WASHINGTON — Hundreds of soldiers who were stationed at Camp Arifjan over the last decade are set to receive Purple Hearts due to their exposure to dangerous levels of chlorine at the base swimming pool, Pentagon officials report.
The recent development comes on the heels of a report released by a Pentagon working group late last month detailing the Army's mishandling of soldiers injured by chemical weapons in Iraq. Under Secretary of the Army Brad R. Carson issued a formal apology and mandated a review of awards for affected soldiers. Today he extended his sentiments to soldiers stationed in Kuwait from 2003 to 2012.
"I personally apologize for another glaring oversight and the Army's mistreatment of soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals in the line of duty," Carson told reporters. "We want to make sure we cover all veterans and active duty service members and ensure they get the medical compensation and recognition they deserve, no matter how small the injury."
In addition to Purple Hearts, Carson told members of the media that those affected by the high chlorine levels will receive 100 percent disability through the VA.
"We are even looking into ways to push their claims to the top of the list. It is the least we can do for these tired warriors."
According to pool records, chlorine levels exceeded what the Center for Disease Control (CDC) deemed safe for humans. While the CDC recommends chlorine levels of 1 - 3 parts per million (ppm), investigators were stunned to find swimming pool test records at 15 ppm consistently, going as high as 20 ppm in 2005 - 2006 during the height of Gen. Peter Chiarelli's "civilian outreach" focused strategy in Iraq.
Surprisingly, the Pentagon's report indicates that commanders knew about the elevated chlorine levels, but from personal accounts it was the lesser of two evils. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Richard A. Caya, who was garrison commander of Camp Arifjan from 2010 to 2012, reports that the pool was almost always kept in a shocked state due to soldiers constantly vomiting into it.
"It was the darndest thing," Caya told Duffel Blog. "Soldiers — battle-hardened soldiers — on their way back home from 12 or 16 month deployments, living in grain silos and eating meals out of bags, getting blown-up every other day and seeing unthinkable horrors which will no doubt be burned into their brains until they die or commit suicide, would take one look at our soldiers relaxing by the pool, sipping Green Bean soy white chocolate mochas and eating Burger King for the third time that day while playing Marco Polo, and just throw-up."