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Hale is a Marine reservist and has not experienced any symptoms he would associate with Gulf War Illness.  He thinks many Gulf vets are overly concerned about any aches or pains as a result of the extensive media coverage of the issue. This interview was conducted in October 1997.

Q: When you were in the Gulf, where were you, and what unit were you with?

A: We were in the First Marine Division which was right on the coast -- like if you knew where Kuwait is, it's right below Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, it was right on that border where the army was up interior a little bit further up in towards Iraq. To give a reference-- Aljabal Airport is where we landed and got our equipment. Then we went to a place called Minafa Bay which was a little station for our division which was the First Marine Division, that's where we were staged and got all our equipment together. Then we moved up -- if you know Kafji was, which is right on the border, I would say we were about 120 miles inland from Kafji so basically very close to the coast of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait City.

So Kuwait was our theatre of operation and we were there pretty quick and that was like from middle of January and the whole way up to the war, we went through the war and then -- through Kuwait City and all that and then back out later on.

 

Q: Did you feel ill when you returned from the Gulf?

A: I don't think illness would fit it. I mean there was a big transition when you go from being overseas and you're in your routine, especially after the war and coming back and there was different things that you had to combat, stresses of finding a job. You know I'd just graduated from college, that was something I had to deal with, but I don't think I had any illnesses like sicknesses that was like bothering me -- there was a lot of things that had to get done and you know that kind of stuff involves you and I think keeps your mind pretty well rolling along in that kind of way.

Q: Do you think compared to other reservists who were coming back, do you think you had it easier?

A: Compared to the other reservists coming back from the war, I think I probably had it easier because I didn't have as many commitments when I went.

I'll give you a couple examples. I had a guy on my gun and I was on an artillery piece, which we called a gun, a big howitzer, who had nine men and one of them was an accountant and he was making probably 30-some thousand dollars a year, but in the Marines he was making about 15,000 dollars a year. So he went over, there was a big discrepancy in his pay, in his lifestyle.

So it was different. The ones that got hurt the most I believe--compared to me, I was just a college student graduating and you know didn't have a lot of attachments-- was the people had their own jobs, their own businesses. Say they were couple of 'em, 'specially contractors, they were foremen of a contracting business, they did the bidding, they did all the work, they you know drove nails too, when they left a lot of their businesses start to fail and it's hard to come back and you don't have your job anymore. It's gone. Your clients that you worked with found somebody else 'cause you were gone for a year period. So I mean those people had it the worst I believe. Myself, it it it was a transition, but it wasn't as hard I believe.

Q: Any symptoms that you were having, like headaches, rashes, aches and pains, things like that, shortly after the war, was there any point that you worried they might be related to your service in the Gulf?

A: I never had any type of rashes or anything and headaches you know you have other things going on. It wasn't 'til the media started bringing stuff up that this is a problem and they were showcasing people who were having problems that you started thinking about it. It was just your day-to-day thing, I got a headache today or not today, but I mean I didn't go through migraine headaches or anything like that. I think overall I - my health has been really good I mean since I've come back, but it wasn't 'til that came up in the news and you starting seeing it repeatedly that you started thinking you know you get an ache, where did this come from. Did I have this when I was -- before the war and you started trying to think back when did things happen and try to put things together. So that brought it to the forefront, once it was in the media that things were happening.

Q: You were starting to talk about the stresses of war......

A: The stresses of war...... the Gulf War was so small and so quick compared to other wars, so it's hard to draw a lot of inferences compared to other wars. Vietnam, they were in the field for a whole year dealing with things. I mean that's a long period where stress builds up. World War II, the same thing, they were in for a year or two in the combat.

