During the Persian Gulf War, U.S. Marine Corps forces reported several incidents of possible exposure to chemical warfare agents. After the war, in testimony to the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans Illnesses, Marine Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) George Grass reported three more incidents. Based on the reports of these incidents, we established four cases:
- an incident at an Iraqi ammunition supply point (ASP) southwest of Kuwait City that we call the ASP/Orchard case;
- the incidents at Al Jaber air field during the first and second days of the ground war;
- several reports of positive detections by the 11th Marine regiment and its subordinate battalions during the course of the air war and the ground war; and
- minefield breaching operations of the 1st and 2d Marine Divisions during the first day of the ground war.
The narrative that follows reports the Minefield Breaching case; narratives describing the other cases will be released separately.
The Marines had to breach the two minefields that stretched across southern Kuwait. From these breaching operations came two accounts that describe chemical detections and possible exposures at different locations on the battlefield. Both events occurred in the morning of February 24, 1991:
- The first incident occurred in Task Force Ripper of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division and was reported in testimony by GySgt George Grass, a Marine Corps Fox reconnaissance vehicle Commander, who had been assigned to Task Force Ripper.
- The second incident occurred in the 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment (Reinforced), 2d Marine Division, and was mentioned in a Marine Corps monograph.
The first reported chemical agent incident occurred in the 1st Marine Division when the Fox reconnaissance vehicle detected what GySgt Grass identified as a "trace." He relayed his finding to the Task Force Ripper NBC officer, but not to units in the 1st Marine Division because there was insufficient evidence to confirm the presence of a chemical warfare agent. Even if it had been present, the NBC officer judged that a trace would not have been harmful to troops moving rapidly through the breaches. There was no evidence collected, and no troops reported any chemical effects despite traveling through the minefield breaches with faces and hands exposed. The assessment for this incident is that the presence of a chemical warfare agent is "Unlikely."
In the 2d Marine Division incident, the response was different; personnel were alerted to the possible presence of chemical warfare agents. Those in the area of the possible contamination took protective measures and continued their assault through the breach. The Fox reconnaissance vehicle that sounded the alarm to the possibility of chemical agents analyzed an air sample with its mass spectrometer, but did not print the results of the spectral analysis. After-action analysis of the Fox tape was limited to entries printed automatically since the spectrum (all detected ions) was not printed. Nevertheless, reviews of the Fox tape by separate agencies concluded that the alarms were "false positives." One Marine reportedly was injured by a chemical warfare agent. Individuals who saw the injury reported conflicting observations and the medical evaluation of the Marines complaint did not substantiate his report. He was subsequently denied a Purple Heart medal. The assessment of this incident is that the presence of a chemical warfare agent is "Unlikely."