Soldiers combating a new enemy - New Orleans

Story by Sgt. Joel F. Gibson
13th COSCOM Public Affairs Office

NEW ORLEANS — "Our primary mission is to ensure the health and welfare of our Soldiers."

Capt. David R. Zinnante, commanding officer of the 224th Medical Detachment, 1st Medical Brigade, 13th Corps Support Command summarizes what his Soldiers do everyday.

"We ensure that the food and water our Soldiers consume on a daily basis is safe," Zinnante continued." In addition one of our core responsibilities is that of vector control."

In preventive medicine terms, a Vector is any organism that can carry and transmit a disease.

The 224th sent out a preventive medicine team Saturday on two vector control missions at warehouses in downtown New Orleans.

1st Lt. Kurt D. Kresta, executive officer of the 224th, said," The first thing we're doing today is going to the (New Orleans Police Department Quartermaster Activity warehouse) to set some rodenticide."

"We set some snap-traps last night, but didn't get any hits," said Kresta.

Kresta said," It's too bad the snap-traps didn't get any rats because the advantage to the traps is that it kills them and captures them on the spot. Whereas with poison, they eat it, leave the area, and then die. Both are fairly equally effective though."

The team set out from New Orleans International Airport and arrived at the N.O.P.D. Quartermaster Activity warehouse just after noon.

"We didn't get any rats, but there's definitely evidence of an infestation," said Kresta.

Staff Sgt. Miles M. Jones Jr., a preventive medicine team leader with the 224th handed out blocks of anti-coagulant rat poison to the two junior enlisted members of the team and Kresta.

"Alright everyone put on gloves, you don't want to touch this stuff," said Kresta.

"With any infestation, you're not supposed to treat a section of a building but the whole thing," said Jones as he doled out three large blocks of rat poison to each of his three teammates, keeping three for himself.

Each team member fanned out to a different wall of the warehouse, setting up poison at strategic locations.

"Each block has to be tied to something solid, so the rats don't carry it away," explained Kresta.

After all the team members set out poison, Kresta directed them to gather around him and passed around a bottle of hand sanitizer.

"We do wear gloves, but you can't take any chances with this stuff," said Pfc. Erik G. Stoker, a medic with the 224th.

"Not every Soldier in the 224th is a preventive medicine specialist, but they have all cross-trained so they can assist the teams on missions," said Zinnante.

After sanitizing their hands and taking a quick break to eat, the team set out on its second mission of the day.

"We're going to the Seventh Street Warehouse because we received complaints about Soldiers being bitten by bugs in their sleep. We're going to set out a light-trap at the location," said Kresta.

Pvt. Joshua W. Elmore, a mechanic with the 224th, said," Light-traps are used to collect mosquitoes and other flying insects. There's a little light on top that attracts them, and a fan under the light that sucks them down into a collection sleeve."

"After collecting a sampling of mosquitoes, we identify them and test them for various diseases," said Zinante.

The affected Soldiers at the Seventh Street Warehouse were all members of the 141st Support Battalion, 41st Brigade, Oregon National Guard.

"I went to sleep on top of my sleeping bag. When I woke up, my arms and face had all these little bumps on them," said Spc. Teresa M. Warner, a supply specialist with the 141st.

Spc. Bethany A. Wilson, a mechanic with the 141st, said," I only slept with my face and right arm outside my sleeping bag, and those are the only places I was bitten."

Kresta and Elmore set the light-trap in the area where the Soldiers had been sleeping.

"We don't sleep here anymore, they bus us to another site," said Sgt. Tanya M. Couckuyt, the day-shift Noncomissioned Officer in charge of the 141st warehouse operaton.

"Those Soldiers are in a very bad situation," said Kresta," There are a lot of insects that feed on humans. Once we capture samples, we can figure out how to control them."

"I'm glad we got out there as soon as we heard they were getting eaten up," said Elmore.

After completing the mission at the Seventh Street warehouse, the team returned to N.O. International Airport.

"I personally feel indebted to my Soldiers for the great job they've done and the long hours they've put in," said Zinnante.