A.  Logistics

The sheer scope of the deployment of troops and equipment for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm was immense. Overall, military logisticians did an excellent job, especially considering the massive scale and the rapid pace of the preparations and complex logistical activities undertaken. However, the United States took a calculated risk by deciding to deploy combat forces without a satisfactory accompanying logistical support structure.[35] Some units arrived in theater without the authorized or required equipment and had to procure these items from other units, had to use unauthorized local water storage and distribution methods, or had to buy unapproved products from the local economy.[36] Water was a necessity for US solders in the arid environment of the Gulf region, and without a satisfactory logistical support structure, American forces often depended on host nation supplies and equipment. This allowed water sources to become more vulnerable to possible sabotage efforts from Iraqi sympathizers.

Planners must structure forces so that there is enough water production, storage, and distribution available to meet water requirements. They also must schedule the build-up of theater forces so that water support and preventive medicine units arrive as soon as it is operationally feasible to insure adequate and continuous water support and a preventive medicine presence. A steady flow of water production, storage, and distribution materiel that can be quickly delivered to soldiers who need it will bolster future American efforts on the battlefield.

B.  Tri-Service Field Water Quality Standards

The US Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine’s Water Supply Management Program has been tasked to standardize military water policy. The Army’s field water quality guide[37] is currently being converted in to a final tri-service guidance manual for a uniform military water policy. Included in the draft tri-service standard is an adjustment of the required chlorine residual levels in any US field water supply to two parts per million.[38] As mentioned in the earlier discussion of chlorination the five parts per million goal for chlorine in purified water produced in-theater during the Gulf War may have proved too high in some instances and may have caused some veterans to experience stomach cramping and diarrhea.

C.  Sources

Gulf War planners were acutely aware of the need to maintain adequate supplies of water for US troops fighting in a desert environment. Logistically, they faced the significant challenge of providing water during a time of a rapid troop buildup and dispersion in a region of the world with few abundant fresh water resources. There were problems with obtaining, producing, storing, and distributing sufficient supplies of potable water, but thanks in great part to host nation support, as well as the flexibility and improvisational skills of US forces, the bulk of the water needs were met from day-one to the close of the conflict.

While bottled water was available, it came at a cost, both financially and logistically. Bottled water should not be viewed as a primary water source for US forces. It should be used as a temporary measure until other sources of potable water become available. It is only as good as the source from which it is acquired and the quality of treatment it receives before being bottled. Although there were standards in place that discouraged such use, non-potable water was used for drinking and cooking on occasion. Veteran reports of drinking water and shower water tasting or smelling of fuel oil or other petroleum products suggests that water storage was not always up to regulatory standards. However, restrictions against transporting water in tankers used to transport petroleum products or any other tanker or storage container not intended for the transportation or storage of water have been implemented. Regulations suggesting that this was an acceptable practice have been superseded.

Planners for any future deployment of this scope and speed of buildup need to consider more efficient, safe, and practical methods of delivering adequate supplies of both potable and non-potable water to the field absent the support of a host nation. Self-sufficiency in water production for a deployed force is the goal, but that goal must be tempered with the reality that at times self-sufficiency may not always be feasible.

D.  Ice

Contaminated ice is often the vector of waterborne transmission of disease. Ice should be prepared with potable water only and provided the same protection as potable water sources. Instructions to deploying troops need to emphasize the potential health hazards of using improperly processed ice.

E.   Equipment Improvements

Since the Gulf War, many improvements have been and continue to be made to American water purification equipment. Some of the improvements are:

1.  Water Packaging

A water packaging system that produces one liter bags of water that are small enough to fit into the cargo pocket of the battle dress uniform is being developed as an alternative to the five gallon water can as the primary method for water resupply at the unit level. Also under development is a six-gallon water bag that has been designed to fit in military ration boxes. Bagged water has been used successfully at the Joint Readiness Training Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana, and in Operation Joint Endeavor, where from March 1996 to January 1997, it was the main supply of potable water in the intermediate staging bases in Taszar and Kaposvar, Hungary.[39],[40] In this operation the US military had control over its own water quality and production capabilities, and this water production method also was very cost effective.[41]

2.  1,500 Gallon Per Hour ROWPU

The 1,500-gallon per hour ROWPU is currently being developed to eventually replace the 600-gallon per hour ROWPU. It will be able to produce 1,500 gallons of potable water per hour when used on water with less than 1,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids. The water produced by the 1,500 gallon per hour ROWPU will meet the Tri-Service Field Water Quality Standards for short and long-term consumption and will be able to operate in temperatures ranging from minus 25 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.[42]

3.  Lightweight Water Purifier

An Army program to field a water purifier that will provide 75 gallons per hour of potable water from seawater sources and 125 gallons per hour of potable water from fresh water sources to small units and medical detachments is under development. It will be a modified commercial item that is small, lightweight (less than 150 pounds), and easy to transport and use.[43]

4.  Canteen Insert Water Purifier

Scientists are developing equipment that will provide safe drinking water to soldiers, in an emergency, where the only water source is untreated surface water. This device, currently in the research stage, is expected to be compatible with the Army’s standard canteens. It will remove microbiological contaminants, improve the taste of the water, and work with iodine or chlorine tablets. It will be able to treat a two-week (approximately 21 gallons) supply of drinking water for one person.[44]

F.   Water Testing and Treatment

The overall water testing and treatment program in the Gulf was successful in providing potable water for a large force in the middle of an extremely hot and arid region that was largely devoid of fresh surface water sources. Casualties due to dehydration were avoided. In addition, although the potential for waterborne disease was real, and occasionally occurred, such disease was the exception rather than the rule. However, certain shortfalls did occur.

1.  Biological Testing

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, US forces had no equipment to detect biological contamination in the field in a timely manner. An improved version of a rapid assay for biological agents has been developed at the US Navy Medical Research Institute. New methods also have been designed to detect biological warfare agents in a broad range of substances other than clinical samples, including water.[45]

2.  Chemical Testing

A water sampling submission kit has been developed and will provide containers for the collection and submission of water samples that will be transported from the field to supporting laboratories to test for chemical contamination.[46]

3.  Testing Results

Adequate records of water testing results must be kept to fully analyze short and medium-term trends in water quality at particular sources and sites while US forces are in the field, so changes in treatment could be taken if necessary. Long-term water testing results also must be kept so researchers and scientists could go back and analyze water data if there were any questions about particular water sources or sites that US forces used. This was not possible for the Gulf War because almost all of the water sampling data was lost or destroyed.


The water use investigation conducted extensive research into all aspects of water policy, supply, storage, treatment, distribution, and use in the Kuwait theater of operations. There is an absence of any hard data (water sampling and monitoring data) available to make responsible health-related conclusions about possible contaminants. The passage of time since the Gulf War makes it almost impossible to obtain this physical evidence, and in a number of cases physical evidence was never collected at all. Contact with water occurred several times a day for months. The specific factors that could differentiate one soldier’s experience from another, even between two members of the same unit, let alone across the entire theater of operations, are many.

There is no definitive evidence to link contaminated water to the undiagnosed symptoms or illnesses reported by Gulf War veterans today. It also is doubtful whether additional research would lead to any new findings or a different interpretation of the existing findings. Because the preponderance of evidence collected and evaluated to-date does not link water use in the Gulf to any of the unexplained symptoms reported by Gulf War veterans, the Presidential Special Oversight Board decided to conclude the investigation with this close-out report.

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