Chemical & Biological Defense Readiness Briefing
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing Commander, Soldier Biological and Chemical Defense Command Maj. Gen. John Doesburg Monday, March 03, 2003 - 9:58 a.m. EST
(Briefing on Chemical and Biological Defense Readiness. Also participating: Brig. Gen. Steve Reeves, program executive officer for Chemical and Biological Defense; Col. Thomas Spoehr, commander, 3rd Brigade, U.S. Army Chemical School; and Col. Joe Curtin, chief, Army Media Relations)
Curtin: Well, good morning. I'm Colonel Joe Curtain. I'm the chief of Army Media Relations with the Office Chief of Public Affairs here in the Pentagon. On behalf of the Army Public Affairs team, we welcome you here this morning.
Today we're going to host a -- what's called -- we call a roundtable, but it's an opportunity for some very trained and professional individuals to talk to you about Army training and readiness in nuclear, biological and chemical defense.
Our participants today on the panel include: first is Major General John Doesburg, commander of Soldier Biological and Chemical Defense Command. He is responsible for research, development of chemical, biological defense equipment; sustainment of currently fielded chemical and biological defense equipment; and homeland chemical and biological defense operations.
He is joined by Brigadier General Steve Reeves. He is program executive officer for Chemical and Biological Defense for the U.S. Department of Defense. And he is prepared to discuss biological agent detection, individual soldier protective equipment, and medical and vaccine issues. And as you see, he's brought a number of those items here today, and if you have questions about this equipment, please ask them.
And finally, from Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, United States Army Chemical School, is Colonel Thomas Spoehr. He is commander of the Chemical School's 3rd Brigade. A great deal of experience in training of chemical NBC -- we call NBC soldiers that are assigned to every unit throughout the Army at all levels, who are the experts that advise the commander and assist the training -- the commanders in their training efforts in NBC operations and defense matters.
This morning, each of our panelists essentially will make a short statement about what their responsibilities are. I did not go into any real details. Their bios are provided to you. We've got about an hour this morning, at which time, after each of their short remarks, we'll then go to a Q&A period because that's essentially what we need to get accomplished here this morning is to answer your questions about the Army's training, readiness in NBC defense.
Again, just please raise your hand, if you would. On first question, identify yourself and your organization. If you have a specific question for one of the officers up here, you can state it to that individual and not ask the question at large, and then we'll flip a coin and see who's going to take it. But otherwise, I think we're ready for you. And again, I appreciate y'all taking time to come out this morning.
So I'll begin, sir, with you, Major General Doesburg.
Doesburg: Thanks, Joe. As Joe said, I'm Major General John Doesburg, and I'm the commanding general of the Soldier and Biological Chemical Command. I'm also the task force director for the Army's new Research, Development and Engineering Command. In my role as the SBCCOM command, I have responsibility for research and development, science and technology with regard to chemical and biological defense. And to that for me, I have something called the Edgewood Chem-Bio Center. It's located at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.
Also part of my organization, I'm responsible for the eight chemical weapons storage sites within the continental United States and responsible for the safe and secure storage of those chemical munitions until we demilitarize them.
Probably most importantly, as we look at world events and what faces us, I also have an operational responsibility, and I have some organizations called the Technical Escort Unit, which is a very specialized chem-bio response unit, and I have something called the Chem-Bio Rapid Response Team, which is a command and control element for chemical and biological teams.
With that, I'll turn it over to -- I almost wanted to say "Colonel," Steve -- Brigadier General Steve Reeves.
Reeves: Well, good morning, everybody. My name is Steve Reeves, and I am the program executive officer for chemical and biological defense systems. My areas of responsibility are developing chem and bio vaccines, pharmaceuticals, equipment, individual protection equipment, decontamination equipment, reconnaissance systems, as well as collective protection systems. We develop these not only for the Army, but we also develop these for the Navy, the Air Force and the Marine Corps, under the Joint Chem-Bio Defense Program.
We can talk about each of these items of equipment as you will. In general terms, we have put out 19 new systems over the last few years. These include new chemical and biological detectors, new individual protection systems, like the suit, like the mask. We've put out new collective protection systems, new decontamination systems, new reconnaissance systems. And to the extent you'd like to discuss any of that, we can go through each one of those. Thank you very much.
I'll be followed by Colonel Tom Spoehr, from the Chemical School.
Spoehr: Thank you, sir.
My name is Colonel Tom Spoehr, and I'm representing Brigadier General Nilo, the commandant of the U.S. Army Chemical School, which is a subordinate of the Training and Doctrine Command in the U.S. Army.
I'm responsible training approximately 3(,000) to 4,000 nuclear, biological and chemical specialists on an annual basis out at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. These specialists graduate from courses ranging in length from one to 19 weeks and then go take their place out in the U.S. Army at levels all the way from company all the way up to field Army. Within their units, these specialists train their fellow soldiers how to operate in a nuclear, biological and chemical environment, and advise commanders on defensive actions.
There are some 15,000 of these specialists in the Army, spread across the active Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. And there are chemical units which specialize reconnaissance, decontamination and biological detection. The training they get at the chemical school is both rigorous and demanding. They learn how to operate and maintain the equipment, the properties of the agents and how to predict hazardous areas. They demonstrate their skills in multi-day field training exercises.
And finally, every soldier, in order to graduate, must successfully undergo training at the Chemical Defense Training Facility, the Superbowl of chemical training. In this state-of-the- art facility, soldiers train with actual toxic agents, detecting and decontaminating them. We have trained over 65,000 people in this facility without a single accident or incident. No other army, no other country has such a facility, and it provides an incomparable training experience for our soldiers. With these trained specialists, found at every level of our army, combined with our superb equipment, the result is an army capable of successfully operating in a nuclear, biological and chemical environment.
