Gulf war veterans fear U.S. is
unprepared for war with Saddam

North Virginia Daily - by Natalie Anzolut
February 3rd 2003
As the beat of war drums continues, so does the
cadence inside a Mt. Jackson residence as its occupants step up efforts to warn of invisible, blistering and suffocating enemies Americans troops may face on the ground in Iraq.
The two U.S. Army veterans were in the Persian Gulf back in 1991 during the first war in the region, where both say they were exposed to chemical and biological agents that left them disabled.
Twelve years later, the military is no better equipped to deal with these threats than it was the first time, both say, and people are going to die.
The indignation inside their nondescript ranch-style home is palpable,
as a steady rhythm of facts and figures is delivered by Kirt P. Love, who
has shared the house with fellow Gulf War veteran Venus Hammack for
the past two and a half years.
Armed with information inside a spare room transformed into a home
office, Love, 39, readily admits that he is a veritable archive, on topics
ranging from anthrax and blistering agents to the Department of Defense
and the General Accounting Office.
He is director of the Desert Storm Battle Registry, a veterans’ advocacy
group that compiles Gulf War records and medical data. A camouflage-
painted RV-turned-“war wagon” is parked in the driveway and, when
running, carries man and message.
Both apologize for speaking in military acronyms, a soldier-speak that
becomes so rapidly alphabetic at times that it sounds almost like a foreign
Looking more like a college professor these days in his sweater vest and
neat beard, Love is a man whose battleground is now cyberspace — his
battlefield registry can be found at — and Capitol Hill.
The slight-of-frame African-American woman, once only a fellow activist,
is now his partner. They openly admit that the rural neighborhood thinks
them strange — she also is a practicing Muslim — leading to incidents
of vandalism and harassment. The Northern Shenandoah Valley home,
however, was cheap and affords them close access to the epicenter of
the action, Washington, D.C. They go there often.
And, the world comes to them, mainly foreign press as of late, who arrive
in search of a story to advance the pending war. The Presidents Day
weekend snowfall left a television crew from Holland briefly stranded at
the Mt. Jackson home.
Hammack, petite and appearing frail, is wandering around the tidy kitchen
just trying to get warm on this recent winter morning. It doesn’t take much
for her to catch a chill, she says, just one of a list of lingering maladies
from the Gulf.
From crippling bouts with irritable bowel syndrome to recurrent lung
infections, Hammack has a long list of symptoms, which, she says,
have left her unemployable.
“That’s what got me angry in the first place. I knew the environment we
were in in the Gulf was dirty,” says Hammack, who appears much
younger than her 47 years.
Hammack’s diagnoses have ranged from stress to heavy metal
poisoning, and she hasn’t worked since 1994, when she retired from
the military after 24 years of service. Unable to pass the physical fitness
tests due to her condition, Hammack says she was barred from
re-enlisting and making it an even 30.
Plucking a magnet from the refrigerator door, Hammack holds a piece
of paper that summarizes her message.
It’s all about the suits — the bulky garb and gas masks seen on soldiers
drilling before television cameras these days. They look like they mean
business, but according to Love and Hammack, they do not.
Printed from the computer, the sheet of paper says, simply, that
President Bush should not deploy “poorly” protected troops in an
environment of chemical and biological weapons.
The BDOs — battle dress overgarments is the full military term — are
inadequate, Hammack says, and have a life span of only 24 hours.
That’s once the bag the chemical-protective suit is in is open, Love
chimes in, adding that 30 minutes is probably the length of time a
soldier would be protected.
“Seventy to 90 percent of the equipment is faulty,” says Love. “They
just want this war; Bush wants this private war.” Clarifying his position,
Love says he’s not opposed to an air assault on Iraq, but to putting ill-
equipped troops on the ground.
Newer suits — some even contain liquid coolant to refresh soldiers in
the 120-degree desert weather — will be available to Marines and
Special Forces involved in combat, he says, but military support
personnel won’t be afforded this protection.