Here we're talking 100 hours, but there's a lot of condensed stuff that happened in which you were told as you're working up and you're on the front lines and you're getting briefings-- just an example, an intelligence briefing they were having on the war, our unit and a few of the other units were going to be some of the first ones across the mine field lines. There was a line of mine fields that the Iraqis put out, oil well fires and other obstacles to stow- slow us down. Originally the intelligence report was telling us 3 days to get through this band and that our units, the front line units that we were dealing with were going to probably take 40% casualties, etc. We were going to be one of the front -- very front line units where you could possibly take more casualties, specially going through the mine fields and while we were in there different -- getting shelled from the enemy and stuff.

So that stress, even though it didn't happen, for a week you knew this was gonna happen, you knew that there was gonna be this conflict, you were gonna be put into a mine field. You were gonna have to walk through this. So that's going through your mind. The body bags get shipped to the unit and you see them on the back of the truck, there's the body bags for 40% of the people here. I mean even though it was a condensed thing and the fire fights were intense and not as drawn out over a year period of time and still war has its stresses and that stress of knowing tomorrow I'm going into combat, tomorrow I'm gonna be walking through, tomorrow I might not make it, I might not be here, that's a huge stress. Even though if it doesn't happen, that's still a stress that you have to mentally deal with I mean and as we went through that I mean a lot of it didn't happen but you know it could've happened. Stuff did happen and you know that you had to deal with.

Q: Do you think it's possible that that kind of stress can make people physically ill?

A: You talk to the ones that were at D-day. I have a friend that was at D-day. I mean he still talks about certain stresses and I think that still to an extent haunts him. The Vietnam veterans talk about you know the stresses they were under and a lot of them don't talk about that. And it's hard -- once it stresses, you internalize a lot of it. You don't want to talk about what went one.

I mean you're there. It's a very stressful situation you're dealing with-- you're walking through a mine field, walking the tracks of a vehicle that ran in front of you hoping that you don't deviate that you're gonna hit something. I mean that does psychologically affect you you know that you'll -- that you have to deal with that and that stress making you ill, that's a good possibility. I mean looking back it has in the past caused people -- World War II shell shock, in Vietnam you know post traumatic stress syndrome, I mean looking back through history there's a possibility that it does, especially if you internalize it and you let it keep getting at you and stuff I could see that it has a possibility of it happening.

Q: What feedback have you received from the veterans in your reserve about their health? Did you just go to a five year reunion?

A: I think out of the whole group, I think probably like 150 marines that we took overseas, one or two of 'em are having some type of illness problems out of that fairly large group. Some of them have a rash, that's the biggest thing is a rash, I think two of 'em have rashes and one of 'em had some other different problems, but on a whole there wasn't a lot of you know people coming in with s -- you know I have constant headaches, I -- my joints ache. We didn't have a lot of that.

I mean everybody was concerned, but I didn't see that there was a lot of ill people in my unit. There was a few that had problems that were going to the VA and other places to deal with them....There wasn't a whole lot of talking about the symptoms you know....

Q: What role do you think the media had in contributing to the overall concern on this issue?

A: Well, let's say the media needs to sell things, they need to sell their news, they need to make ratings and one of the ways of doing it is hitting them with a sensationalized story, bang, that gets your attention. And I think they started the frenzy, if you want to call it that, that there's really a problem.

'Cause, like I said, the first year after the war, I didn't really think about it. It wasn't like, wow, I'm really sick, I need help...and then all of a sudden on TV people were getting sick, people were having this problem, babies are being born with deformities and everybody started linking it to the war . And that's when you start wow things -- maybe there is something out there and you start wondering among yourself and then every little illness that you get you start wondering where did -- well, that didn't happen before, why is it happening now kind of thing, but the media wants to keep it in the forefront. They want to keep -- you know, it's a slow news day, there's a Gulf War problem, bang, you know, and people get involved.

Q: Did you put your name in the registry and if so why?

A: Yes I did. And I was one of the -- not the first people, but I was one of the ones that came out and first went, of my unit, and I've talked to other people saying, hey, you need to go to the VA and get registered.

