23 June 2011

Reports in 2000 Show C-123s "Extremely Hazardous"

Reports reviewed last night show the General Services Administration and the Air Force backed out of a contract to sell five surplus C-123k/UC-123K aircraft to a private buyer for reuse in fire fighting. Papers provided the court dealing with the issue show that the Air Force medical facility at Davis-Mothan required workers entering the surplus aircraft to wear protective coveralls and wear respirators because when they had first entered some of the old planes, the workers felt stinging on their skin and eyes. This requirement meant that the environment was to be considered "extremely hazardous and dangerous", according to the papers filed by the two Federal agencies with a Federal court.

Does this look like your crew the last time you flew a C-123K?

21 June 2011

National Press Coverage - Stars & Stripes plus many more papers!

On 23 May, John Harris and I participated in a conference call w
ith the Mr Tom Philpott,  nationally syndicated writer specializing in military issues. He liked this blog and had noticed the surfacing of our concerns about flying contaminated aircraft without the Air Force notifying us, even after the fact. He has his article being publishing throughout the country Thursday night and into Friday (click here for download). He is no muckraker, but he does feel comfortable covering issues where military leadership might have let the troops down...like our situation!

What he wrote was up to him, of course. We offered our perspectives, with John representing the 731st and Wes Carter (me) the 74th AES plus the background of how we got momentum on this issue.

We told Mr Philpott our goals are:
1. notify former C-123K Provider crewmembers that the aircraft we flew were contaminated, especially guys from Pittsburgh and the 355th TAS at Rickebacker, and the maintenance troops
2. identify our folks who've passed from Agent-Orange issues over the years and get their families updated (if they wish to be)
3. turn to the VA and obtain recognition for having been exposed to AO contamination, and thereby, perhaps gain service-connection for the various AO disabilities. Service connection means the VA will treat it, and will compensate the veteran with a disability percentage which could mean over $3000 a month, tax free. But more importantly...we have friends who didn't retire and get TriCare coverage, or who aren't otherwise qualified for VA care...and this can mean everything to them, to their health, and to their families!
4. we want to understand from the Air Force why, after determining our aircraft were contaminated over 30 years after their last spray mission, was no notice made of the aircrews and maintenance personnel whose duty it was to serve that weapon system!

Background of Tom Philpott:
1. Coast Guard veteran
2. Decades of excellent coverage of a broad range of military issues...perhaps the most comprehensive understanding of the length and breadth of DoD issues of any journalist
3. Very concerned about the issue of Stolen Valor...where phonies claim medals they didn't earn, amaze their bar friends with vapor stories about their heroism as Rangers or Seals...the dishonorable men and women (some of them actual veterans) who steal the valor of others to inflate their own egos
4. When we called, he answered. How much more responsive and caring can a reporter be, reserving of course his privilege of telling the story as the sees fit.

So now you can easily Google C-123K cancer, Westover, aircrew, contaminated aircraft, John Harris, Wes Carter, Agent Orange, etc...you should see quite a bit of press coverage which the reporter tells us will continue to spread as other outlets pick up and flesh out in greater detail his brief columns. 

FYI: The Narrative with Cover link now provides an updated version of our basic position. Some typos have been corrected, a little different slant here and there, thanks to other veterans' groups for useful phrasing of an issue, and links within the text as well as in the Summary to better connect to source documents. The next set of documents will be from Hill AFB, whose FOIA package included the last survey of the Davis-Monthan collection, as well as some additional VA21-4138 support letter examples and Form 5s.

Finally, after the conference call I received another message from a scientist with the state of Oregon. He has looked over Patches' site survey showing "heavily contaminated", and responded with a very forceful and detailed letter using those results plus our hours aboard the 3 spray birds in the 731st to construct an argument for us to give the VA that we actually HAVE been exposed. HEY OUT THERE...go find your own scientists and ask them to look our data over. Your cities, counties and states have professionals in this field...tell them this is their chance to do something regarding Memorial Day other than head to the beach or check out the sale at JC Penny's! We need help...ask for it in the form of their support letters!

20 June 2011

Newsletter Prepared for C-123 Veterans - good handout also

Yesterday we whipped up a one-page handout as our first sort of newsletter...but more of a one page handout for John Harris, Arch Battista, Joe Curley and Al Harrington to use as handouts when they meet with groups of maintainers and others.

EXTRA! Toxic C-123s Sold by AF!
We have a tremendous obligation to reach out to veterans who don't know about the Agent Orange contamination of the C-123 we flew between 1972-1982. Hopefully, meeting with other veterans' groups, networking with old hands, newspaper stories and such efforts will get the word out.

Let me know of topics for another newsletter, won't you?