“People like myself out there doing a regular job are not going to
make it,” says Love. “We generally have the shortest life span, eight
In the first Gulf War, Love was in the Army’s 141st Signal Battalion,
where he worked in communication and as a mechanic. Hammack,
a paralegal by trade, was sent there to focus on Middle Eastern law
and work security.
As the talk of war hastens these days, their memories come to visit
Tuesday marked the anniversary of one of the worst attacks the Iraqis
launched on U.S. forces during the war. It was Feb. 25, 1991, when
Hammack’s barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, was hit by an Iraqi
Scud missile. A licensed EMT, she immediately went to work,
scurrying to the Army hospital.
“I handled open wounds, lacerations, concussions, burns. A lot of
people [when the bombing occurred] were in the shower, either
partially dressed or completely nude,” she says.
The crackling of exploding munitions — a large shipment had just
arrived in Dhahran — filled the smoky air. And then, Hammack
spotted the six soldiers.
“They were staggering around, walking around, they couldn’t see or
hear. It was like the movie, ‘Night of the Living Dead.’”
After a struggle to put on her own ill-fitting chemical mask, Hammack
says she furiously ditched it because the prescription lenses were
cracked and she couldn’t see to help the wounded.
“I put on my glasses and started helping the people staggering
around,” she says.
After functioning on “automatic pilot,” she says, she collapsed and
slept 32 hours later.
By virtue of doggedness of their public lobbying, they say, Hammack
and Love received government settlements for their Gulf War illness
claims, although he didn’t receive his until this past December, after
10 years of wrangling.
“We got to meet the high muckety-mucks in the VA [Veterans Affairs]
and they made sure we got ours, but that’s not right,” says Love.
He estimates that some 133,000 Gulf War vets aren’t receiving just
compensation for health problems — both Hammack and Love detest
the term “Gulf War Syndrome” because symptoms differ with types of
 exposure — and little is being done to right the situation.
“You have to be missing an arm or leg or be half dead for them to give
you something,” says Love, adding that he, alone, has met 4,000
veterans left sick from their service.
He readily recites the symptoms caused by certain chemical agents.
Dusty mustard, he says, is a blistering agent mixed with silica powder.
In a nonlethal exposure, for example, says Love, its lingering damage
can been seen on a soldier’s leg from where the boot leather ended
on up.
“It causes you to suffocate and your skin to rupture and you bleed to
death,” he says. “It keeps coming the rest of your life; you don’t get
rid of it.”
Love classifies himself as a “multiple exposure,” because of his
proximity to many hazards, ranging from burning oil wells to a blown-
up nuclear reactor.
Bone degeneration, migraines, nerve damage, respiratory problems
and chronic diarrhea are part of the personal legacy Love says the
war left him following three years service in the Army. What he perceives
as the government’s refusal to acknowledge the plight of these veterans
— it’s not all in their heads — is what keeps him working.
This week would include a trip to Washington to discuss a National
Institute of Medicine report on insecticides and solvents used by troops
during the war.
“I’m a decorated combat veteran who was honorably discharged, with
no history of mental illness. I’m clean-cut and have nothing to be angry
about except my treatment by the Pentagon,” says Love, who before
the war was a sign painter in Texas.
He met Hammack, from Massachusetts, in Atlanta at a Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention conference on the health impact of
chemical exposures during the Gulf War.
“We needed each other. Nobody understands our illnesses,” says Love.
Hammack has three grown children — two are in the Air Force — and
a 5-year-old daughter who lives with her ex-husband.
Hammack says her chronic health problems prevent her from caring for
the child. After purchasing the Mt. Jackson house with a VA loan,
Hammack and Love survive on $700 apiece in disability income.
Both say they believe war is inevitable, predicting the second week in
March as a possible start time.
“We should have just nuked Baghdad,” says Love.
This time he fears the worst for American troops on the ground, who
may fall prey to Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of chemical and biological
weapons if the dictator is boxed in by American forces.
“When he’s provoked he will want to be known as, ‘I was the guy who
unleashed everything.’ He will let it all go and won’t care how many
people he’s taking with him,” he says.
R Contact Natalie Anzolut at