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Commander puzzled by Army's response to chemical exposures

ALBU MUHAWISH, Iraq—A battalion commander of the 101st Airborne Division is baffled by the way the Army has dealt with the soldiers who came in contact with chemical agents this week at a military installation here.

"I don't really understand the approach to the public release of that event," said Lt. Col. Stephen Bruch, who commands the 2nd battalion of the 2nd brigade of the 101st.

"I can understand them being reluctant to say these were weapons of mass destruction, but you put A and B together in the camp, and what else would have been the purpose of those chemicals?" he asked.

The camp is being described by military authorities as an Iraqi military training compound. It is located outside of this fishing village near Karbala, 60 miles south of Baghdad.

Army biological/chemical personnel registered several positive readings Monday for the nerve agents sarin and tabun and the blister agent Lewsite there. Army laboratories are doing further testing on samples of the chemicals. No date has been announced for the release of those findings.

Twelve to 15 soldiers who were exposed to the chemicals have had adverse reactions including painless, red splotches or spots on their faces, hands and arms.

Pfc. Stephen Stuck, a Humvee driver for the 101st, has spots on his face and hands. His eyes have begun to swell and tear. Medics gave him an injection of Benadryl on Wednesday to reduce the swelling.

"I am still worried that it's not going to go away, because they don't know what it is," said Stuck, 22, of Las Vegas. "I wonder if it's going to get worse or if it's going to go away, and no one seems to know."

On Wednesday night, Bruch sounded anxious about the exposure. Calling the facility a "terrorist training camp," he said: "They were chemicals. They may not have been militarily categorized as agents of warfare, but they clearly would have military use in the hands of a terrorist."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.