19 June 2011

Open Letter - Request for Help from Institute of Medicine Agent Orange Committee

To: Doctor Richard Fenske, Chair and (in turn) Dr Erin Bell, Dr Scott Burchiel, Dr Janice Chambers, Dr Naihua Duan, Dr Peter Gann, Dr Mark Goldberg, Dr Nancy Kerkvliet, Dr Stephen Kritchevsky, Dr Michele Marcus, Dr Linda McCauley, Dr Alvaro Puga, Dr Jeremy Shefner and Dr Hollie Swanson

Dear Members of the Committee,

On behalf of Colonel Arch Battesta, Colonel Ken Wheeler, Colonel Joseph Curley, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Bailey, Lieutenant Colonel Bob Karpinski, Lieutenant Colonel John Harris, Chief Master Sergeant Charles Fusco, Major Al Harrington, Major Gale Harrington, Brigadier General Mike Walker, Major Stephen Clancey, Master Sergeant Steve Caraker, Master Sergeant George Gadbois, the late Master Sergeant Bob Boyd, Colonel Dee Holiday, Lieutenant Colonel Gail Sorenson and her late husband Lieutenant Colonel Art Sorenson, Lieutenant Colonel Ed Kosakoski, our families and an estimated 500 others similarly situated,

We seek the emergency assistance from the Committee in the form of your recommendation to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense that the dioxin-contaminated aircraft we flew be designated Agent Orange-contaminated sites. Each of the aircraft we seek to have so designated can be identified by historical records, contamination surveys and physical presence of Agent Orange spray apparatus. Agent Orange toxins remained in each of these aircraft until they were destroyed in 2010.

In 1972 the Air Force Reserve began flying the C-123K/UC-123K “Provider” aircraft previously used for Agent Orange spray missions in Vietnam. Dioxin contamination persisted on these aircraft, at least eleven of which were assigned to the squadrons we flew with. Numerous tests by the Air Force in 1993 and later established the harmful levels of dioxin contamination remaining on the surplus aircraft, all then retired after ten years of our use flying missions worldwide. Military concern about the established contamination led the decontamination by destruction of the remaining aircraft by melting them into scrap metal ingots. Air Force and GSA testimony before a federal judge on a 2000 private lawsuit had the aircraft described as “extremely hazardous”, “extremely contaminated” and “extremely dangerous.”

Veterans who flew the Provider during the years we did not suspect its contamination later turned to the Department of the Air Force to help identify the aircrews and maintenance personnel so they could be notified of their likely exposure to dioxin, but the Air Force responded they lacked the ability to identify the personnel involved. Earlier, for some reason, The Air Force Judge Advocate General responsible for the Office of Environmental Law (and her supervisor) recommended restricting information about the aircraft contamination to "within official channels," perhaps appropriately concerned with the reaction of exposed aircrews. 

Speaking personally, this writer would have been concerned, but if I'd been alerted in 1996 when this JAG officer's recommendation was made, I would perhaps have better responded before my cancer, heart attack, heart surgery, diabetes and peripheral neuropathy surfaced in a two month period sixteen years later. I had surgeries for acute peripheral neuropathy, an Agent Orange-presumptive illness, in 1975 and 1976, following my assignment to fly the C-123K.UC-123K starting in 1974. Certainly, what health precautions I would have taken should have been my decision to make, not her decision to keep me from knowing about.

Our group of veterans submitted the several Air Force test results to the Oregon Health Sciences University with the question…"does the dioxin contamination shown on the aircraft tests equate to exposure to dioxin by the aircrews and maintenance workers assigned to those aircraft between 1972-1982?"  The OSHU responded “Most Likely”.

Anecdotal sworn testimony from experienced maintenance workers in the 901st OMS establishes the intense effort after Vietnam to scrape the remaining Agent Orange residue from the aircraft, especially the sub-belly and wing interior sections, with DOD advice being that the residue was harmless and remove the residue and reduce the foul odors to scrape the residue with putty knives, then wash with Dawn dish soap and rinse thoroughly. Yet still, twenty and thirty years after the last Agent Orange spray missions, the aircraft tested in the Air Force words “extremely hazardous”, "extremely dangerous" and "heavily contaminated."

We earnestly seek the Committee’s immediate help. There is no controversy regarding the Air Force’s own tests establishing the presence of harmful levels of contaminants on our airplanes, and there is no controversy regarding eleven of our squadron’s 26 aircraft having been used for Agent Orange spray missions. The OSHU concludes that our exposure while flying and maintaining these toxic aircraft was “most likely” to have occurred. There is no hypothetical situation here...no question about whether we could have been exposed hundreds of miles out at sea or thousands of feet aloft...we point to the multitude of Air Force tests which establish our intense and intimate contact with this contaminated airplane, to the OSHU study, to your own common sense.

We don’t know your procedures or guidelines, but as a small group of veterans with a non-controversial argument for having been exposed to dioxin, we seek your help in whatever manner appropriate, so long as it is soon enough to help our sick veterans seek care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. If you have a different procedure to seek your help, tell me how to proceed. If you are organizationally restricted from what we request, what other help can you give us? 

