02 July 2011

FOIA Disks Received from Hill AFB re: C-123s

I received several disks from Hill AFB in response to my FOIA and there's simply too much evasion discovered in these official documents to believe. The Air Force has worried for years about how to resolve the dioxin contamination of the remaining C-123K/UC-123K aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan. The issue was to be addressed by the folks at Hill AFB Utah who managed the fleet. The aircraft were already positive for dioxin, and couldn't be sold, couldn't be buried, couldn't be simply kept stored because even that was an environmental, inter-governmental - and legal - problem.

A chief decision maker in this MAJCOM-wide fiasco was the Consultant on Agent Orange to the Office of Secretary of Defense. A retired Air Force colonel (not a flyer himself), he has a well-developed sensitivity to the public concern about Agent Orange. Memo after memo from him showed exquisite sensitivity to unnecessary public awareness...what he calls "misinformation" about Agent Orange. Best to keep things mum, from his perspective, and he even wrote the terms the Public Affairs office should use to minimize public attention...and avoid use of the words Agent Orange, dioxin, poison, contamination, hazardous and all the rest. (see last para of his letter)

Therefore, as Air Force leadership decisions (including by general officers) were made about what to do with the Agent Orange-contaminated C-123K/UC-123K aircraft remaining in the Air Force inventory, the OSD consultant was there to help craft things so as to make the event a non-event! (read last paragraph)  His memos were cited everywhere as justification...indeed, as requirement, to keep the issue quiet and low-key so as to avoid unnecessary media attention. In justifying their attempts to downplay the destruction of 18 aircraft, many other AF officials cite his 27 July 09 letter explaining "the aircraft should be disposed of as soon as possible to avoid further risk from publicity, litigation, and liability for presumptive connection." 

Did I miss anything...did he even mention safety, aircrew health, Air Force families, Air Force values, soapy stuff like that? The Hill PA shop drafted memos to be ready, just in case the media asked what was going on, memos carefully crafted to prevent unnecessary public alarm about dioxin, poison, contamination, hazardous materials, Agent Orange and a whole host of words John Q. Public just wouldn't understand. But OSD sure did!

 Smelting C-123 metal. Note that metal smelting is one of the major sources of dioxin contamination of the environment. What an irony...dioxin to dioxin!
In the same memorandum, he incorrectly states that the Ranch Hand aircraft were "essentially cleaned" after Vietnam. Nobody associated the return of the aircraft to CONUS recalls anything other than removal of the tanks, spray gear, and simple scrub-down of the airplane before returning home. Nobody in the Reserve squadrons did anything special about cleaning them other than follow DOD instructions to scrape away residue and scrub surfaces with Dawn detergent...not quite the $53,000 professional decontamination job that Patches required at the Air Force museum before it was safe to bring indoors! The OSD consultant cites efforts to clean and decontaminate the aircraft before their retirement to the Boneyard...didn't happen except for the Rickenbacker insecticide aircraft.
Hill AFB (AFMC) managed the destruction of the remaining C-123K/UC-123K aircraft stored at Davis-Monthan, with much of the Air Force leadership concerned about the Agent Orange contaminated status of the fleet and, quite reasonably, wanting the issue resolved quickly, correctly, completely...and oh so quietly.
Forming scrap ingots from C-123K aluminum after smelting
Using an existing but completely unrelated US Navy disposal contract so as to shred the aircraft, they were able to meet state & federal guidelines for avoiding declaring the aircraft "contaminated hazardous waste" because shredded metal falls outside that EPA classification. AF then paid Navy $1000 per aircraft to melt them into scrap ingots..."for the automobile industry." I guess that means your next Jeep is an Agent Orange Jeep, although, of course, the dioxin would not survive the smelting process, however metal smelting is one of the major sources of dioxin in the environment! Still, just for old time's sake, can we hope for a "Jeep Dioxin LX" model?
Hill AFB officials made it sound perfectly normal, but the Air Force had never destroyed aircraft like this before, and the only reason this method was selected was because of...that old devil, your friend and mine, tasty dioxin! And to avoid the $3,000,000,000 in fines that )if other agencies learned about this) might have to be paid.
In his amazing 24 February 2009 memo, the OSD Consultant on Agent Orange to the Office of Secretary of Defense referred to an article by Mr Ben Quick in Orion Magazine, wherein Ben  wrote of his visit to Davis-Monthan AFB: His public affairs host described the fenced-in C-123/UC-123K aircraft as "toxic." The consultant's memos pressed the need to keep the April 2010 destruction of the aircraft a non-event, low-key, and for everyone involved to be sensitive to the possibility of media exposure...or as he would have it, "misinformation."