And I look forward to your questions on training. Thank you.
Curtin: Okay, at this time, just raise your hand. We'll start to go ahead and field to your questions.
And Otto, go ahead and go first, please.
Q: This is open to the group. In the Gulf War, we had constant false alarms on the chemical protectors (sic); we were on and off our masks all the time. Supposedly new systems -- they just had numerous false alarms in Kuwait. (Chuckling.) What's the improvement?
Reeves: Well, let's talk about that. To begin with, the false alarms that occurred in Kuwait were not as a result of U.S. detectors. They had to do with a coalition force detector. I've spoken personally to the folks on the ground with the Marine Corps where that occurred.
So, let's talk about the new detector. We learned our lessons from the Gulf War, and you're right; the M8 alarms during the Gulf War were false alarming to some common battlefield interferents, like diesel fuel, and JP8 and insecticides. And based on that, we developed a new detector, called the Automatic Chemical Agent Detector Alarm, sometimes called the ACADA, and that's this piece of equipment -- this box that you see right here. This one.
And that particular detector not only is more sensitive but was extensively tested against over 80 battlefield interferents so that it's designed to specifically reject those kinds of common battlefield interferents that cause things to go off. And that's really a pretty good piece of high technology. Insecticide, after all, attacks the same things that a nerve agent attacks in a bug. So insecticide is essentially a diluted nerve agent. So to design a piece of equipment that can specifically reject those kind of interference are what we were after, and it's what we've accomplished.
Now, is that to say we won't have a false alarm? We might. We still can get about 1 to 2 percent false alarms on this system if it's overwhelmed with an interferent. You know, if you held it up to the tailpipe of a vehicle, why, yeah, it would probably go off. But in 98, 99 percent of the time, we've got an improved detector and we're convinced that we fixed the problem.
Curtin: Mr. -- (off mike).
Q: Last October, the GAO and the House National Security Subcommittee created quite a stir with a hearing on a report that a quarter of a million defective suits were unaccounted for. Can you give us an update on your accounting, where those suits might be, and the assurances you have that troops deploying to the Gulf have the right suits?
Doesburg: It's a good question, and it's one I've been asked on several occasions. And I think the easiest way to lay out for our young soldiers and for our Marines and airmen, for those deployed in harm's way, what we've issued is we've issued the new suit -- the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology, or JSLIST, to those who are deployed. It's the same -- in fact, it is the suit that you see over to my left, and I believe your right.
In that report, what they're referring to is something called the battle-dress overgarment, which is an older suit that we had, which we still have in the inventory. If the eventuality ends up that we have to issue some of those battle-dress overgarments, although we've done extensive checks into our inventory, we will inspect each one of them prior to them being issued to any soldier, sailor, airman or Marine.
Q: So the battle-dress overgarment, which was the subject of the GAO report, is not now being deployed or issued to forces going to the Persian Gulf region?
Doesburg: The forces who are being deployed now are being deployed with the Joint Service Lightweight Integrated Suit Technology.
Q: And how many of those -- have gone over with those, sir?
Reeves: I can take that.
Doesburg: Yeah. You've got the numbers, Steve.
Reeves: Every soldier has at least two; our Marines have three.
And I would tell you, the thing about the battle-dress overgarment is this report has to do with suits that were produced more than a decade ago. The actual important numbers here are three and zero. We checked three times, and there are zero defective suits in our contingency stocks.
Q: Whichever one of you would be best to answer this question. Could you talk about how any of this technology is affected by a desert climate, by sand, by anything that the forces might encounter over in Iraq?
Reeves: You bet. The first thing is that we recognize that when you've got blowing dust and sand, there are certain things you need to protect. So, for example, this detector has a dust cap that literally fits on the air inlet. We also recognize the same thing is true with our filters. And those are things that need to be routinely checked. And one of the ways that we do that is that the new protective mask actually has a system that you can check to make sure that mask is properly fit and that you have the right fit on the shoulder and that the mask is operating properly, and that's this device that you see right here. It's called a Protective Assessment Test System. So we recognize from the sand and dust areas that there are things that we need to routinely check.
From the standpoint of heat, part of our testing regimen is to test these things to all the extremes, from 50 degrees below zero to over 150 degrees, so that we're convinced that they'll operate in all climates that we might have to operate in.
Q: I believe I remember the Czechs, who are very good at doing this, mentioned recently on the record in some Czech publications that they feel like there are going to be some problems with the chemical detection equipment in hot desert weather. Is that not the case?
Reeves: Well, not having seen the article and not knowing what they're referring to, obviously, I can't comment on it specifically. Actually, one of the things about the desert is that if someone would employ, say, a nerve agent, it actually evaporates very quickly, and that, obviously, works to our favor.
Doesburg: I think I can address that. I think you're referring to -- and I think it's the same article I've seen -- the Czechs were talking about their detection equipment, as I recall. One of the differences between detection equipment, they actually have a very old technology that they used and, in fact, use reagents. What you see in the ACADA is what's called IMS. Ion mobility spectroscopy is the basic technology that's used in this. It doesn't use reagents. As a consequence, you can, in fact, have problems if you have a reagent-based system in extreme heat if you don't have a controlled temperature for those reagents.
Q: Sir, I need to go back on this for just a second. I talked to -- Mr. Aldridge a couple weeks ago told me that two suits -- two JSLISTs and two BDOs as backup. Each suit apparently can be used for 24 hours in a contaminated environment. If each soldier gets four suits, that's maybe four days, the max says, of suits. Can you walk us through -- you know, is it only four days' worth of equipment, in case they're attacked by chem-bio, or what are some of the other factors at play here that would mitigate that issue?
Reeves: You want to take it on?