Hopefuly and Respectfully,

For the C-123K/UC-123K Veterans of 1972-1982

Wesley T. Carter, Major, USAF Retired


18 June 2011

SAF/IG Dismisses Complaint 6/15/2011

Today received notice from Mr Vincent Debono of the SAF/IG office that the complaint I filed on 9 May had been dismissed on 9 June 2011. The letter conveying the information is below. Please compare it to the IG complaint I filed and you'll think they were dealing with two separate subjects...the SAF/IG response doesn't begin to deal with any of the IG complaints!


here is the detail page of my IG complaint. Five allegations are made...do you see any answered?

Note: The complaint was escalated to a DOD/IG complaint effective 18 June 2011.

(from the IG form:)
To the Secretary of Defense Inspector General:

"I submitted an IG complaint to the Secretary of the Air Force on 9 May 2011 and it was rejected 9 June 2011 with the recommendation that the issues I raised be brought to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the AF Historical Office. 

I do not know what rule, law or regulation this may have violated but it isn't the purpose for which the SAF/IG is established.

None of the specifics were addressed in Mr. Debono's response to the complaint. The issues raised were detailed on page 2 of the complaint, and the names of numerous Air Force officers, general officers and enlisted personnel were provided as persons having knowledge of the situation. As best I can determine, none of them were interviewed relative to the allegations. 

I am concerned that the allegations I raised concerned actions by multiple Air Force commands, JAG officers, general officers and the General Services Administration, yet the IG complaint was referred to a base-level IG for resolution.

In addition, while I did not raise the issue of Agent Orange exposure of our aircrews needing to be brought to the attention of the Department of Veterans Affairs for resolution, it would be appropriate for the Secretary of the Army to provide a determination to the DVA that the contaminated aircraft flown by crews between 1972-1982 constitute, together, an Agent Orange exposure site, as multiple Air Force tests clearly indicate. 

Finally, in the response to Mr Debono's email announcing the dismissal of the allegations, I asked if the Secretary of the Air Force's office could at least notify the aircrews involved of the possibility of their exposure to dioxin, an issue obviously of concern to them regarding their health and that of their families. Mr. Debono's response, on behalf of the Secretary of the Air Force, was:

"Maj Carter, 
Unfortunately we do not have the ability to identify or notify the individuals in the categories you mention. "

Vincent G. DeBono, Jr., DAFC
Chief, Case Management Division 
Office of the Secretary of the Air Force

Air Force Study of Contaminated C-123K Report Located!

Patches Tail 362 at Wright-Pat
Trolling through the Internet hoping to learn where I "caught" cancer I was able to locate a 2003 study by the Air Force Institute for Operational Health (Brooks) about toxic contamination of the aircraft stored in Davis-Monthan AFB's boneyard. The entire C-123K/UC-123K (aka Ponderous Polly, Bug Bird, Pork Hauler, Thunder Pig, etc.) collection is grouped behind a barbed wire fence and the aircraft are sealed and removed from public sight, as well as labeled "extremely hazardous" (note: all were destroyed April 2010). This report lends tremendous weight to the argument that post-Vietnam Provider crews were exposed to Agent Orange and other toxins, and I strongly suggest bringing this study and the other materials we've located to the attention of your local Veterans Affairs representative!
The study can be downloaded at: http://airforcemedicine.afms.mil/idc/groups/public/documents/afms/ctb_021403.pdf.
In particular, I'd like to provide this paragraph dealing with "Patches" at the Air Force Museum, an aircraft many of us invested hundreds of hours flying, maintaining, training, sleeping, eating, etc:
 "a.  In 1994, AFIOH/RSRE (then AL/OEMH) evaluated a C-123 aircraft located in the museum annex at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (AL/OE-CL-1994-0203, 19 Dec 94).  Museum personnel planned to restore the aircraft and staff raised concerns prior to restoration since the aircraft reportedly carried and sprayed Agent Orange to support defoliation efforts in Vietnam.  Four samples were collected (3 inside, 1 under the wing); all four samples tested positive for dioxin congeners.  At the time, museum staff secured the aircraft to prevent entry.  The tanks and sprayers, stored at a separate location, were not sampled.  AL/OEMH staff made recommendations to limit exposure to aircraft restoration personnel and allow the public to view the exterior of the plane.  The recommendations would not result in the complete decontamination of the aircraft."

17 June 2011

University Study CONFIRMS C-123K Dioxin Exposure 1972-1982!

Dear Major Carter,

Attached is a Word file containing a draft of the letter regarding C-123K flight crew exposures to dioxin. I hope this is helpful. Once this draft becomes final, I will send you a hard copy that also contains the appendices. The draft is also pasted below. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Fred Berman DVM, PhD
Director, CROET Toxicology Information Center
Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology
Oregon Health and Science University
3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Rd., L606
Portland, OR 97239-3098

(body of the letter)

May 25, 2011

To: The Secretary of the Air Force and the Veterans of the C-123K Provider who Served Between 1972-1982

This letter is in regard to aircrews and maintenance personnel who, between 1972 and 1982, were assigned to C-123K Provider aircraft formerly operated in Viet Nam as Operation Ranch Hand Agent Orange spray aircraft. These aircraft were considered to be “heavily contaminated” with dioxins based on testing that was performed on C-123K Providers in 1983, 1994 and 2000. One of these planes, nicknamed “Patches”, with tail number 362, has been partially restored and displayed in the air museum at Wright Patterson AFB, OH. Prior to its restoration, an environmental assessment was conducted on Patches in 1994 and dioxins were detected at an average interior surface concentration of 617 nanograms dioxin per square meter (ng/m2) (range of between 1400 ng/m2 and 200 ng/m2) and exterior surface contamination of 2.2 ng/m2 (range 4.1-0.3). Several congeners of dioxin were detected, each with varying degrees of toxicity; their levels were converted and reported as 2,3,7,8-TCDD equivalents, since 2,3,7,8-TCDD is the most toxic congener (see appendix 1).

