The Gulf War reflected many changes from previous wars in the demographic composition of military personnel and uncertain conditions for many reservists. Of the nearly 700,000 U.S. troops who fought in Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, almost 7 percent were women and about 17 percent were from National Guard and reserve units. Additionally, military personnel were, overall, older than those who had participated in previous wars. Rapid mobilization exerted substantial pressures on those who were deployed, disrupting lives, separating families, and for reserve and guard units, creating uncertainty about whether jobs would be available when they returned to civilian life.
Combat troops were crowded together in warehouses and tents upon arrival and then often moved to isolated desert locations. Most troops lived in tents and slept on cots lined up side by side, affording virtually no privacy or quiet. Sanitation was often primitive, with strains on latrines and communal washing facilities; feminine hygiene products were initially in short supply. Hot showers were infrequent, the time interval between laundering of uniforms was sometimes long, and desert flies were a constant nuisance, as were scorpions and snakes. Additionally, military personnel worked long hours and had restricted outlets for relaxation. Troops were ordered not to fraternize with local people, and alcohol was prohibited in deference to religious beliefs in the host countries. A mild, traveler’s type of diarrhea affected more than 50 percent of the troops in some units. Fresh fruits and vegetables from neighboring countries were identified as the risk factor and were removed from the diet. Thereafter, the diet consisted mostly of prepackaged foods and bottled water.
For the first two months of troop deployment (August and September) the weather was extremely hot and humid, with air temperatures as high as 115°F and temperatures of the sand reaching 150°F. Except for coastal regions, the relative humidity was less than 40 percent. Troops had to drink large quantities of water to prevent dehydration. While the summers were hot and dry, temperatures in winter (December through March) were cold, with wind chill temperatures at night dropping well below freezing. Wind and blowing sand made protection of skin and eyes imperative. Individuals were not allowed to wear contact lenses, except in air-conditioned areas that were protected from sand. Goggles and sunglasses helped somewhat, but visibility was often poor.
Certainly the most visually dramatic environmental event of the Gulf War was the smoke from more than 750 oil-well fires. Smoke plumes rose and combined to form giant plumes that could be seen for hundreds of kilometers. In addition to oil-well fires, there were other potential sources of exposure to petroleum-based products. Kerosene, diesel, and leaded gasoline were used in un-