chart in Figure 3.) This unit was a direct support maintenance company and had no trained painters.[73] It is important to note that the site operated by the 325th at Ad Dammam was a new site, and was not a part of the site established earlier at Ad Dammam by the civilians from Anniston Army Depot. The Ad Dammam paint site operated by the 325th will be referred to as the 325th Ad Dammam paint site. The Al Jubayl site will be referred to as the 325th Al Jubayl paint site.

Though the operations were planned in advance of the arrival of the bulk of the Army’s equipment, evidence differs as to the degree to which the operations were set-up with the proper safety precautions. Both the commander of the 593rd ASG and the commander of the 176th Maintenance Battalion stated that the operations commenced with adequate safety measures in place. The commander of the 593rd believed that the operations met OSHA standards (i.e., the occupational safety standards that civilian operations are required to meet). The commander of the 176th explained that an air-purifying respirator was available for each painter. He also reported that safety inspections at the sites had verified that safety precautions had been taken.[74,75]

Although several senior officers indicated that adequate safety measures were implemented, a number of soldiers directly involved with the day-to-day painting operations and various safety officials stated that proper safety procedures were not in place at the two major paint operations. The officer in charge of the painting operation explained that the greatest problem was a shortage of proper protective equipment. From the beginning of the operation, his unit had trouble acquiring parts and equipment. Equipment often took weeks to be delivered to the sites following a request. [76,77,78]

The paint sites established by the 325th at the ports of Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl began operations in December, 1990. The 325th sites consisted of four to six large maintenance tents, with one tent used from time to time for vehicle preparation by vehicle crews. Preparation rarely involved more than spraying off the vehicles with water, occasional light sanding or scraping, and taping and greasing the vehicle windows. The tent flaps were generally left open to allow natural ventilation. Only on occasions when there was a great deal of wind were the tent flaps closed. No engineering ventilation devices, such as fans and blowers, were used in the in-theater painting operations. As a result, there was typically a noticeable cloud of paint overspray outside the maintenance tents. Figure 4 shows four paint tents at Al Jubayl.[79,80]

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Figure 4. Paint tents at Al Jubayl[81]

Daily status reports for CARC painting activities at the Al Jubayl paint site during December 1990 and January 1991[82] indicated the number and type of vehicles and equipment painted per day. The number painted varied significantly from none to over 200 per day, depending on a variety of factors including weather, number of priority vehicles at the site, and missing or inoperable painting equipment. The status reports also included information on the personnel involved, any problems, concerns or safety issues encountered, dignitary visits, and other comments. Many daily reports do not identify problems or safety concerns, however, the following issues are identified:

The majority of the 325th Maintenance Company, roughly 200 people, were directly involved in the painting operations at the two sites. There were approximately 70 soldiers from the unit at each site at any given time, with members of the unit periodically rotating in from assorted duties at the port. There were generally three shifts of paint teams per day at each site. Typical shifts were 7 AM-3 PM, 3 PM-11 PM, and 11 PM-7 AM, though 12-hour shifts were also in place at times. The urgent need to paint as many vehicles as quickly as possible resulted in around-the-clock painting operations despite the concerns noted earlier with nighttime painting. The soldiers at the 325th Ad Dammam paint site slept in buildings about a mile away from the paint site. At the 325th Al Jubayl paint site, however, the soldiers slept in tents that were approximately fifty to two hundred yards away from the paint tents. In fact, the paint tents, showers, mess storage, latrines, and sleeping quarters were all located together, in a topographical depression about a city block in length and width, outside of the port of Al Jubayl. As a result, an overspray haze frequently was reported seen at times around the entire 325th Al Jubayl paint site compound.[84]

In general, the most important health and safety issue associated with a CARC painting operation is the proper use of personal protective equipment. The primary complaint of many of the soldiers from the 325th was that the appropriate personal protective equipment was not available to them during the painting operations. Numerous reports of unsafe practices have been received from veterans, including the use of face shields taped to standard military helmets, torn paper coveralls, standard issue chemical protection masks, improper mask filter cartridges, and paper surgical masks. Members of the 325th, had no formal training and little experience as painters, and were untrained in the use of air-supplied respirators.[85]