I was contacted by former C-123K crew member Wesley T. Carter, Major USAF Retired, to answer the question: was he, as well as other Air Force personnel who flew, trained in and maintained C-123K aircraft, exposed to significant, excessive levels of dioxins during their assignments between 1972-1982? A direct and brief conclusion: Most likely.

To further answer this question, it can be assumed that the analytical results on samples taken from Patches are representative of all contaminated aircraft that were flown. It must be noted, however, that testing on Patches occurred more than ten years after decommissioning and more than 20 years after use in Operation Ranch Hand; therefore, surface dioxin contamination was likely higher during 1972-1982, where use and maintenance activities would have reduced surface contaminant levels over this period. Moreover, it must also be assumed that cabin air contamination, and thus inhalation exposure, would have been an additional significant source of dioxin exposure, although no analysis for air contamination was performed. It is notable in this regard, that John O. Harris, Lt. Colonel, USAFR Ret., stated, “Patches would smell of dioxin (Agent Orange) so badly that during the hot summer months we would have to fly with the cockpit windows open. During the winter months, when we turned on the heaters to warm the aircraft, the smell would be so bad we would have to fly with no heat” (see appendix 2). Without quantitative data on air dioxin levels, I will limit my analysis to exposure from surface contamination, but will consider inhalation exposure from air contamination in my opinion, since this route of exposure would likely have been comparable, if not at least equally so, to dermal exposure from surface dioxin contamination.

In a memorandum regarding recommendations for protection of aircraft restoration personnel restoring Patches, dated 19 Dec, 1994, written by Air Force Staff Toxicologists Wade H. Weisman, Capt., USAF, BSC and Ronald C. Porter, GS-11, dioxin exposure guidelines were adopted based on guidelines developed by the state of New York in response to the infamous Binghamton State Office Building fire (see appendix 3). Re-entry concentrations, expressed as ng/m2 of surface area or ng/m3 air, are based on the EPA risk assessment paradigm from toxicity studies completed by the National Toxicology Program and validated by the Subcommittee on Dioxin, Committee on Toxicology in their 1988 report “Acceptable Levels of Dioxin Contamination in an Office Building Following a Transformer Fire” (1). The values for re-entry are 25 ng/m2 and 10 ng/m3 on surfaces and in air, respectively. At these levels of contamination, it is calculated that a 50 kg office worker working 250 days per year for 30 years would ingest 2 picograms per kilogram (pg/kg) dioxin per day for a cumulative lifetime ingestion of 750 ng. It is important to note that the air and surface contamination re-entry values are exclusive; exposure is to either air exclusively or surface contact. If both air contamination and surface contamination exist, then the safe re-entry level for each must be reduced (e.g. if air contamination is 5 ng/m3, then surface contamination can be no higher than 12.5 ng/ m2 in order to satisfy re-entry guidelines).

Using the guidelines cited above, it is calculated that surface contaminant levels inside the aircraft were approximately 25 times greater than exposure guidelines established by the state of New York. Therefore, the daily dioxin intake via dermal exposure would be calculated to be approximately 50 pg/kg body weight (0.05 ng/kg bw). At this level of exposure, it would take a 70 kg person 214 days to reach the lifetime ingestion limit of 750 ng dioxin. This calculation is conservative, inasmuch as the formula used by the state of New York to calculate the 2 pg/kg daily “safe” intake uses exposure parameters that would be typical of office workers in the office setting, whereas flight crews would be expected to have more intimate and varied contact with contaminated surfaces while conducting flight, maintenance and training activities. Moreover, inhalation must be considered an important exposure pathway. In contrast to the climate-controlled environment of an office building, aircraft are exposed to a variety of environmental extremes, such as heat, that would increase air dioxin concentrations. Without air contaminant data, no quantitative method exists to estimate the degree to which C-123K personnel were exposed via inhalation to dioxins. However, if one assumes that inhalation represents an exposure pathway at least equal to that of the dermal pathway, then it would only take approximately 100 working days (800 work hours) to reach or exceed the recommended lifetime exposure limit of 750 ng.

C-123K crew members served for as many as ten years on this assignment. It would be impossible to quantify exactly how many hours each crew member spent within and around their aircraft. Total flight hours on contaminated aircraft can not account for the ground time spent on maintenance, training, sitting or sleeping on these planes. However, it is clear that thousands of hours of contact with contaminated aircraft are probable over a ten year period, particularly among the most experienced flight crew. Given the extent of dioxin contamination that was found, and based on the analysis above, it is my opinion that the personnel assigned to the C-123K Provider, particularly the most experienced crew, were more likely to as not to have been exposed to excessive levels of dioxins.