Doesburg: As you probably heard, Colonel Reeves is -- I'm sorry -- General Reeves -- doggone it! I have a terrible time of -- (laughs) -- he used to work for me, and he was a colonel at the time, so I tend to fall back into old rank. Now that he's gotten promoted and starting to catch up with me at -- you know, you have to worry about those sorts of things, I guess. (Chuckles.) But he's very good at the business.
But on the LIST, on the suits, JSLIST, if you'll recall, he talks about the fact that the JSLIST is good for 45 days once it's come out of its wrapper.
Q: But not if it's contaminated --
Doesburg: But not if it's contaminated. Part of the process and procedure is determining which soldiers have been in fact in a contaminated environment. With that, you have to understand the threat and the capability of the threat to do large-area employment of either chemical or biological agents. At that particular point, then you look at having to change out that suit and go to a second suit; if eventuality presents itself, to a third or a fourth suit.
The key is understanding the threat and understanding the employment principles that might in fact be used, because each one of the soldiers, each one of the units is going to have a different potential exposure if chemical or biological agents were used.
I don't know if that answers your question or not.
Q: Well, in layman's language, they get four suits, up to four days, but you're saying tactics and knowledge of the enemy and --
Doesburg: There's also another piece. Each one of the services has what they refer to as a war reserve stock, which is back behind what you're already talking about, which will be immediately available in theater. And then you have a war reserve stock, which you can call on.
Q: Can I ask you one follow-up on the ACADA here?
Q: You left the impression that this would be the only one out there. Are there not in fact M8s being used, because you've only got about 16(,000) or 17,000 of these in inventory?
Reeves: Actually, we have over 20,000 in inventory. And the ACADA is what's being used.
Q: Solely, exclusively? The M8s are purged out?
Reeves: Well, I can't say that categorically. We'll get back to you and I'll give you a complete answer on that.
Q: A follow-up. General, about a month and a half ago, Colonel Henschel (sp) from USAMRIID sat down with some of us and talked about the lack of botulinum toxin vaccine, and he thought it was a hole in the defenses. I would like you to comment on that as well, and any other problems with the vaccine stocks that you see.
Reeves: Okay. Well -- yeah, let's take a couple of pieces of that. We don't have as much botulinum vaccine as we would like.
Q: How much do you have?
Reeves: Not enough.
Q: Thousands? Tens of thousands?
Reeves: I'd rather not give you a specific dose number; as you well understand, people's lives potentially depend on that answer.
The fact is, is that right now that is what we call an investigational new drug. It is not licensed by the FDA, and we need to get that license by the FDA. We also have some anti-toxin for post-exposure treatment. Same story, we don't have as much as we'd like, but we have some. And we have medical treatment. We can put people on ventilators, and we have post-exposure treatments, if necessary.
So that's an area where we need to do further development. As far as the potential threats that we see in the area, anthrax and smallpox, we have more than adequate stocks, and we are, in fact, inoculating all of our soldiers.
Q: Well how worried are you you don't have enough vaccine, and so forth, for botulinum toxin?
Reeves: Well, clearly, we're concerned. But we believe that we have the stockpiles on hand to treat folks, if necessary. As a practical matter, botulinum is not something that is easily dispersed over a large area to infect a lot of folks.
Curtin: The gentleman right here in the front row.
Q: Yeah, at the same time that the defective suits were being discussed in Congress, I believe there was an IG report saying that many of the combat commands weren't training their troops properly in how to safely use the equipment that does work. That was about two years ago, and it included some special command units. Has there been any improvement, from your point of view on that?
Reeves: Absolutely. And I'm going to let Colonel Spoehr from the Chemical School specifically address that.
Spoehr: Thank you.
As I said earlier, the U.S. Army is the best trained Army in the world to operate in a nuclear, biological and chemical environment. And you're right, there was a report, and I think the observations were made several -- a couple of years ago. The Army took a look at that report; there were some areas in there that required additional emphasis. And the division and corps chemical officers have reported back and acknowledged those areas and have now taken corrective action to fix every one of those shortcomings. So --
Q: What were some of the shortcomings? Do you recall?
Spoehr: Some of the soldiers were not getting the exact training they needed to operate some of the specific pieces of equipment, or they could not put them into operation; when the time came to show how they could operate it, they weren't able to do so. And that was a serious aspect for us, and the commanders on the ground took the appropriate action to fix those items.
Q: Do you have people from your organization, say, in the theater, ensuring that folks know what they're doing?
Spoehr: Yes. And that's the good part, that every Army unit, from company above, has a trained specialist in it whose job is to do nothing but to ensure that the people in his unit are trained to operate in that environment and to keep their equipment maintained and ready. So that's kind of our ace in the hole, and we take a lot of reassurance in that.
Curtin: The general was going to follow up.
Doesburg: I wanted to do a little follow up, primarily from -- try and translate the science into terms that people can deal with and understand, because there was a very good question asked about biological warfare agents.
When you look at biological warfare agents, there are three important things to look at. First, can they make it? Can they get what they need so that they can make a biological warfare agent? That's not extremely difficult science. If you go out on the Internet and you so desire, you can go out and look; there are groups out there who even talk about how you can, in fact, make a biological warfare agent.
The next most difficult step is now you've got to be able to put it into a usable form. That's probably the most difficult step, because the difficulty with most biological warfare agents is, they're not very robust. They actually, under exposure of extremes of heat, light and cold, die, because -- think about it -- they're a living organism. That's how they operate. So you have to make it into a usable form. Then once you put it into a usable form, you then have to have a dissemination means which is not as catastrophic or would not be catastrophic to the biological warfare agent -- meaning exposing it to that heat, that light or that extreme cold in the process of putting it out there.
