In March, 2003 my sister, Army Captain Chaplain Fran E. Stuart (pictured at left above) was deployed to Iraq with the rest of her battalion, from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, the 101st Airborne. The uncharted desert would not only hold uncertainty for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, but if she survived during her one-year deployment, she would return to the U. S. forever changed.
Although the changes that would occur two years to the day from her return home were changes she never could have fathomed. Not only had the desert sand, gun blasts and heat penetrated the armor of her psyche, but a carcinogen did too. It made a home in her body, mixed between the Anthrax Vaccine, depleted uranium, crude oil smog, and contaminated water dished up with every meal. It would, in two years, become part of the wrapping around her inner organs like an Octopus, gathering its fuel from her central abdomen. The volleyball size tumor would become the pregnancy she never had -- and the birth of cancer she'd never forget.
In March 2006, the 41-year-old captain was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive, stage IV Dysgerminoma cancer, the "germ cell" cancer usually only seen in pregnant women, or teenage girls. Captain Stuart was medevaced from her new tour in Germany to Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC) in D.C. to undergo further testing and immediate surgery to remove the massive tumor, only to discover three more. It would take ten months of treatments to corral the cancer. After 35 rounds of chemotherapy and two more surgeries was she deemed in clinical remission.
While her family was supporting Captain Stuart at WRAMC, my exclusive access to WRAMC exposed cancer as a affliction suffered by many soldiers are returning from Iraq/Afghanistan, unknown to the public and unacknowledged by the military.
Although WRAMC Forrest Glen Fisher House provides housing exclusively for soldiers with cancer, undergoing surgeries, chemotherapy or radiation treatments at Walter Reed -- the DoD hasn't gone public with their findings. WRAMC has dedicated floors six and seven to the stricken soldiers arriving daily -- their life may have been spared on the battlefield, but the savage beast within -- cancer -- had created its own war.
Soldiers face a more deadly and rapidly moving carcinogen that covertly infiltrates all ranks, ethnicities, gender and ages from 21-57. Developing different stages and forms of rare cancers within 4-24 months, a portion are medevaced to WRAMC from Iraq already ill. Others, like my sister, are diagnosed two years post-deployment. Since soldiers are uninformed about depleted uranium (DU), they are not wearing protective gear and are unknowingly inhaling and ingesting the toxic dust.
Through the world of military red tape and their language: acronyms, I've witnessed and reported firsthand the challenges and struggles OIF and OEF soldiers undergo as they battle cancer while in the military. While the DoD denies that cancer is a "War Wound," many are left inflicted with the life-threatening illness, uncertain and fearful of their own mortality and military career.
The new veterans of the Iraq War are left afraid of the future. They wrestle with hopelessness and helplessness while they're tucked away alone in VA hospitals across the county, thinking they are the only ones. The response is, no, they're not alone. But, their story on a national and International/ level, remains untold....
Captain Stuart, soldiers fighting daily for their life, and those brave military loved ones who have succomed to the carcinogen -- put a face on Cancer in the military post Operation Iraqi Freedom & Operation Enduring Freedom, as Vietnam Veteran's did twenty years later with Agent Orange, and Desert Storm Veteran's did ten years after with The Gulf War Syndrome. Only let's not wait that long... let the faces be seen, let the names be read, let the stories unfold and let the voices be heard now. And it begins with Army Captain Chaplain Fran E. Stuart.
August 2002, seven months before the Iraq war commenced, U. S. Army Colonel J. Edgar Wakayama wrote a report for the military on DU Munitions, and the risks to health and the environment. He noted DU is produced as a by-product of the enrichment process for nuclear reactor-grade or nuclear weapon-grade uranium. Due to its extreme density (1.7 times the density of lead), it is used as the armor plating [DU penetrators] in 16 different model/size cartridges of U. S. ammunition. DU is radioactive and produces Alpha particle, Beta particle, Gamma ray.