Fred Berman DVM, PhD
Director, CROET Toxicology Information Center
Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology
Oregon Health and Science University
3181 SW Sam Jackson Park Rd., L606
Portland, OR 97239-3098


1. Doull, John, et al. 1988. Acceptable Levels of Dioxin Contamination in an Office Building Following a Transformer Fire. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 24pp.

Toxic C-123K Fleet Destroyed!

On 11 May 2011, speaking with folks at AMARG Davis-Monthan, I learned the entire C-123 fleet was destroyed in 2010. Having labeled the remaining aircraft as "extremely hazardous/dangerous", there were special measures taken to address the contamination, then the aircraft were shredded and melted into ingots.
I guess that kills any dreams we may have had about getting called back to fly the suddenly-needed-for-national defense C-123 Provider!  I've filed FOIAs to get what documents there are addressing measures taken regarding the aircraft contamination....more details when stuff starts coming back to me. 
Important: the news release by Hill AFB stated that of the 18 remaining C-123s, 13 were formerly Agent Orange spray aircraft. I hope to get the tail numbers to compare with everyone's flight orders, etc.

  RIP, sweetheart!

Old Sarge, tears in his eyes, puts the tired, war-weary old Provider out of her misery...Old Hoss melted into scrap ingots!

Approved C-123K Flight Suit - finally discovered

The kind folks at HQ meant all along for the C123K flyers and maintainers to be properly protected inside the C-123k. They just forgot to tell us we'd been exposed. And, they forgot to tell us that they'd designed but forgot to issue a special flight suit, just for the Provider crews. Lucky, lucky us!

Secretary of Air Force Decides Against Informing Dioxin-Exposed Aircrews

In the recent dismissal of our SAF/IG complaint, the IG recommended we turn to the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Air Force Historical Center regarding my formally filed allegations regarding... 
-questionable conduct by JAG officers
-questionable decisions by general officers, the Air Force Medical Service and the Air Force Material Command.

So I believe I have been told to resolve the issues of:
-Air Force force management
-Air Force JAG ethics
-Air Force weapon system contamination
-Air Force general officer actions
-Air Force aircrews
-Air Force Medical Corps officer actions-
-Air Force MAJCOM command oversight and
-Air Force treatment of retired members
...by trying to talk the VA into doing something. Get real.

Further, when I asked SAF/IG for help notifying aircrews who'd been exposed to dioxin flying the C-123K/UC-123K between 1972-1982 so the crews and maintainers could take whatever measures deemed appropriate regarding their own health and that of their families, the Secretary's office responded:

"Maj Carter,
Unfortunately we do not have the ability to identify or notify the individuals in the categories you mention.

Vincent G. DeBono, Jr., DAFC
Chief, Case Management Division
Office of the Secretary of the Air Force
Office of the Inspector General
Complaints and Resolution Directorate
DSN: 425-1555
COMM:  (703) 588-1555

-----Original Message-----
From: Rustysilverwings [mailto:rustysilverwings@aol.com] 
Sent: Wednesday, June 15, 2011 3:20 PM
To: Debono, Vincent G CIV USAF SAF/IGQ
Subject: Re: Air Force Aircrews--Response from National Institutes of Health re: 
Agent Orange exposure

Dear Mr. Debono, 

Thank you for your email today letting me know the results of my complaint to 
the SAF/IG. I take it from your response closing the complaint that the 
conclusion on each of the allegations is that they are either unfounded, not 
issues of law or instruction, or are the responsibility of other agencies.

I do remain concerned about the JAG memo recommending information about dioxin 
contamination be "kept within official channels" and the question about whether 
purchasers of the contaminated aircraft, both domestic and foreign governments, 
have or have not been notified of their toxicity. If these are issues best addressed by addressing them to the Department of Veterans Affairs as you suggest, I'll 
certainly do that. If the Department of Veterans Affairs is responsible for the 
action of Air Force officers in their decision (or failure) to notify aircrews 
of exposure to toxic chemicals. I shall ask them why that was not done as the 
various Air Force reports about the contamination began surfacing.

Thank you for your thorough investigation of these issues which were so 
important to me and to the men and women I flew with for ten years. At least, is there any action the SAF can take to help notify aircrews from the time period involved as to their exposure to dioxin? I'm greatly worried the VA will not be particularly interested in pursuing the idea.


Wesley T. Carter, Major, USAF Retired

16 June 2011

Our Group Letter to the Secretary of the Air Force

Honorable Michael B. Donley
Secretary of the Air Force

670 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1670

June 7, 2011

Dear Secretary Donley,

Along with Major Wes Carter and Lt. Colonel Paul Bailey, I represent a small group of veterans who flew the C-123K/UC-123K “Provider” during the period 1972-1982, after the aircraft had been used for spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. We assumed the aircraft, with its tanks and spray gear removed, was clean and safe for flight. We loved the plane, particularly the famous “Patches”, and as all aircrews are supposed to, flew our airplane as much as possible in our normal airlift and aeromedical evacuation missions. 

