At a public hearing held on July 13, 1999, the Presidential Special Oversight Board for Department of Defense Investigations of Gulf War Chemical and Biological Incidents (PSOB) requested that the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses (OSAGWI) report on the current status (including preliminary findings and conclusions reached to date) of on-going investigations, including the Retrograde Equipment investigation. The purpose of this request was to determine whether the available data and information supported a decision for the continuation of the investigation at hand. The PSOB wanted to know whether continued work would eventually lead to identifying a cause and effect relationship between retrograde equipment and the unexplained illnesses in Gulf War veterans.

In response to the PSOB, OSAGWI provided a summary of the preliminary findings of all work in progress at a public hearing on September 16, 1999. Based on its review of this material, the Board concluded that the information obtained to date on retrograde equipment operations did not support a cause and effect relationship, and that emerging results and anticipated outcomes are not likely to improve our understanding of any of the unexplained illnesses. Consequently, the PSOB recommended that further activities be curtailed and the Retrograde Equipment investigation terminated. To bring the investigation to closure, however, the board requested that OSAGWI complete a close-out report and present the data, documentary evidence, personal accounts obtained during interviews, and trip reports prepared during the course of the investigation. The following sections of this report provide such an accounting.


Following the cessation of hostilities between US-led Coalition forces and the Republic of Iraq, US military units began preparing their equipment and vehicles for redeployment back to their respective peacetime bases and installations. These "retrograde" operations saw a massive number of vehicles and huge quantities of equipment pulled back from their forward locations and assembled at sites where they could be cleaned and processed following strict protocols for materials about to enter US air and sea ports. Cleaning protocols were necessary to prevent the spread of endemic disease, and to protect the United State’s agricultural resources from the international spread of plant and animal pests and diseases.

Some military and civilian personnel who received or helped clean and process the retrograde equipment and vehicles have expressed concerns that these activities may have exposed them to various contaminants found on the battlefield or in the general environment of the Kuwait theater of operations (KTO) and may have resulted in some adverse health effect.

The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether there is any causal relationship between the equipment and vehicles returning from the Gulf and the unexplained adverse health effects reported by civilian and military personnel who have come in contact with the materials. Like other environmental and occupational investigations conducted by this office (i.e., Depleted Uranium and Oil Well Fires), research in this case focused on the principal elements of human exposure to contaminants. These elements were characterized by the following questions:

The impetus for this investigation was a congressional inquiry into incidents reported at the Alameda Naval Air Station and self-reports by a number of veterans who allege adverse health effects resulting from contact with retrograde equipment while in theater.

It should be noted that this investigation was purposefully limited to vehicles and major equipment items only and did not include issues relating to suspected contaminants on uniforms, personal effects, and other equipment items brought back by veterans.

Both military personnel who deployed to the KTO and military and civilian personnel who did not deploy, but were involved in processing equipment returned to the United States, have reported a wide-range of undiagnosed symptoms that include: nosebleeds, skin rashes, headaches, fatigue, respiratory distress, memory loss, sinus and vision problems, and joint pain.[2]

The major activities completed on this investigation include:

Subsequent sections of this report will:

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