Parker’s story begins in 1995, as a 19-year-old enlistee with the Marine Corps, fresh out of high school.
“Desert Storm had already ended as passed. I wanted to be a part of the best fighting force in the world,” Parker said.
The unit saw little combat and much more of the aftermath left from several years of heavy artillery and strategic bombings, which included securing bunkers and weapons at Ali Al Saleem Air Base in Kuwait. Despite being in what were classified as peaceful times, Parker says there were numerous occasions his unit was called to arm Cobra helicopters with special 20mm rounds tipped with depleted uranium, one by one.
“The need had arisen to potentially have some serious consequences. You just didn’t handle depleted uranium ammo state side. We loaded 2,400 rounds, linking every one, no gloves – nothing; just a pair of coveralls and they’re wrapped down around your waist because you’re sweating,” Parker said.
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), was a highlighted part of military training during and after the Gulf War due to the potential chemical and radioactive threat that existed, including the handling of munitions, and breathing in depleted uranium particles left behind in contaminated bunkers and vehicles that were targeted during Desert Storm. Despite need to have PPE, Parker says it was never used.
“We didn’t have it, never saw it. You’re supposed to have it and every ordinance man knows, or anyone who handles it knows you’re supposed to have PPE,” Parker said.
The five centimeter tumor was removed, and Parker began the healing process. After surgery, his doctor asked him if he’d ever been exposed to radiation. Knowing what he and three other soldiers experienced overseas, he began making phone calls. The first two men from his unit reported to be fine, but nothing could have prepared him for the conversation he had with the third member of the unit, Dan Paris, who Parker had worked with side-by-side and hadn’t spoken to in ten years.
“I’m like, hey man, how you doing? And he said, ‘I’m not doing too good.’ He said, ‘I just had brain surgery. I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said ‘i have this mass in my head, they had to take it out and I almost died.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, stop joking around I got the same thing in my head,” Paris recalled.
“He said that they had found his on Thanksgiving in 2010, and we were both in the same boat,” Parker said.
As they tried to link a cause to their cancers, both men arrived at the same conclusion.
“There’s only one thing he and I have a link on and that’s depleted uranium munitions,” Parker said.
According to Paris, their hypothesis was not well received by doctors with Veteran’s Affairs.
“They don’t even want to talk about it. You bring it up and they try to dismiss it as fast as they can. There’s very little of anyone who wants to help you, or even talk to you about it,” Paris said.
Parker’s request for disability through the VA, sighting exposure to DU came back denied; stating there was no evidence to connect his tumor to depleted uranium exposure, nor was there any proof he was exposed to DU during his deployment.