Pfc. Bailey Jerome Swaggart

Pfc. Bailey Jerome Swaggart (Department of Defense photo)

An autopsy has confirmed that a soldier assigned to a Kenya naval station was killed last month by a venomous snake, officials said Thursday.

Pfc. Bailey Jerome Swaggart, 25, of the 4th Brigade, 1st Armored Division died Feb. 19, a month after he was deployed to Manda Bay Naval Base. He was assigned to guard an air strip and got out of his Humvee to investigate a small brush fire nearby and was bitten, said officials who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Fang marks were found on one of Swaggart’s legs, the officials said, and the autopsy confirmed that snake venom was the cause of death.

East Africa has a number of poisonous snakes — including puff adders, cobras, vipers and mambas — and it was unclear which type of snake killed Swaggart. It was thought to have been a viper or a black mamba, officials said.

The black mamba is the largest venomous snake in Africa and the second largest in the world.

What additionally remains unclear is why Swaggart was not found by fellow troops for some time — how long has not been disclosed — after being bitten. The time lapse is important because antivenoms are available that allow victims to survive and recover if administered in time.

In 2007, for example, a Royal Irish Regiment soldier on sentry duty in Kenya was bitten in an arm by a black mamba. The soldier received immediate treatment from a medic, then was taken by helicopter more than 300 miles to hospital in Nairobi for the antidote and survived, according to the BBC.

Likewise, according to a 2013 study published in U.S. Army Research, 17 cases of venomous snakebite victims — most of them Afghans but two U.S. servicemembers — brought to three U.S. military medical units in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2011 survived after treatment. The median time between being bitten and receiving treatment was 2.8 hours, the study said.

“Hospital stay ranged from one to four days. All had resolution of marked (blood clotting disorders) and improved swelling and pain on discharge,” the study said.

Maj. Gen. Wayne Grigsby, commander of Combined Joint Task Force — Horn said the search for Swaggart included Kenyan forces in helicopters. “Whenever we lose blood and treasure it’s a terrible thing,” Grigsby said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to learn from this.”

Swaggart, whose Fort Bliss, Texas-based unit is currently the Regionally Aligned Brigade for Africa, was the first U.S. troop to die during Grigsby’s 16 months in command of the task force, which is based in Djibouti and covers eastern Africa. Swaggart was a member of 1st Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 77th Armored Regiment, according to an Army news release.

He had enlisted in 2013.

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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