The Air Force Reserve had three squadrons of C-123’s, our squadron at Hanscom AFB, and later Westover AFB, a squadron at Rickenbacker AFB and a squadron at Pittsburgh ARB. Each squadron had 16 aircraft assigned. Of the C-123 aircraft assigned to the 731st Tactical Airlift Squadron at Westover, eleven of our assigned aircraft sprayed Agent Orange during Operation “Ranch Hand” in Vietnam. These aircraft all tested positive for Dioxin long after we flew them. We have never been notified of any health hazard we were exposed to during our eleven years of flying Air Force missions all around the world in these aircraft.

We have recently noticed a large group of us becoming sick with illnesses we knew to be ones in the Agent Orange-presumptive group. Checking on Google, we find many Air Force reports of the C-123K/UC-123K remaining “heavily contaminated” in 1993, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2008, many years after their last Vietnam spray missions and a decade or more after we flew the planes into retirement at Davis-Monthan. Surplus sales were halted due to concerns about toxicity and liability. We also note that the remaining planes were decontaminated of their dioxin contamination by shredding the metal and melting everything into scrap ingots.

We feel it logical that if Air Force tests show the airplane so contaminated Davis-Monthan and AF museum workers can’t enter it without protective coveralls, respirators and decontamination afterwards, we have been exposed during the hundreds of hours we flew the Provider, and the thousands of hours in addition we worked on the ground. We asked Oregon Health Sciences University to look over the Air Force test data and on the science of it they concurred…we’ve been exposed.

The President of the Vietnam Veterans of America and some others hoping to help us are approaching Secretary Shinseki to request his ruling that aircrews and maintainers of the C-123K have been exposed to Agent Orange, on the basis of the Air Force tests establishing the toxicity of the airplanes. May we ask for the support of the Department of the Air Force in this? We were dedicated career Air Force flyers, on duty flying Air Force aircraft worldwide, on a weapon system which Air Force tests have shown toxic even a decade, two decades after our last use. We ask our Service and its leadership for whatever support is possible in addressing the Department of Veterans Affairs.

I will be happy to provide copies of documents showing the test results that confirm the heavy contamination of these aircraft and the failure of the Air Force to take any action to notify us of our exposure to dioxin should you require copies. We have numerous documents you may want to see.


John O. Harris
Lt. Colonel, USAFR retired
107 James Circle
Mashpee, Ma 02649
(John's phone # here)

15 June 2011

Vietnam Veterans of America - Riding to Our Rescue!

On June 21 I received an email, followed by a phone call, from Mr. Alan Oates who chairs the Agent Orange/Dioxin Committee for the Vietnam Veterans of America. He had recommended that the VVA support our position before their membership and before the leadership of the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

His recommendation was approved by the VVA executives, and they are now behind us 100%. I was very happy to learn of their improvement of our own proposal for recognition of the C-123K/UC-123K aircraft as an "Agent Orange Exposure Site" by the addition of the Army helicopters which did much the same thing...spray herbicides in Vietnam, then return to normal military duties throughout the world post-Vietnam...and thereby exposing Army aircrews as we ourselves have been exposed.

"No veteran left behind" is their motto. As aircrew, we'd never get out of an airplane without making sure everyone behind us was out first, and safe. We take care of the pax first, ahead of our own safety. Now, that same attitude of service is how the VVA is treating our veterans of the C-123K/UC-123K group...and I am proud to be first to offer our thanks for their pro-active position and service to all veterans, everywhere. We cannot fail but to benefit from their decades of leadership on veterans' issues, expertise on dioxin, and knowledge of the ins and outs of Washington's confusing corridors. Remember: it was Commissioner Linda Schwartz of Connecticut who put our two organizations in touch!

We have many of our group such as John Harris who are also Vietnam veterans...you should all be proud of your premier organization, the Vietnam Veterans of America!

Mr. Oates email from yesterday:

Dear Mr. Carter,
I am Alan Oates, Chairman of the Agent Orange/Dioxin and Other Toxic Substances Committee for Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA).  I am forwarding an email between President Rowan and myself and what VVA is working to do on your issue.  I appreciate the information you have been sharing with me over the past month.  Please continue to provide me with update information. 
Alan Oates

Subject: Fwd: Open Letter to Institute of Medicine Agent Orange Committee

President Rowan per your request,  I have followed up on this issue.  I find the information that this group has presented is factual.  I could not write the issue up any better than their open letter to IOM (forward as part of this email).    I have gotten feedback from many of the Agent Orange (AODOTS) Committee.  They are supportive of this group.  I have not conduct a formal vote on the issue as of yet.

I recommend that we write Secretary Shinseki and ask that post Vietnam war veterans who flew, served as crew members and maintained these aircraft be granted presumptive exposure.   I also would ask the Secretary to work with DOD in identifying and determine the disposition of all helicopters used in the Agent Orange spray operations.  This is needed as the veterans who flew and maintained these helicopter would are not recognized in the C 123 groups work.