Col. Wakayama addressed the Epidemiological Studies after Wars in Gulf and Balkans where 340 tons of DU munitions were fired during the 1991 Gulf War; 11 tons fired in the Balkans 1990 (about 70-80% of all DU munitions penetrators remain buried in the soil). The estimated DU intake for most soldiers on the battlefield: 0.1 mg uranium/g kidney, but long-term effect is unknown.
The emerging environmental concerns include a significant exposure to DU among children playing in the impact sites by ingesting heavily-contaminated soil, slow leaching of DU in local water supplies over years, consuming DU contaminated food sources (animals and plants). He outlined the three major routes of human exposure to DU is wounding by shrapnel, inhalation (lungs and thoracic lymph nodes), ingestion (contaminated soil, contaminated drinking water and food in the community).
Once the alpha particle is taken inside the body in large doses there's a hazardous producing cell damage and cancer (he reports lung Cancer is well documented), clothing and skin protects from external alpha exposure. The beta particle is hazardous to the skin and the lens of the eyes. The gamma radiation is an electromagnetic radiation of high energy that penetrates through the body. DU is chemically toxic due to heavy metal like lead, the target organ is the kidney and bone. The cultured human stem bone cell line with DU also transformed the cells to become carcinogenic. Urine samples containing uranium are mutagenic as determined by the Ames test.
Lastly, Col. Wakayama noted in the brief, the radiation effects of inhalation exposure is to the lungs and thoracic lymph nodes. A large inhalation of dust (without radiations) equate long-term respiratory effects (lung fibrosis, in addition to risk of lung Cancer). DU can be deposited in bone causing DNA damage by the effects of the alpha particles. Immune deficiency is a negligible effect, with an extra risk of death from leukemia and other Cancers.
After this study was completed for the DoD, seven months later the U.S. Military began the Shock & Awe Campaign on Iraq. In the early months of the war the U.S. dropped 320 metric tons of DU munitions on Iraq. The radioactive drenched soil in Iraq was reported in 2003 by journalist Scott Peterson, The Christian Science Monitor, with a Geiger counter registering radiation in Baghdad 1,900 times higher than normal. DU has a half-life of 4.5 billion years, and total disintegration estimated after 25 billion years.
November 2006, the BBC reported "Depleted Uranium Risk 'Ignored." The investigation found that UK and US forces have continued to use depleted uranium weapons despite warnings they pose a cancer risk. Noting, scientists have pointed to health statistics in Iraq, where the weapons were used in the 1991 and 2003 wars.
February 2007, CNN's American Morning aired a two part special with Greg Hunter, "Is DU Effecting our Troops?"
July 2007, Iraq's environment minister blamed "at least 350 sites in Iraq being contaminated during bombing" with depleted uranium weapons for about 140,000 cases of cancer there and for between 7,000 and 8,000 new cases each year.
May 22, 2008, Representative Jim McDermott a Democrat of Washington, in the most recent Institute of Medicine report, "Review of the Toxicologic and Radiologic Risks to Military Personnel from Exposure to Depleted Uranium During and After Combat," secures DU Amendment in Department of Defense Authorization Bill. The amendment requires the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress within 120 days of the legislation becoming law.
McDermott, a medical doctor who has long expressed concerns over potential health risks to U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians from exposure to DU. McDermott said there are anecdotal and seemingly unexplained stories of cancers striking previously healthy young American soldiers who have served in Iraq, and as a scientist he wants independent and in-depth scientific research conducted to determine if there is any link between exposure to DU and their illnesses.
He reiterates, depleted uranium, is a dense and toxic, low level radioactive material used by the U.S. military to super-harden munitions to penetrate armor. Upon impact the munitions pulverize into a fine dust that can be inhaled into the lungs when breathing, or fall to the ground as a microscopic dust where it can remain in the soil and leach into the groundwater over time. Hundreds of tons of DU were used during the First Gulf War and at the beginning of the Iraq war.