IMAGE: K2 base

Green water, sink holes, radiation and reports of black goo. Soldiers say these were common sights at Karsh Khanabad Air Base, better known as K2.

"Immediately on arrival, people were recognizing this was not a safe place," Derek Blumke said. Blumke is from Northern Michigan, and served two deployments to K2.  "I don't know what they possibly could've done to make that place safe."

"Who knows what you were breathing?" Scott Welsch, a K2 veteran from Kansas City said.

It's believed around 7,000 served at K2 through the years, but not all veterans are accounted for. Many K2 veterans are fighting health problems. Alleging the cause was K2's chemical history.

"This base had been the site of a missile explosion in 1993," Blumke said. "Depleted uranium was scattered across the base."

Before that, the Russians used the base to store chemical weapons.

"Radiation, nerve agents, mustard agents, blood agents," Blumke said.

Service members like Blumke and Welsch didn't question the danger signs all around them. K2 is in Uzbekistan, close to Afghanistan. K2 was used as a military launch pad after 9/11.

"We knew what we were doing for our country," Blumke said. "The mission was rewarding. we were proud to be there."

"We had a mission to do, you didn't think about it then," Welsch said. "But now that we're back and coming down with everything, you're thinking 'that was something to think about'"

The U.S. government conducted an environemental assessment in November, 2001, finding a leaking underground soviet fuel system, asbestos and uranium in the soil. The solution? Literally a cover up. Showering the radioactive site with dirt.

"And they put a layer of rocks on top of that," Blumke said. "That was supposed to seal the radiation. When it rained all the chemicals from the decontamination site floated down into the tent city."

TV5 asked Blumke what the government should've done instead.

"Got us out of there. There's radiation. We should leave."

But soldiers stayed at K2 until 2005.

"We knew in November, 2001 this base was bad," Blumke said.

The 2001 assessment advised soldiers there were no health consequences.

"I had muscle twitches in one of my arms," Blumke said. Just a week a half ago I'm researching nerve agent exposure and I'm realizing that's one of the symptoms of nerve agent exposure."

"Disk degeneration, headaches, daily headaches," Welsch said. "Skin rashes all the time. Kidney stones, I get kidney stones constantly."

Welsch survived thyroid cancer. Many K2 vets can't say the same.

"In one unit they had two folks who've died to brain cancer and a third who's currently fighting brain cancer," Blumke said.

At least 360 K2 cancer patients have been identified by the K2 Toxic Exposures Facebook group. One of the founders died of cancer.

"I spent three or four days just in shock," Blumke said. "Every few minutes, a new person was joining or self-identifying with cancer. We're looking at a 10-15 percent cancer rate. We've got a 2015 study showing there's a 5x prevalence of cancer in K2 veterans compared to others.

Blumke says the government hasn't reached out to all K2 service members. He believes the issue got ignored until December of 2019. That's when a news article first broke the K2 story open, and when Blumke made the connection of his health problems to his service. He just returned from Washington D.C., calling for hearings, looking to the VA and congress for accountability.

"Congress is taking this quite seriously," Blumke said. They don't want this to drag out. they're upset this happened. they're ashamed this happened and they want these people and their families taken care of immediately."

Blumke wants Veteran Affairs to reach out to K2 veterans and ensure their screenings and health issues will be covered.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press conference, the VA is here to help.

"I want all veterans who've been there and feel they need to see us, to come forward. we are continuing to investigate," Secretary Wilkie said. This is not your grandfather's VA where the paperwork's going to last 10 years. We have people ready to help. And that's the message I give to K2."

Copyright 2020 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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(1) comment

Bill C.

According to the NIH Cancer Institute, the national cancer occurence rate is over 30%. So if the cancer rate among these soldiers is only 10-15%, or even 20%, it seems that whatever the agent is that these men were exposed to has decreased the cancer rate for them, not increased it. Perhaps it was an experimental cancer vaccine. Either way, the math here speaks for itself. They are only getting half as much cancer as the rest of the country.

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