Alan Oates
Agent Orange/Dioxin and Other Toxic Substances Committee
Vietnam Veterans of America

14 June 2011

Earlier Acknowledged "Coverups" of Agent Orange Issues

The 1996 memo from the AMSC JAG wasn't the first effort to keep quiet the information about harmful effects of dioxin. Very early in the development of Agent Orange dioxins, a researcher named Rowe sent a memo to Ross Mulholland, a manager with Dow in Canada, informing him that dioxin "is exceptionally toxic, it has a tremendous potential for producing chloracne (a skin disorder similar to acne) and systemic injury." Rowe ordered Mulholland in a postscript to the letter that "Under no circumstances may this letter be reproduced, shown or sent to anyone outside of Dow.

Among those in attendance at one of the meetings of chemical company officials was John Frawley, a toxicologist for Hercules, Inc. In an internal memorandum for Hercules officials, Frawley wrote in 1965 that Dow was concerned the government might learn of a Dow study showing that dioxin caused severe liver damage in rabbits. Dow was concerned, according to Frawley, that "the whole industry will suffer." Frawley said he came away from the meeting with the feeling that "Dow was extremely frightened that this situation might explode" and lead to government restrictions.

The concern over dioxins was kept quiet and largely out of the public view. The U.S. government (trying hard to believe whatever science reports best fit national security) and the chemical companies presented a united front on the issue of defoliation, claiming it was militarily necessary to deprive the Viet Cong of hiding places and food sources and that it caused no adverse economic or health effects to those who came into contact with the rainbow herbicides, particularly Agent Orange.


But, scientists involved in Operation Ranch Hand and documents uncovered between 2000 and 2006 in the National Archives present a somewhat different picture. There are strong indications that not only were many military officials aware as early as 1967 of the limited effectiveness of chemical defoliation, they knew of potential long-term health risks of frequent spraying and sought to keep that information from the public by managing news reports. Further, even the initial 1962 aircraft testing of Agent Orange spray operations indicated the C-123K would remain contaminated on the outside skin of the aircraft.

Dr. James Clary was an Air Force scientist in Vietnam who helped write the history of Operation Ranch Hand. Clary says the Air Force knew Agent Orange was far more hazardous to the health of humans than anyone would admit at the time.
"When we (military scientists) initiated the herbicide program in the 1960s," Clary wrote in a 1988 letter to a member of Congress investigating Agent Orange, "we were aware of the potential for damage due to dioxin contamination in the herbicide. We were even aware that the `military' formulation had a higher dioxin concentration many times more lethal than the `civilian' version, due to the lower cost and speed of manufacture. However, because the material was to be used on the `enemy,' none of us were overly concerned. We never considered a scenario in which our own personnel would become contaminated with the herbicide. And, if we had, we would have expected our own government to give assistance to veterans so contaminated."

One of the approaches we're coming across as we put forward the claim that flying the C-123K/UC-123K post-Vietnam exposed us to dioxins is a response "that's a controversial subject still under consideration." Actually, there is NO controversy to the contamination of the aircraft, NO controversy about the toxicity of dioxin, and NO controversy about the ill effects of dioxin exposure. The effort to suggest "controversy" is akin to the tobacco companies years ago claiming that cigarettes "are an adult custom, and any health effects are a matter of controversy and current studies." 

Sorry, bud, that shell-game shuffle won't cut it here!

08 June 2011

AF JAG Attorneys Hide Agent Orange Data Aircrew Data!

In 1996, the Deputy and the Director of the AF Environmental Law division recommended that information about contaminated C-123K aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan as well as a handful of museum aircraft be contained within "official channels"! The memo in which they made this amazing recommendation was included in the GSA Finding which canceled all sales of contaminated C-123K, and which we obtained via FOIA from the Chief Counsel of the General Services Administration.

We should have been given this information once it was established as reasonably correct. That had been established already with studies completed as early as 1993, three years before this JAG officer, Major (later Colonel) Ursula Moul wrote, and her commander, Colonel J. Abbott, endorsed "I do not believe we should alert anyone outside official channels of this potential problem", a problem many of us believe has led to death and illness of C-123K crewmembers. You will see the name of Major Ursula Moul on a whole lot of these contamination papers! Always recommending restricting essential information.

Hard to imagine, isn't it? As aircrew, we all had at least Secret clearances, and our official duties involved manning and supporting the weapon system we'd been assigned, and that was already hazardous duty...we didn't need dioxin contamination to increase our risks! And we certainly didn't need our own JAG officers to restrict information that we and our families needed to protect our health. They didn't even allow our flight surgeons to have this information. If Colonel Moul had been a passenger on a flight and we had to belly in somewhere, she absolutely knows to her very core that every crewmember on the airplane would risk death to get her out to safety...why couldn't she see to our safety with a health alert?