In fact, I just talked to another guy last night about it. I haven't talked to him in a couple years. I said, "Have you ever got registered?" "No, I'm not sick. I don't -- why should I go get registered if I'm not sick?" Well, that's really not the point of getting registered. The point is having a baseline of people who are well and who are sick, who are from different areas so they can draw some inferences, to get some -- you know distill stuff down you know. So that's important to get on that and to get a lot of people on it, not just the ones that are sick.

Q: How would you like the VA to start to handle things now?

A: What I'd like to see them do and what they're already doing is getting more people registered. I think I just saw in the paper recently like 65,000 had registered out of 700,000 and the Department of Defense started their own registry because there are still people who are on active duty who were over there. I think they gained another 35,000. So really if only about 100,000 out of 700,000 have registered and that's where you know really the first ones to register were the ones who were sick so I mean so you're skewing your statistics. All the sick ones are signing up, but you need to get everybody to get a big pool of what went on at different places so you can start patching together 'cause they ask you where were you, what areas, what units and they can start patching together this unit had some type of problem, this unit had some type of problem. So there is stuff going on.

So I'd like to see them get more people -- somehow get them involved, get in there. Like I said, it doesn't take that long, get in, get your test, and you know make you feel better, you know it did for me. A piece of mind of, hey, they did all these blood tests, I saw all my statistics, you know -- I'm in good shape.

I went up to the VA to register, I was in and out within a few hours, I don't think it took me any longer to get through the VA than it would have been my own hospital, you know, getting the blood test. I mean, they were very thorough. They gave me a very long questionnaire of where I was, what did I do, what was I exposed to, what do I think I was exposed and they did all sorts of x-rays and blood tests and stuff and you know then they did a follow up where they sat down and talked to me. I think they did a really good job for me at this point. I mean later on down the road, maybe in 20 years, a symptom will start showing up, but they'll have all my background information stored.

Q: What do you think about the whole conspiracy theory?

A: ... Desert Storm was a really fast war with a lot of technology going on, new cutting-edge stuff that you know there was so much information flowing back to the higher ups, so much information, you can only deal with so much.

I mean it takes time to go through that...They're getting all this data back, it takes them years to go through that data and I think it's going to be the same thing for the Gulf War. There was so much data from the unit that sniffed the gas, to units that wrote it down, what happened where, to those spectrograph things that were out there taking samplings of the air to what happened in residuals and the VA getting data from people who are sick and how did that affect them and stuff.

I don't know if there's a conspiracy to hide things. I think in our society today we want everything instantaneously. You want to open up your E-mail and bang there it is. I want to know what happened, I want to know everything that happened, and sometimes it just takes a while to get that data...So some people would say that's a conspiracy, you were hiding that data. Might not be a conspiracy, ight just have been slow.

The data is all over. I mean Marines have some data, the Air Force, the Army, Coast Guard, I mean there was a lot of services; the Saudis were there, the Kuwaitis were there, there's a lot of people you have to draw on to find out what happened...We were gonna take 3 days to get through the mine fields. It took us like 3 or 4 hours. I mean you were like days ahead of schedule. We were moving 60 MPH at areas, going across the desert as fast as we could tracking down the Iraqis. I mean when all that's going on I mean how much can you sit in the back of a vehicle and write it down, file it in the right report, make sure it gets back to here, to here, to here or the next stage?

War is chaotic. Desert Storm -- you're moving 60 MPH. You write a message, you sent it back to division headquarters, they've moved, they're like 80 miles from where they were before. It takes time for that runner to get back, the radio transmission to get filed. So I mean things have accelerated. I mean we see that in our society. Things have accelerated more now than they have before...

I think the American public loves a good mystery. I mean everybody loves a good mystery, especially one that can't be solved easily... so I think people love that and that's what they feed on and like with the Princess' death and all of a sudden there's a conspiracy with that. So it's going to be the same thing, -- it sort of feeds on it, it's a good mystery, makes a good story, makes good news, makes a good movie -- so it's one of those things I think it feeds on it. Everybody likes a good mystery.

 

 
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