As a consequence, there are selective agents which do very well. Anthrax, which you've heard about for years, is one of those because it's very robust. Many of the others are not as robust. And so you prioritize, and you focus on those that you think potentially are the most usable.
The same applies to your chemical agents and just to translate those. Today in Washington, D.C., mustard agent would, in fact, be frozen. It freezes at roughly 56 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit. And it's not in a usable form. VX, because it's a liquid and it's meant for contact, in these particular environments is not going to off-gas much because of the cold that we have today here in Washington, D.C. And nerve agent GB or sarin that you've heard of will, in fact, stay fairly low to the ground and not spread large distances because of the cold.
Obviously, you can look at that differently when you look at extreme heat. Now what you have is a problem with GB, in that it evaporates very, very quickly. And while VX is a contact hazard, it will start to evaporate and you'll start to have a problem. Mustard agent will do the same. It will now no longer be a solid, it will go into a liquid form.
So all of those are things that we have to take into account, as we look at chemical and biological agents, in how we, in fact, protect our soldiers and then detect those agents if they're ever used. And I just wanted to make sure I did some translation on that.
Q: Going back to the question of the two JSLIST and the two BDOs, have those BDOs been given out to the troops? And if so, have they been inspected to make sure they're not part of that 250,000 allotment?
Reeves: The two BDOs are in what we refer to as contingency stock, so they're available. And yes, they have been inspected to ensure that they are not part of that lot that was produced 10 years ago.
Q: General Doesburg, just picking up from what you were saying and also on this issue of how many days worth of protection you have, can you share with us a little bit about your thinking about the nature of the threat, particularly in an Iraq situation? How would he be most likely to use these kinds of weapons? How much of a window would they have for actually using them before the threat could be neutralized? Is there anything you can share with us about that?
Doesburg: Sure. I get asked the question quite frequently, and I usually start with we need to understand Saddam Hussein, and every once in a while you have to go back in history to understand an individual. And most of us have forgotten the Iraq-Iran War, and that, in fact, Saddam Hussein used chemical agents during the Iraq- Iran War. He also used them against his own countrymen, the Kurds; and he used nerve agent against them. During the Iraq-Iran War, he used both mustard agent and nerve agents. He used classic employment; and what I mean by class employment, if you were to look at any of the old books that were out there from back in the days when we had an offensive program, you'd see that exact same sort of employment; using a persistent agent along the front lines and then using your nonpersistent agents to the rear so that as you made a break through that you can move into that particular area.
Now, why is it important to understand history? It's important to understand history because we now know how he used his tactics. What we do know is that everyone moves forward. And so we have to understand that and we have to be prepared for potential different uses for employment. I think the biggest thing that we need to look at is that during the Gulf War, he had the same capability that he has today, and he didn't use them then when he had the opportunity. Because of that, first, we need to be concerned, because he's used it in the past. But second, we need to understand fully that he probably has some grave reservations about using those chemical and biological agents. But we're going to be prepared.
Q: One thing is that once he does use them -- if I could just follow up -- once he does use them, how long would it be before you could neutralize that threat? I mean -- (inaudible). I mean, how easy would it be to pinpoint, you know, where they're being used and take the kind of action necessary to neutralize it?
Doesburg: From a strategic sense, what we have to be able to do is identify what his employment means are. If we can identify his employment means -- I think you've seen the technology that's out there -- we'll take it out and we'll kill it. So that becomes very critical to us, what he used to employ it, because then we can backtrack and we can find it and we can kill those areas -- or destroy those areas, I think is probably a better term.
From an operational perspective, there are a lot of things that you can track that give you indicators that in fact they're getting ready to employ. So from an operational perspective, you can anticipate that we're looking for that.
From a tactical perspective, as you look at the battlefield, unless he plans on causing adverse actions for his own soldiers, we will see indications at a tactical level that his soldiers are preparing for particular use or a potential use of chemical or biological agents.
So all of that is looked at; it's constant, it's ongoing. It's something that's deep within our intelligence community, deep within our operational community to look for.
Q: A few questions. You outlined for us how cold it has to be in order for some of these agents not to work. Could you tell us about the upper level from the heat, when chemical and maybe biological weapons stop working? And could you also talk about the use of pryidostigmine bromide; is it going to be issued to troops this time around?
Reeves: If you don't mind taking it in reverse order. In terms of pryidostigmine bromide, or PB, as it's current -- frequently called, the answer is right now there is no plan to issue it. It is available. It is specifically FDA licensed for the treatment of Soman. And it's a drug we will understand. It's safe, it's effective, it's been around for over 50 years and used in other means. But as it stands today, we have no plans to issue it.
Q: But it was issued during the Persian Gulf War. And we had a briefing on it maybe a year and a half ago, and they talked about that it was contraindicated and they suspended use, that there was a policy that they decided not to use it anymore, was my understanding.
Reeves: Well, frankly, I have no insight into that. I can tell you that it has been specifically tested and FDA licensed for the use against Soman, which is a nerve agent.
Doesburg: I need to answer the --
Q: Yeah the --
Doesburg: -- the top half of the question.
There is an upper end on chemical agents in particular. I can't give you the specifics on what the upper end is. But in generalities, as you start reaching some of the higher extremes in temperatures that you may in fact see in the Middle East, the non-persistent agents basically are non-persistent for extremely short periods of time, which is important for our soldiers to know and important as part of the intelligence gathering that we may do. For the non-persistent agents, they will tend to vaporize at higher temperatures and will in fact off-gas.
For your biological warfare agents, of critical importance, particularly as you move into spring and summer, is the amount of light that's there. Many of your biological warfare agents do not do well under extreme UV. And as a consequence, as you get to where the sun is more direct, you have a problem with those being viable.
Q: So you would expect nighttime use of them?