Colonel Moul certainly knows something about restricting release of information that the public needs, as it was the topic of her thesis while completing her Master of Laws degree at George Washington University.

Ya gotta ask yourself...would TV's Navy JAG Harm Rabb have done this to us? No way. On TV, military attorneys like Harm have ethics! BTW, thought his lovely costar was a Marine?

07 June 2011

Agent Orange- History's C-123K Chapter Just Won't End

His right hand self-concously hidden because it ends in a round jumble of undeveloped fingers, the young graduate student Ben Quick was driven to see the surplus C-123Ks at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base back in 2008. A trip into the past which dictated his own future. You see, Ben's dad gifted him a "minor glitch" in Ben's DNA, a leftover of Pop's service in Vietnam during the War. Ben was visiting Davis-Monthan to learn more about that gift, and the airplanes which delivered it, the UC-123K "Provider", now surplus and in storage at Davis-Monthan.

Ben's driver at Davis-Monthan was the head of public relations at the base, and together they drove to the perimeter fence...and could go no further. "Authorized Personnel Only" was the sign, and hazmat suits with respirators and cautious decontamination was its meaning...

"They're fenced off. You can't get to 'em. Nobody goes in there."


"Well, the toxin."

That's dioxin, folks. The poison on the aircraft which was even more intense back in '72-'82 when members of the 731st Tactical Airlift Squadron and the 74th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron flew the plane. The dioxin had deteriorated greatly in the desert heat and in the 30 years since its last use in Vietnam, but it remained deadly enough to take serious precautions. These precautions were not taken while we flew the airplane we were assigned. And like good aviators, we flew as much as possible to become as proficient as possible, meaning we became as contaminated as possible.

I re-read Ben's article this morning when I woke up in discomfort. I have a handful of illnesses, most of them Agent Orange-presumptive. It is presumptive of me to state that Agent Orange caused my problems, but I do believe so. I especially believe because Ben's article reminds me that official history of Operation Ranch Hand details the fact that in 1954  DOD was notified by Monsanto that Agent Orange was contaminated by a toxic substance...dioxin. The official history offers the fact that scientists from Harvard and CalTech, and other universities, approached DOD repeatedly (and publicly), and convinced the military to end Operation Ranch Hand and the use of Agent Orange...AO tests showed it so toxic, that one drop in four million gallons of water (4 parts per trillion) induced cancer in rats. Finally, we're told that the mixture used in the War was more toxic than that due to a more economical manufacturing process and mixing procedures...it was as high a concentration as 140 parts per million.

We're not on this blog to debate Agent Orange in Vietnam. Not part of our brief. But we are here to state that our duty to America placed us aboard the C-123K/UC-123K at a time that the Air Force knew contamination remained. You see, the very engineering and testing procedures to develop the UC-123K spray apparatus included reports that the airplane remained contaminated after spraying. So contaminated that brooms and water hoses wouldn't remove the remnants. Even scraping down to the metal wouldn't remove the toxins, as the poison had penetrated the metal.

Thus, there were official records to suggest the aircraft were known to have remained contaminated after Vietnam because the testing done before Vietnam said so. More of concern to us is that when the Air Force became re-aware of this in 1994, AFMC general officers and JAG attorneys focused their concerns on the resale of the airplanes, on the political implications of having sold contaminated aircraft to foreign governments, and on the political implications of having sold toxic airplanes to Disney! That the public would find disturbing...poisons and Disney. 

I haven't met any conspiracy nuts in the Air Force and few outside it. It is hard to believe there is or was any conspiracy to expose us to toxins in our flying duties...I don't believe that is the case. What is crystal clear, however, is that from 1994 on, none of the memos, reports, tests, findings, inspections, publicity...nothing was able to bring forth a concern about us aircrews! As aircrews the very first of our concerns is the safety of the people we are flying. We'd do anything to protect their safety...that's why we wear wings. Why did these officers (LtGen Farrell, Col Ursula Moul, Col John Abbott, LtCol Wade Weisman, Mr Ralph Schoneman, BGen Tom Hanes, Col Joseph Corcoran, BGen Olan Waldrop and others), in the performance of their duties, officers who should have known of our concerns, fail to concern themselves with our safety?

Ben's article appeared in Orion Magazine in 2008 and his talent is obvious. It is also obvious that he has learned to touch-type with five fingers on one hand and a stump on the other, thanks to his father's intense exposure to Agent Orange. The father's back looked like raw hamburger and was diagnosed as chloracne...intense exposure to herbicides, and dad didn't heal until about seven years after his return from Vietnam. So Ben's initial birthday gift from his dad was a set of twisted DNA, not quite like it should have been without Agent Orange.

I guess my question is why did a public affairs officer at Davis-Monthan AFB and her graduate student guest know the aircraft were contaminated...why did apparently everybody responsible for them in AFMC and the Air Force Medical Service know, but nobody got around to telling us aircrews. Everybody knew but us. Everybody was taking precautions...but us!
note: Ben visited Davis-Monthan before the remaining C-123K/UC-123K aircraft were decontaminated by destruction, melted into scrap metal ingots.