Due to complaints from the soldiers, improved personal protective equipment was gradually phased-in at the 325th Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl paint sites. For example, within several weeks of the beginning of the paint operations, air-supplied respirators, proper gloves and coveralls, and air hoses arrived. Explosion-resistant lighting was also added at a later date. The air-supplied respirators significantly improved the respiratory protection of the painters. Figure 5 shows a soldier from the 325th wearing air-supplied respiratory protection while spraying tan CARC onto a tank. However, soldiers mixing CARC or helping to carry hoses were reportedly not always given respirators.[86] The compressors in use at the site reportedly broke down frequently and were inadequate. By March, the paint team received a high-pressure compressor, that was capable of supporting more than one respirator through a manifold system.[87] In addition, due to a shortage of air hose, the air compressors (which carry the air from a source to the painter’s respirator) were placed very near the paint tents. As a result, air contaminated with some amount of overspray could have been pumped into the respirators. Painters from different shifts reportedly shared these respirators, yet rarely cleaned or serviced them.[88]

Figure 5. A member of the 325th Maintenance Company spray paints desert tan CARC onto a tank[89]

Training is another important aspect of health and safety. Through conversations with soldiers from the 325th, any training conducted was infrequent and inadequate. Soldiers explained that requests for training were generally ignored, and material safety data sheets, as well as military training tools such as video tapes[90] and guides, were rarely available.[91]

A number of soldiers from the 325th experienced symptoms in-theater that they attributed to exposure to CARC. Eight members of the 325th were interviewed about the symptoms that they or others experienced while working with CARC. Several members of the 325th developed respiratory symptoms, including cough and chest tightness, promptly after starting to work with CARC. In addition, several members developed other symptoms, including headaches, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness, that are consistent with exposure to solvents.[92] There were no reports of instances of serious health problems such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis[93] which can be associated with severe exposure to the HDI in CARC. However, some soldiers were sent back to the unit’s headquarters at Ad Dammam to be temporarily removed from the paint detail.[94]

b.  Green CARC Painting Operations for Redeployment

Shortly after the cessation of hostilities in the Kuwait theater of operations, there was an immediate need to consider the details of the redeployment of US troops. For VII Corps, this involved returning a large number of vehicles to Europe. Many of these vehicles had been painted desert tan and needed to be returned to the woodland camouflage pattern. By mid-March the commander of VII Corps had issued guidance that the Corps was to attempt to repaint all tracked and wheeled vehicles and helicopters with the three-color CARC woodland camouflage pattern prior to returning to Europe. VII Corps command suggested that this be accomplished at the ports of Al Jubayl and Ad Dammam.[95] Due to the experiences from the pre-war painting operations, it was anticipated that the redeployment operations would be safer and more in concert with military guidelines. A safety sheet and concept of operations document, for example, directed the strict safety measures and processes that were to be followed at the Al Jubayl site. [96,97]

The requirement to paint vehicles with the three-color woodland pattern, rather than simply one-color olive drab, was reemphasized on March 23rd by the 22nd Support Command (SUPCOM).[98] However, by April 13th, this requirement had been altered. Instead of the three-color woodland pattern, the SUPCOM planned for one coat of olive drab paint.[99] This guidance ultimately proved to be the final decision, as those vehicles that were painted prior to redeployment only received one coat of olive drab. This coating was put directly on top of the existing CARC layer, which was often the tan coating painted on only several months earlier. Many of the tan coatings were in poor shape, with paint visibly flaking off due to the lack of surface preparation prior to paint application.[100] Nevertheless, surfaces were generally only washed with water before the redeployment olive drab coating was applied. Army Materiel Command (AMC) reported on the morning of April 24th that this redeployment painting would begin the following day.[101]

Redeployment painting operations were reestablished in Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl. The redeployment painting operations saw improved working conditions. Improved training along with appropriate personal protective equipment and other task-related equipment were in place before the initiation of painting. For example, from the outset, full-face air-supplied respirators were available. Yet, there is some evidence to indicate that proper respirator and compressor filter maintenance were still not up to safety standards. Further, not all of the air compressors in use were designed to provide breathing quality air, called Grade D. Instead, some of the air compressors were standard shop compressors designed for maintenance tasks. [102,103] Likewise, not all personal protective equipment was suited to the task; examination of paint hoods by a 22d SUPCOM civilian safety professional officer revealed that paint was getting into some of the hoods. [104,105,106]