Doesburg: As you look at potential scenarios that are there, that's probably the highest likelihood. It's also the best temperature inversions that you may have for wide-scale use.
Q: Could you walk us through at what level these various pieces of equipment would be used? Does an individual soldier have an ICAM or at company level, or whatever?
And the second question is Portal Shield. I've heard about it. I can't say I know exactly what it is. You have mentioned it here today.
Reeves: Sure. Well, since the Gulf War, we've put out actually five new biological detectors, and Portal Shield is one of them. It's a semi-automated detector that we use at fixed sites around ports, airfields, bases. It can detect up to 10 different biological agents and give you a result within 15 minutes of detection as to what that agent is. And as I said, it's one of the five systems we've put out.
And let me try to answer some of your other questions here as far as the equipment.
As far as the Automatic Chemical Agent Detector, that's available down to the platoon level. The same thing is true with the Improved Chemical Agent Monitor, or the ICAM. These are systems that are used for close-in detection to see if we've thoroughly decontaminated an item of equipment.
We have in the middle there something called absorbent decon system. This is actually a powder that's used for decontamination that's -- and the powder is right there. That powder and that system is on individual vehicles and is available -- it's the same powder that every soldier carries with him as well, to decontaminate themselves.
The mask tester that you see there is issued two per company. That's used to test the individual mask to ensure that it properly fits on the soldier, and every soldier gets that. The masks obviously are issued one per soldier. The kit that you see there in the front is used by the NBC NCO at the company level.
And starting over here, on the far left, we have radiological detection equipment. That's issued with our specialized NBC companies. The Standoff Chemical Agent Detector, which will detect chemical vapors out to five kilometers -- the first in the world, by the way -- is located with our reconnaissance units. Underneath that or to its right are a number of medical products which are variously issued on an individual basis, normally based on what the threat is and what the commander has set the policy for in that area.
Q: With Portal Shield, do we have that at literally every base, every air base, every headquarters? How widely fielded is Portal Shield?
Reeves: Portal Shield is certainly around all of the fixed sites that we currently have in Southwest Asia. And we have also deployed it in combination with other equipment at some of the temporary bases we've recently established.
Q: How does that relate to the BIDS system?
Reeves: The BIDS or the Biological Integrated Detection System is a mobile system. It rides on the back of a high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled-vehicle Humvee. And that's the system that actually can move forward with soldiers in the field.
Curtin: The gentleman in the back here, please.
Q: Yes. During the -- you mentioned anthrax, and during the anthrax attacks here, one of the things that many people found disturbing were the number of assumptions, beliefs, decisions about anthrax turned out to be not completely accurate. Are y'all confident that the detection and training and equipment that you have can provide protection for troops of whatever chemical or biological agents that they encounter?
Doesburg: We're absolutely confident with that. You know, you talk about the assumptions, and I will never forget the first talking head -- I saw on it television -- describing anthrax as a "virus," and of course it's a bacteria.
The -- anthrax has a variety of strains. We have tested our systems against every known strain. In fact, this device that you see right here, called a hand-held assay, is the device that was used to detect anthrax that showed up in the Hart Office Building, Senator Daschle's office. So we are very confident that our detectors can detect that, as well as strains of other biological agents.
Q: (Off mike.)
Doesburg: That's correct.
Q: Sir, what's the Iraqi capabilities in chem-bio defense? And is it safe to say that if Iraq used chemical weapons or biological weapons, that the U.S. Army would be better prepared to operate in the environment than the Iraqis would be?
Doesburg: The Iraqi capability is extremely limited. And we have -- and I don't want to overstate it, but a hundred percent better capability to operate in the environment, a chemical and biological environment, than the Iraqis do.
Q: Well, it would be pretty stupid for him to use them from that standpoint, too, wouldn't it?
Doesburg: He used them against Iran and he used them against the Kurds. And you can never mistake the fact that he's used them in the past. And inside his mind is something that says, against everything that we know and everything that we feel in the world, that it's okay to use chemical agents, because he's done it.
Q: On that point, sir, in the case of Iran, I think he views it as a time when he was really in great danger of losing that war. And that's when he used it, right?
Doesburg: The history books will tell it both ways. The one that most folks remember is the battle for Basra, which was a key battle in the Iraq-Iran War, where if he didn't take back Basra from the Iranians, he had lost his access to the sea. And that's probably the largest battle and the largest amount of chemical agents that he used. But if you track through history, you find that he used it throughout the Iraq-Iran War.
I had the distinct displeasure of having been in Geneva, Switzerland during the time that he was using chemical agents, and was participating in the chemical weapons negotiations. And I will never forget the Iranian diplomat who came forward with a picture book of the exposures to mustard agent and what it had done. Probably most disturbing was that it wasn't just soldiers, it was also women and children that were in that picture book that he had exposed to mustard agent.
Curtin: Ma'am here in the front row.
Q: Yes, I wanted to just sort of ask a summary-type question, and I wonder if you could make your answers directed to the average person watching or the family member of a serviceman. What exactly would you say to those who are worried about servicemen going out in the -- number one, the suits and the heat, even though they may be fighting at night; but given the fact that they'll be fighting at night, it will be hot. Can you give assurances that they can stay in these suits continually, like they might be? Or what can you say about the safety of the suits as well as, again, going back on your comment about the -- not having some of the vaccines. What can you say for assurances on the vaccine from that standpoint?
Reeves: Sure. Let me talk about the suit first. The new suit, the so-called JSLIST suit that we are issuing, is lighter-weight than the predecessor suit; it dissipates heat more quickly; and it provides protection against all known or suspected chemical or biological agents out there. So, we're confident that the suit works and that the suit does the job that it needs to do.
