U.S. troops prepped for chem-bio weapons

By PAMELA HESS, UPI Pentagon Correspondent   |   March 3, 2003 at 7:25 PM   |   0 comments

WASHINGTON, March 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. military is still short a critical battlefield toxin vaccine but has distributed sufficient lightweight protective suits for soldiers that will protect them for limited periods and allow them to fight on a contaminated battlefield, U.S. Army officials said Monday.

"We don't have as much botulinum vaccine as we would like," said Brig. Gen. Steve Reeves, who heads up the Pentagon's chemical and biological defense program.

The vaccine is still an investigational drug. Neither does the military have sufficient amounts of post-exposure antidote, Reeves said.

However, Reeves said the threat posed by botulinum toxin -- which depresses the respiratory system -- is small compared with the threat posed by anthrax and smallpox. Nearly 100 percent of the troops deployed around Iraq have been vaccinated against these diseases.

Military personnel in the region have been issued at least two advanced Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology sets, all of which have been checked and are impermeable to poison gases or biological agents. The military has reserved at least two battle dress overgarments for each person deployed.

The BDOs were the subject of a critical General Accounting Office report last year. The GAO determined that 250,000 10-year-old defective suits might be in the Army's inventory.

Reeves said each of the old suits was inspected three times and none was found to be defective. They will only be used if the more advanced lighter-weight JSLIST suits are used.

The JSLIST suits are good for 24 hours once they have been contaminated.

Reeves said soldiers are not just protected by suits, gas masks and vaccines, but they are getting 19 new detection and treatment systems that did not exist during the 1991 Gulf War.

Maj. Gen. John Doesburg, commander of the Army's Soldier Biological and Chemical Defense Command, suggested it would be much more dangerous for Iraqi soldiers to use chemical or biological weapons against the U.S. soldiers than it would be for the Americans to be on the receiving end.

"I don't want to overstate it, but (we have) a hundred percent better capability to operate in the environment, a chemical and biological environment, than the Iraqis do," Doesburg said.

All soldiers who have been deployed go through extensive training with their equipment, the officials said. There are 15,000 chemical, biological and nuclear weapons specialists in the Army.

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