Misinformation, I have come to understand, is anything not released in a DOD press release. Thus, OSD told Hill officials to have Public Affairs carefully word the announcement of dioxin-contaminated aircraft which had sickened hundreds of flyers (that's us, folks), "the media specialists at both Hill AFB and Davis-Monthan. Then, friends, OSD takes careful aim and shoots us straight through the heart (see first para, "Issue") with is recommendation with the authority of the Office of Secretary of Defense:
  "Although the Orion Magazine story received little media coverage, any new publicity on the aircraft may trigger a “storm” of articles that will eventually involve the health effects of previous aircrews and mechanics. The Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA) now provides “presumptive compensation” for exposure to Agent Orange and other tactical herbicides used in Vietnam. This “presumptive compensation” is no longer focused only on Vietnam veterans, but veterans who can claim exposure in other situations, e.g., testing of the herbicides or aircraft spray systems involving the tactical herbicides in CONUS and OCONUS locations. What this means is that a whole new class of veterans may claim that their exposure was due to the fact they were members of aircrews or mechanics associated with the contaminated aircraft that returned from Vietnam and are now located at Davis-Monthan AFB. The DVA provides presumptive compensation for such common conditions (in older men) of diabetes and prostate cancer, regardless of cause and effect." Dr. Al Young
 His advice was well-received. Major General Andrew Busch wrote him a gushing letter of appreciation for his hard work, saying "your commitment to excellence is a model example of character and leadership, as well as reflects greatly (sic) on the USAF and Department of Defense. Again, please accept my appreciation for a job well done--you are truly one of "America's Best."

Gosh, I guess it takes America's Best to keep the sensitive information about us flying dioxin-contaminated aircraft kinda quiet. I guess it takes one of America's Best to remind the Air Force that media coverage about the contaminated aircraft might mean a whole new class of veterans (duh, that's us, folks!) who might claim that their exposure was due to the the fact they were members of aircrews" etc. Gee, OSD loves aircrews?? Really cares about alerting us to our exposure. Really cares about our families. Really cares about how much cancer and heart disease hurt. Really takes America's Best to care about COVERING IT ALL UP! 

It took American's finest to in print, tell Hill AFB/AFMC to get rid of the aircraft and be alert to publicity which might tell aircrews who've already been exposed about our exposure!
Throughout the various Air Force reports, we find little references to State of Arizona law, EPA regulations, etc...and now and then, worries about a possible $3,000,000,000 EPA fine if the right words and right actions aren't taken to make this dioxin problem go quietly away before the wrong folks heard about it!

LET ME MAKE THIS CLEAR: It is without dispute that the Air Force had dioxin-contaminated Providers which we flew between 1972-1982 unless they faked their own tests for some reason. Not in dispute: The planes were flown to Davis-Monthan for retirement storage and the dioxin contamination became a worry with Air Force studies surfacing around 1993, concerned with Patches at the AF Museum and, eventually, the Davis-Monthan surplus fleet. The AF had to get the issue of the dioxin contamination resolved because they couldn't keep storing the planes without it being obvious DM was storing contaminated substances and shouldn't have been. Shredding and melting, sneaking elimination of the C-123s into an unrelated Navy scrap metal disposal contract was the undercover option selected for both political and efficiency reasons. The Agent Orange Consultant to the Secretary of Defense weighed in with his suggestions, and reminded everyone involved that the Orion article about the C-123K toxicity might resurface in new media attention...and in those nasty, greedy undeserving war veterans (duh, that's us, folks!) claiming exposure. He was more concerned about AO-exposed veterans coming forward than he was about US veterans needing to be told WE might have been exposed.

And for this service to fellow veterans (who, unlike him, wore Nomex and went aloft to our duty to the country, flying aging aircraft which added to our already-hazardous profession of flying), he gets a lovely thank-you note from a Major General of the United States Air Force. The OSD consultant expressly stressed the need to manage the public affairs issues to prevent flyers and maintainers (again, that's us, folks!) learning about the dioxin situation and coming forward to the VA with our legitimate claims, thus the General worded an even more grateful note. Vietnam veterans have their "boots on the ground" rule for Agent Orange exposure, and we should have a "boots in the airplane" rule for our own eligibility for VA care.
But...aircrews get the shaft when we turn to the VA for an automatic denial of our Agent Orange claims. I can't believe any honorable official with the Secretary of the Air Force SAF/IG knew about the mess in Ogden when they dismissed my recent IG complaint
Perhaps a warrior's sacred HONOR is defined differently for Air Force guys in flight suits than it is for Air Force guys elsewhere. SAF/IG should remember that is upon the honor of guys and gals in flight suits that the security of the country rests...our honor compels us to do our duty, sometimes alone, high in the sky or far out at sea. Nobody over our shoulder to supervise. We simply did our duty...in a dioxin-contaminated C-123K/UC-123K.
Wherever we are, however far from home, however cold or hot, however miserable or scared, however lousy the pay or the food or stupid the boss (no, I don't mean you, Big John!), honor means people in flight suits and maintainers on the ground must do our duty or die trying, to protect our nation. Why can't we then count on the honor of others in our beloved service to protect us?
Why can't we count on others in our beloved service to, as in Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, "care for him who has borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan"?

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