Now, our soldiers routinely train at places like the National Training Center in this suit, and the National Training Center is in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Our commanders understand what heat's all about, and they understand what heat stress is all about. And they build the confidence in their soldiers and in their command that they can accomplish their missions with this suit on. So I would tell you that we are confident that they know how to manage the heat stress and that they can accomplish their mission with those suits on.
Now, as far as the vaccines, as I said earlier, the two principal threats that we see, which are smallpox and anthrax, we have more than adequate vaccine and the soldiers are being properly vaccinated.
Q: But -- so you have one concern, though?
Reeves: We do not have as much botulinum vaccine as we would like. But we also want to make sure that that's absolutely necessary before we issue it to anyone, and right now we're not convinced that it's absolutely necessary.
Q: I wonder if you could address, General -- whichever general could deal with this -- the issue of chemical depots. I remember in the Gulf War, the Kamisiyah depot was blown, and some believe it was linked to Gulf War Syndrome. Have you learned anything about how to deal with depots, maybe taking care to find out what's inside before you blow it? And if you know anything about perhaps incendiary weapons that might be used to basically clear some of these depots.
Reeves: Sir, do you want to take that?
Doesburg: Sure. We spent a lot of time studying issues like Kamisiyah after the Gulf War. And as we look at the potential for conflict with Iraq again, knowing that they potentially have chemical and biological agents, and have them in storage, we've looked at the methodology that we will use to in fact first identify those sites, and then two, secure those sites to eventually destroy the chemical and biological agents that might be there.
There's a lot of technology that's been developed since the Gulf War. There are very specialized units, some of them in the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, some of them in Technical Escort Unit and my Chem-Bio Rapid Response Team. There are organizations who have specialized capability that, of course, support our combatant commanders, and you can expect that they are there and they are in theater.
Did I answer your entire question?
Q: The incendiary devices, perhaps --
Doesburg: Destruction of chemical and biological agents, a lot of it depends on particularly which agent you're dealing with. I've seen it in the press before about using incendiary devices, because chemical agents, by and large, are flammable; in fact, when exposed to flame, they burn routinely. It is not a preferred method of destruction.
If you go back to about two years ago -- it might have been three years ago -- out at Rocky Mountain Arsenal, where we found some bomblets, the preferred method at that particular time was in fact to explode them, to expose them to flame and destroy the agents inside. Instead, we used a normal demilitarization process, used something called the Explosive Destruction System, which allows us to contain it. There are devices like that. There are other technologies now that are available to us, even for large numbers of potential chemical agents that are out there.
Biological warfare agents, on the other hand, by and large, exposure to extreme heat will kill bacteria and viruses.
Curtin: Go ahead to Brian.
Q: Yeah, if I could just follow up on that quickly and then ask another question. That would suggest that -- or maybe I'm misunderstanding you -- but that you would rather secure sites rather than bomb them.
Doesburg: Yes. Part of what we've looked at is we would like to secure a site first, because we want to fully investigate it. What you find is that -- at least our experience from the Gulf War was that Saddam Hussein mixed things in his depots and weapons storage sites. You don't want to make any mistakes. You don't want to say it's purely conventional munitions and miss the chemical munitions. You don't want to say that it's purely chemical munitions and you find out it's majority of conventional munitions. You want to make sure you fully understand what's there before you take remediation measures.
Q: I was also wondering if you could address, maybe in a bit more detail, how well the Iraqi forces are trained in the use of chemical and biological weapons and the preferred means that they have of using them, whether, I don't know, artillery or --
Doesburg: Iraqi forces, by and large -- and you have to remember that they have different classes within their military. They have the Republican Guard, which are the highest-trained and have the best weapons and the best protective measures, and then you have their -- all the way down to their irregular forces, which are less well- equipped and less well-trained. Because of that, across the board, their ability to both protect themselves and to be aware of the potential employment by Saddam Hussein of chemical weapons is not good. That doesn't mean that he won't do it. That just says that his soldiers are not well trained. And they haven't been well trained, by and large, in either the employment or protection against chemical or biological agents.
What the second half of the question?
Q: Their preferred means of use.
Doesburg: Oh, the preferred means. As any other country who looks at possible employment of chemical or biological agents, they look at aerial delivery, they look at missile delivery, and then they look at artillery delivery, basically a spectrum of capabilities. There's also the possibility that their special operations capability could, in fact, employ them also. But that would be against very selected targets and very small amounts because it's being carried in by humans rather than larger employment methods.
Q: Are they conducted by -- are there special units where chem- bio use and capability is concentrated, as opposed to regular army units?
Doesburg: I actually don't know the answer to that. We'd have to get back to you on it, defer an answer on that one.
Q: We were told by -- (off mike) -- that you were going to be deploying sentinel chickens to Kuwait. (Laughter.) And we learned over the weekend that a large chunk of the first batch of these things that you sent over there died, for reasons unknown to anyone. How seriously should we take the sentinel chicken phenomenon? And how many would you be deploying if it is something that we should take seriously? And how effective are sentinel chickens?
Reeves: Well, let me take that one on. First of all, it was the Marine Corps that was deploying the chickens, not the Army. (Laughter.) I'm sure this is well-intended, and I'm sure it's based on the idea of the canaries in the mine, where, you know, when the canary had enough methane, why, the canary stopped singing. That's an important point because if the miners waited until the canary was dead, they'd probably be dead, too.
Methane, which is what the miners were concerned about, and nerve agents act on the body entirely differently, and it's a little bit counter-intuitive. It actually takes more nerve agent to kill a small animal than it does a human. In fact, it takes almost 10 times more to kill a small animal than it does a human. So we've suggested this may not be such a good idea. When it comes to things like liquid nerve agents, like VX, we're afraid the feathers actually would provide some protection to the chicken.
