Interviews pinpoint precise locations of units during Gulf War

WASHINGTON, June 16, 1997 (GulfLINK) A concentrated effort to better identify where U.S. military units were located during the Gulf War—especially the day Iraqi chemical weapons were destroyed at the "pit" area at Khamisiyah—has nailed down the sites of more than 99 percent of the battalions in the divisions examined so far.

Previously, the general locations of all battalions were known, but specific locations on specific days were sometimes uncertain, while the locations of the next lower level of units—companies, detachments and the like—were commonly assumed but not precisely known.

The Pentagon has been trying to determine who could have had potential exposure to chemicals dispersed from the Khamisiyah explosions and other possible chemical incidents. That effort has been limited by the available records showing exactly where units were located each day they were in the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO).

For March 10, 1991, the day of the chemical demolition in the "pit" at Khamisiyah, the Pentagon was unable sufficiently to pinpoint company-sized unit locations in the KTO. Col. Larry Cereghino, who oversees the effort to locate the units for the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI), said, "We’ve put a lot of emphasis on studying in what direction and how far the plume from that explosion was dispersed, but if you don’t know who was under the plume, you don’t have all the information you need to identify the troops who might have been affected."

In an effort to solve that problem, the Army and OSAGWI are assembling the operations officers of Army units that served in the Gulf War during April, May and June. Meeting in small groups at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, just outside Washington, they spend as much time as it takes—usually about four days—pouring over the written records from their units and the information contained in the unit locations registry, filling in gaps on as many units as they can.

The effort began with the XVIII Airborne Corps, the unit that was closest to Khamisiyah during the demolitions.

Jack Sabia, an OSAGWI analyst who works with the operations officers each day they are in Washington, said the effort to fill in holes in the location data has been very successful.

Sabia commented, "As a result of this effort, we now know the daily location of many more units in the XVIII Airborne Corps. In some cases, we have multiple locations for a day, as the operations officers traced the movements of their units. The operations officers have confirmed much of the old information. More importantly, they have filled in the details on the locations of company-sized elements. In the past, we could only assume they were with their battalion headquarters. Now we have firm knowledge of which were with their battalion flags and which were detached."

Prior to the arrival of the operations officers, knowledge of unit locations was based solely on a labor-intensive audit of Gulf War unit records by the U.S. Armed Services Center for Research of Unit Records.

In addition to plotting locations on maps, the operations officers have been queried about any experiences they had or heard about that might help explain the origins of Gulf War illnesses. The day they arrive, they are given a packet that includes OSAGWI’s Case Narrative on Khamisiyah, which details what is known to date about what happened at Khamisiyah.

On their last day in Washington, an open discussion takes place between the operations officers and OSAGWI analysts and investigators, led by Lt. Gen. Dale Vesser (U.S. Army retired), the deputy head of OSAGWI. This gives OSAGWI a better understanding and feel for battlefield conditions, tactics and procedures, especially as they relate to the handling of reports of chemical agents and how units responded to them. The discussions cover more than chemical incidents, however, as the officers are queried about any and all environmental or battlefield conditions they are aware of that might help explain Gulf War illnesses.

The initial idea to assemble the G-3s and S-3s came from General Barry McCaffrey, commander of the 24th Infantry Division during the Gulf War and now the director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy. General McCaffrey pointed out gaps in the locations of his own division and suggested calling in his operations officers to try to fill those gaps.

To date, the following groups have been scheduled for interviews:

Week of April 28: 101st Airborne Division G-3s and brigade S-3s.

Week of May 5: 24th Infantry Division G-3s and brigade S-3s.

Week of May 12: 82nd Airborne Division G-3s and brigade S-3s.

Week of May 19: Brigade S-3s from separate brigades in the XVIII Airborne Corps.

Week of June 2: Brigade S-3s from the XVIII Airborne Corps combat support and combat service support units and the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Week of June 9: Brigade S-3s from the XVIII Airborne Corps combat support and combat service support units, and the G-3 from the 1st Cavalry Division.