David Winnett - A Consumer’s Perspective: Always Faithful
Posted November 9, 2017
FY2017 GWIRP Investigator Vignette
Investigator: David Winnett, USMC (Ret.)
David Winnett, USMC (Ret.)
I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1975 as a Private and then retired as a Captain. So that’s a total of 11 ranks in 20 years.1
I deployed with the 1st Marine Division in August of 1990, just after Iraq had invaded Kuwait. And we set up a perimeter along the northern edge of Saudi Arabia as a protective line.
My only recollections of toxins, per se, was the Iraqis as they fled Kuwait lit more than 700 oil wells on fire under the orders of Saddam Hussein.
And the sky was so dark at 10 o’clock in the morning because of the blanket of smoke that had enveloped the entire horizon.
So, I mean, we weren’t choking on smoke or anything because it was in the horizon. It was up in the sky.
And so it was really a toxic soup of those elements that we were breathing, unbeknownst to us.
You’d wipe your eyes, and you’d see black, you know, soot. Your face was black. I mean it’s just how it was. That was how we operated.
I came back from the Persian Gulf War. I deployed to Marine Corps Aerostation El Toro in California, which has since been closed, and so I started hearing about this Gulf War Syndrome and, to be honest with you, you know I’m a Marine Captain, Semper Fi, and running my PFTs. I thought it was a…just a bunch of guys trying to scam the VA out of money. And so I dismissed it as you know a syndrome; that’s what they called it. And I was a denier.
And it wasn’t ‘til after I retired that I started developing the physical problems, starting with extreme pain in my hands, both bilateral. I mean, it was like a bolt of lightning hit my hands…just intense pain.
And then, all of a sudden, I started developing muscle pain in my legs and arms, on both sides.
And I started having gastrointestinal problems. And, at the same time, I was continuing to do my three-mile run, go to the gym and do some upper-body exercises. I mean, I was in good shape. And I saw my ability, my physical ability, decline in about a year and a half, and I thought maybe there’s something to this Gulf War Syndrome.
In 2008, I learned through a—a friend of mine that they were having a meeting in Washington, DC, at the VA regarding Gulf War Illness. And I attended the meeting. When I looked around and saw Marines that were 10 years younger than me who couldn’t even walk, people with walkers and wheelchairs and canes, and that’s when it dawned on me. This is—there’s something to this. This is not a syndrome. This is not something that’s psychosomatic. I knew.
The Marine Corps has a saying, Semper Fidelis, and it means “always faithful.” And if I’ve got Marines that are down, I’m gonna’ take care of them.
And I couldn’t walk out of that meeting that day and fly home to California and just turn my back on those people. And I decided at that point to get involved in advocacy. That was 2008.
So that’s—I think of all…of everything besides my participation on the CDMRP, and I’ve been involved in this now for seven years. I started out on the Scientific Merit Review Panels. The proposals we were seeing were all over the map. Why? Because you’re talking about an illness that from—from head to toe—affects just about everything. They didn’t know if it was a virus. They didn’t know if it was a muscle disease. But what’s happened in the last seven years, there’s been narrowing of medical and scientific consensus. And most of the studies published to date are confirmations that this is a neurological disease affecting the brain, this nervous system, and that encourages me because now we know and we can prove this is a physical disease. You know, what’s happened in the last couple of years is just—it’s like the room is lit up and we all see now what the problem is.
Is it treatable? That’s what we’re working on now, is finding effective treatments to reduce the pain, to reduce the fatigue. And the reason we have two Veterans on this panel is so that we can say, assuming this study is successful, how is it going to impact and improve the lives of sick Gulf War Veterans?
And here’s what’s the most important part of it all. We want to make sure we find out what this is, the etiology of it. Why? So that our future Warriors don’t have to go through the same thing.
Last updated Thursday, May 26, 2022