And finally, I just have to tell you from personal experience, having had a great uncle with a chicken farm, chickens are spectacularly nervous animals. They will literally worry themselves to death. And we're a little bit concerned, as a practical matter, if you've got a bunch of chickens in a hot environment with a lot of dust, what you're going to do when the chicken dies and whether or not you've really got nerve agent attack. So we've kind of suggested this may not be such a good idea.
Curtin: Just real quick. General Doesburg does have an appointment at 11:00. The other two officers here will stand by and continue with the press opportunity.
I'm going to let the general make one final comment, and then he's got to get to his 11:00 hour meeting.
Sir, go ahead.
Doesburg: First off, I want to thank you all for taking time out of your schedule to come and ask us questions and talk to us about chemical and biological defense, and more importantly, about our young soldiers and whether or not our young soldiers are prepared. And what I want to leave you with is our young soldiers are in fact trained and ready. The equipment that you've seen out here, the equipment that in fact we've talked about now for quite a while, is in fact the best in the world. And I need to make sure that everyone understands that: This is the best equipment in the world. Our young soldiers have, in fact, the best equipment. They've been trained. They've been trained at our national training centers, they've been trained at places like Fort Leonard Wood, they've trained at home station, and now they're training while they're over in the Gulf. Our young soldiers are trained and ready, and their equipment is world class.
Thank you all very much.
Curtin: Okay, here in the back. You were next.
Q: I have a question regarding the homeland defense chem-bio because there's been some talk about training U.S. weather radar to detect chem-bio clouds.
Reeves: You bet.
Q: Is that something that's still under consideration? And how effective would that be?
Reeves: Well, yes, it's not only under consideration, it's under active development. In fact, we're preparing to run a test out in Oklahoma, in conjunction with the National Severe Weather Service folks, using their test radars out there to specifically identify which radars have the potential.
What we found from a scientific basis and the phenomenology here is, is that high resolution phased array radars have the capability of detecting clouds. Now, they aren't going to tell you what it is; they're not going to tell you it's chem or it's bio, but they're going to identify clouds that are of a man-made nature or that are unique. And so we see this as part of a more comprehensive system that would give us long-range early warning, take advantage of existing assets, and would allow us to tie in to an already established network so that should something unforeseen happen -- if someone, for example, should use something like a crop duster to spray a chemical or biological agent -- that we'd get the earliest possible warning.
Curtin: The gentleman in the back.
Q: Yes. Do you have provisions or plans to assist Iraqi civilians in the event chemical and biological weapons are dispersed, particularly in urban warfare?
Reeves: Sure. We actually have specialized civil affairs units -- and to the extent that our capacity allows, we'll provide humanitarian assistance to Iraqi civilians.
Q: But I mean, is it part of your active planning to do that? Is it that you would do it if the possibility presented itself?
Reeves: As far as the specific plans, obviously that's something you need to talk to CENTCOM about. But in general terms, our civil affairs units are specifically designed to assist local populations.
Q: In chem-bio?
Reeves: In chem-bio, as well as other things.
Q: Yes, sir. There are rumors that on a large scale there will be house-to-house fighting in Iraq. There are those who have mentioned that Iraqi military capabilities, when dealing with nerve agents, is slim to none. Are you still concerned, in urban warfare, with them using chemical weapons? Wouldn't that indicate potential suicide for their own troops? I just don't understand.
Reeves: Well, if your suggestion is, what does he plan to do, I have no idea.
Q: Well --
Reeves: What I can tell you is that our soldiers have got the protective gear that allows them to operate in that environment and complete their mission.
Q: Okay. It just seems to me that if Iraqi troops aren't prepared and there's going to be house-to-house fighting, they're not going to use the agents. They're just -- I don't know --
Reeves: That would just be pure speculation. I have no idea.
Q: In connection to the -- the explosive destruction system was the preferred way of dealing with chemical weapons. Explain what that is. I didn't catch that.
Reeves: Well, what General Doesburg was referring to, actually, was a containment system that actually has several layers of containment. There is, first of all, a small box, for lack of a better description, in which you would put the agent and do the destruction. Around that is another containment system that, again, is negative pressure, that ensures that anything that might escape from the first box is taken care of. But that's just one way to do it. There are other ways that you can potentially neutralize the agent. It just depends on what the agent is.
Q: Decontamination --
Q: If there's a fairly widespread hit, one of your infantry units on the attack is hit with a chemical, walk us through the procedure on -- I mean, obviously you can't quit the battle at that time, but how you do the decontamination and what's the process? Who does the work? Vehicles, personnel? And how do you --
Reeves: Well, Tom Spoehr is the expert on that. Let me let you have him talk you through it.
Spoehr: Thank you, sir.
The general showed you some of the decontamination kits; every soldier is equipped with his own decontamination kit, with which he can decontaminate his skin or his personal equipment. So that would pretty much take care of itself. Now, in the unlikely event that there was a widespread equipment contamination, they have a number of choices. Every battalion in the U.S. Army has its own decontamination apparatus. So again, a battalion could decontaminate itself. If the extent of the contamination was such that that wasn't practical, there are decontamination units throughout the Army that could move in and support that unit's decontamination. So you can see there's a number of levels, all the way from the individual all the way up to a specific unit of decontamination.
Q: Well, decontaminating equipment vehicles normally requires water, doesn't it? You need a water source, and of course, we're fighting in the desert. (Chuckles.) You know, water -- most of our water is coming in bottles.
Spoehr: Well, the good news is we will only decontaminate that which is contaminated, and the general described some of the detectors that we have to detect contamination. So if we used those detectors and determined that a tank or a fighting vehicle isn't contaminated, we will just move it on through. Now, there will be or could be some equipment that does get contaminated. But these decontamination units that I described carry their own water, either in tanker cars, things like that.
