Operations of the 1st Marine Division

Combat Engineers of the 1st Marine Division, working in cool, drizzly, and heavily overcast conditions due to weather and oil smoke, opened four assault lanes in the first minefield by 0715 hours and four more in the second minefield by 1230 hours.[16] By 1420 hours, all 1st Division lanes in both minefields had been opened. Forces of the 1st Marine Division passed quickly through the breaches (Figure 3), encountering no resistance in the first minefield and overcoming light resistance through the second minefield. They proceeded to Al Jaber air base by evening. According to 7th Marine records,[17] Task Force Ripper (the Division’s lead maneuver element) logged no potential or actual exposure to chemical warfare agents throughout all breaching operations.


Figure 3. 1st Marine Division Minefield Breaching


Initial Report

After the war, GySgt George Grass, who was the commander of the Fox reconnaissance vehicle assigned in direct support of Task Force Ripper, testified to the Presidential Advisory Committee and to subcommittees of Congress, that while he was crossing the first minefield breach, his vehicle detected


... small traces of nerve agent in the air. The computer system notified us that the amount of chemical agent vapor in the air was not significant enough to produce any casualties.[18] As a result, it was impossible for the Mass Spectrometer to run a complete check on the agent except by visually observing the agent and spectrum on the screen.[19] These minute readings continued on the screen for the duration of each lane surveyed. Once my Fox vehicle departed the first minefield breach, those readings went away....[20]


He testified that the amounts were trace, but the MM-1 did not alarm so the MM-1 did not recognize the "trace" as a chemical warfare agent. He also indicated that his Fox was operating using the vapor method of detection. In his testimony to the Presidential Advisory Committee,[21] he stated that he reported the trace reading "face-to-face" (i.e., after the breaching) to both the 3rd Tank Battalion’s Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) Officer and the Task Force Ripper NBC Officer. There is no record of any follow-up testing done to confirm this report.


Corroborating Information

Following our methodology, efforts were made to confirm the events and to find evidence to substantiate the presence of chemical warfare agents. In congressional testimony[22] , CWO Joseph P. Cottrell, the Task Force Ripper NBC officer, confirmed that he had been informed of the Fox’s findings, but he remembered the agents to be blister, not nerve. In answering a question, he clarified that he remembered the detection was "mustard-type blister." He also stated that the reported levels were below an immediate threat to humans and below the level that would cause symptoms. Except for the agent type, this testimony is consistent with what GySgt Grass said -- namely, that the trace amounts were not significant enough to cause casualties. It was CWO Cottrell’s assessment that crossing the breach did not pose a threat or require subsequent decontamination because the suspected agent was at a trace level and the rapidly moving Marines were in the area for only a short period of time. Given these factors, he did not send out an NBC-1[23] report. He was aware of no other detections in the 1st Marine Division breach lanes.

GySgt Grass and CWO Cottrell followed their agreed-upon procedure to evaluate a possible chemical detection before alerting the task force or higher headquarters about a possible chemical incident. They agreed that for this incident, without more proof, they would not inform the Division personnel. Also, the source of the readings was questionable because there was no apparent method for delivery of the suspected chemical agent.

Although this Fox crew was supporting Task Force Ripper, it was under the direct control of the 3d Tank Battalion’s NBC officer during the breaching operations. (The Fox crew was released back to Task Force Ripper after completing the breach.) The 3d Tank Battalion NBC officer had a 5702 Military Occupational Specialty (MOS),[24] had many years of NBC experience, and was in a position to be aware of any chemical incidents or casualties during the 1st Marine Division breaching operations. The 3d Tank NBC Officer also had personally written the NBC portion of the Operation Order for the breaching operations. And even though the Marines had new equipment (Chemical Agent Monitors and Fox reconnaissance vehicles), his instructions were clear -- follow the basic NBC procedures to sound the alarm, put on the mask and gloves (MOPP4), report to Regimental Headquarters, and begin supplementary testing with an M256 kit. He stated that there were no NBC reports generated, no reports of casualties or injuries, nothing to suggest that a higher MOPP level was required during the breaching operations or anything suggesting that a chemical incident had occurred.[25] He also stated that during his entire time in the Gulf, he does not recall anyone reporting any positive chemical warfare agent readings to him. He added that GySgt Grass had communications capability to alert the Division of a chemical detection, but he never did.[26]

The 1st Marine Division NBC Officer (also with a 5702 MOS and many years of NBC experience) served on the Operations staff in the Division Headquarters. He also would have been aware of any NBC reports, any reports from other units, or any reports of casualties. He specifically stated that no NBC reports were generated during the breaching operations in the 1st Marine Division and that there was nothing to suggest that there were even trace detections. While many of the Marines were only in MOPP2, there are no reports of casualties or any chemical exposure. His assessment of the testimony of GySgt Grass was that there was no incident during the breaching.[27]

The driver of the same Task Force Ripper Fox reconnaissance vehicle was another eyewitness to the events of the breaching operations. In a written statement, he recalled the results of the reconnaissance of the 1st Marine Division breaching lanes differently than GySgt Grass: "All four lanes of both mine belts were checked and nothing was detected."[28] On the other hand, the MM-1 operator of this Fox reconnaissance vehicle supported GySgt Grass’ testimony in his own testimony to the Presidential Advisory Committee.[29] He added that the MM-1 was unable to get a spectrum of the indications he saw on his screen.

Efforts to find physical evidence of the suspected chemical warfare agent were unsuccessful because the Fox did not collect a sample nor print a spectrum. The lack of a spectrum is significant. Only by comparing the spectrum of the chemical sample against the Fox’s library of chemical warfare agents can the Fox determine whether or not it has properly detected a chemical warfare agent. The inability of the MM-1 to match the ion pattern of a sample to its library of chemical warfare agents suggests that the sample contained none of the known threat agents.

Without the printout of the spectrum, the possible presence of chemical agent cannot be verified. A subject matter expert (who works for the program manager for the Fox vehicles) at the NBC Reconnaissance Systems, U.S. Army Chemical and Biological Defense Command (CBDCOM), Edgewood, Maryland, stated that the Fox is not optimized for vapor detection.[30] This means that the Fox does not do well at detecting a small presence of chemical warfare agent in the air. In fact, he stated that while using the vapor detection method, human symptoms would most likely appear before the Fox reconnaissance vehicle would alert.[31] In any event, there were no casualties from chemical warfare agent contact reported although the entire Division moved through the breach lanes without wearing gloves or masks.



Based on the information available thus far in this investigation, the presence of a chemical warfare agent in this area of the minefield is judged to be "Unlikely." Although two members of the Fox crew believe that their mass spectrometer detected something, the MM-1 did not sound an alarm--indicating that the computer did not find a chemical warfare agent presence at sufficient intensities to do so. There was also no effort at the time to notify the troops to go to a higher protective posture, and no follow-up or secondary confirmation. One member of the crew stated that they found nothing during the breaching operations. Senior NBC officers said that there was no report of chemical warfare agents at the time, and that there were no injuries reported despite Marines crossing the minefields protected only to the MOPP2 level. Commanders interviewed remembered no reports of chemical detection or of chemical injuries during the time the troops crossed the minefield in the 1st Marine area of operations. No means of delivery of a chemical warfare agent has been uncovered. Finally, there is no physical evidence - no spectrum, no samples, etc.


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