In addition to the general improvement in personal protective equipment, a significant improvement in safety was made with the relocation of the 325th Al Jubayl paint site to high ground, roughly one mile away from the sleeping, eating, and administrative areas of the operation. This site was set-up in a line along a road that was roughly 75 feet wide and 1000 feet long. Figure 6 shows the arrangement of paint tents at the 325th redeployment paint site at Al Jubayl. Figure 7 shows the location of the 325th Al Jubayl paint site and layout of its major features. In mid-May, after about a month of operating the redeployment sites, the 325th Maintenance Company turned over site operations to personnel from VII Corps.[107]

Figure 6. The redeployment paint site at Al Jubayl was set-up along an unused road[108]

Figure 7. Location and major features of the VII Corps redeployment paint site at Al Jubayl[109]

Rather than immediately taking over the paint operations, VII Corps suspended operations until the arrival of additional safety equipment. [110,111] By May 10, 1991, VII Corps was underway with full-scale painting. By this time, almost 20,000 gallons of paint, 4,000 gallons of paint thinner, explosion-resistant lighting, and air compressors were on hand. The air-supplied respirators, air hoses, paint guns, and lighting were all new. In addition, carbon monoxide alarms, air pressure gauges, and respirator pre-filters were all available. This equipment was set-up in advance of the initiation of the paint operation by safety professionals.[112] Figure 8 shows a painter at the Al Jubayl redeployment paint site wearing a paint suit and air-supplied respirator with a cooling vortex.


Figure 8. Painter wearing an air-supplied respirator[113]

In addition to the paint site at Al Jubayl, units from VII Corps were tasked to operate a redeployment paint site at the port of Ad Dammam. This operation was established by safety professionals before the initiation of the painting operation. New air compressors, hoses, air-supplied respirators, filters, carbon monoxide alarms, explosive resistant lighting and electrical outlets, and various personal protective equipment were available at Ad Dammam.[114] Figure 9 shows the set-up of air compressors and filters used at the redeployment paint operation at Ad Dammam. This operation was located in the same general area of the port as the previous paint site at Ad Dammam operated by the 325th. Figure 10 shows the location of the paint site and the layout of its major features.

Figure 9. Alarm panel for a high-pressure breathing air system at Ad Dammam[115]

Another in-theater redeployment paint operation was established at Camp Doha in Kuwait. This small-scale operation was established to apply tan paint to a number of olive drab-colored vehicles designated for continuing in-theater operations. The 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) received these vehicles from King Khalid Military City (KKMC) in Saudi Arabia. In late June, 1991, an advance party of Department of Army civilians from the US Army Support Group set up the site, including safety inspections and electrical wiring.[116] The civilians stayed at the site for the first few days of the operation to train members of the 11th ACR in painting and safety procedures. Given the attention to safety during the setup at Camp Doha, and the application of lessons learned during earlier in-theater CARC painting operations, this particular operation was considered by an in-theater safety officer to be safe. The operation ceased on July 11th.[117]

A combined total of 3216 tracked and 5248 wheeled vehicles were painted olive drab during the redeployment at all sites.[118]

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Figure 10. Location and major features of the VII Corps Ad Dammam redeployment site[119]

3. Other Sites

In addition to the painting done by the large-scale spray paint operations at Ad Dammam and Al Jubayl, a number of short-term, small-scale paint operations existed in theater. This follows the policy decision which allowed non-combat, lower-priority vehicles to move out of the port area without being painted tan. The 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR) operated one such paint operation. In December of 1990, while in the vicinity of Camp Cactus, an assembly area several hundred miles west of Ad Dammam, members of the 3rd ACR were tasked to CARC paint vehicles. The unit tasked roughly three to six soldiers to spray-paint vehicles and provided them with paper surgical masks for protection. However, the operation lasted only about three days, and the two painters from this group who were contacted reported no knowledge of any adverse health effects.[120] Other short duration, low-volume spray-painting operations, like the one undertaken at Camp Cactus, were not uncommon in theater.

A number of other soldiers were also involved in short-term, spot/touch-up painting operations throughout the Kuwait theater of operations. Soldiers from the 24th Infantry Division and the 89th Military Police Brigade, for example, are known to have conducted spot/touch-up painting.[121] Adverse health effects from these types of operations would not be expected. This is due to the frequent use of brushes and rollers, rather than spray guns, and the short duration of potential exposure within many of these spot/touch-up operations.

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