Q: Sir, you said that the total Army has 15,000 NBC-trained specialists. How are you using them during this major deployment?
Spoehr: And that's a great question. The good news is, like I said, they are embedded in each unit. So, each company has an NBC -- a nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialist within it. Every battalion has an officer and a noncommissioned officer. And the force structure increases all the way up to the field army. And those folks are the commander's experts, so they will advise that commander on developing training programs. And in the event that there were some type of attack, they would advise the commander on what actions to take. So there's a -- right next to every commander, there is sitting a specialist who can advise him on these things.
And then, the other pool of these specialists are in, as I mentioned, the chemical units, which conduct decontamination and reconnaissance, moving around the battlefield, supporting where they need to support.
Q: Are those division-level, or --
Spoehr: There are units which are organic at the division level and then there are units which are pooled at the corps level and sent where they need to go, based on the commander's direction.
Q: A couple training questions. After listening to the three of you gentlemen, you seem to be -- you're at the point of the spear here in terms of the whole notion of disarming Iraq. You've said we have to disarm Iraq of its WMD capability. What special training or units have been identified to do the disarming? I mean, you'd be out there. Would the 15,000 NBC specialists -- would they be part of the disarming Iraq function?
Spoehr: There are some specialized units, and General Doesburg described some that he controls, which are made up of people that do that as a primary mission. Your average company- or battalion-level person as a general rule would not have the specialties that we would want in order to advise someone on how to destroy those type of munitions, but those units exist and are ready.
Q: As a TS -- this technical support unit?
Spoehr: Tech escort would be one of those units that would have those type of skills.
Q: And for reporters who are embedded in units -- this is a new phenomenon here -- what should they learn about these alarms and the tactics, techniques and procedures of the units they're embedded with so (the world ?) is spared a number of false-alarm stories: unit under attack, and then a half-hour later, unit false unit. What should they learn ahead of time about the system so those stories aren't minimized?
Spoehr: The general mentioned how he has his new -- the new detectors in the Army have significantly reduced the false alarm rate. Not to say that there won't be a false alarm. And me personally, I would rather react to five false alarms than miss the real thing. So I would tell the reporters that are in those units: when those alarms go off, take them very seriously and do what you have been trained to do by the soldiers around you.
Q: But from where you sit, there should be a minimum number of false alarms at this point. Is that right?
Spoehr: Yeah. The number has been reduced. But you can make a detector so specific and so sensitive, that if you do it to such a degree, it may miss a potential chemical agent. So the laws of physics and chemistry on this planet we live in kind of restrict your ability to rule out all false alarms.
Q: Going forward with your technology development, which areas do you think you need to invest in the most?
Reeves: Well, clearly, there are a couple of areas. One of the things we're working on is greater sensitivity for biological detection. Also, right now our biological detectors, our automated detectors rely very much on using what we refer to as wet chemistry. In other words, it takes liquids to do certain detections. We need to do things like the chem-bio mass spectrometer. We need chemical agent detectors that are smaller. And you see an example of one in front of you. It's called the Joint Chemical Agent Detector, or JCAD. It's based on a different technology. It's based on something called surface acoustic wave. And not only does it give you the same level of detection, but as you can see, rather than an 18-pound detector, you have a 2-pound detector. And it needs maintenance once every 10 years.
Those are the kinds of things that we need to do, is to reduce our operations and support cost, to improve our sensitivities. And we'll continue to work on things like biological stand-off detection, which is probably another area that we need to make some investments in, and in horizontally integrating these things so that you don't have a bunch of boxes, but you have chips that are integrated into platforms, that are integrated into vehicles, that are integrated into the soldiers' uniforms. And we reduced the weight, and we give greater warning sooner.
Curtin: Folks, it's about 11:00. I'm going to allow each officer to make a short closing statement, and then I've got to turn the press room back over to OSD. So if necessary, I do have public affairs representatives here, if you have follow-up questions we need to assist you in getting answers to.
But I'll let them finish up, and at that, it will be over with. And I'd just up-front thank you all for coming and look forward to any calls you might have.
Go ahead, sir.
Spoehr: I mentioned out at Fort Leonard we have this Chemical Defense Training Facility, where every day, including today, we're training soldiers on how to defend and use the chemical protective equipment. As part of my duties as the director of training there, I go -- occasionally accompany these folks into that training facility. We use the same masks, the same suits that our soldiers have out there today and in the Gulf. And I would tell you that driving on the Interstate around this nation's capital gives me much more concern than going into our Chemical Defense Training Facility and working with the toxic agents that we have there. Our equipment and our training is that good.
Thank you very much.
Reeves: Well, let me just echo the fact that we really appreciate the opportunity to talk with you all. And it's always a great opportunity to talk about the great equipment that we've developed for our soldiers and the 19 new systems that we've put out there. It's the best equipment in the world, literally.
I was asked earlier about what do you tell mom and dad at home? Let me tell you a couple of things. I personally have worn this suit in a live chemical agent environment, along with the new mask. It works. I've been to the Gulf in the last six months. Our soldiers are trained, they're ready, they've got the best equipment in the world. If one of my daughters was there today, I would be confident that -- sure, we're concerned about somebody being in war, but I would be confident that they are trained, that they've got the right equipment at the right place at the right time, and that they have the confidence to complete their mission.
Thank you again so very much for being here this morning. And I know we owe you a couple of answers on things, and we'll be delighted to follow up with you.
Curtin: One last -- (off mike) -- Colonel Spoehr.
Spoehr: A number of media organizations have been out to our facility and out to the Chemical Defense Training Facility. If any of you would have an interest in doing so, we would love to have you out there. And just contact myself or someone else, and we will arrange a visit for you out there.
Curtin: Thank you all.