Abuse of canned air in Iraq leads to ban
RAMADI, Iraq — A few cases of “huffing” canned air on base has one command sergeant major banning its presence in barracks rooms for many enlisted soldiers under his command.
Canned air is a family of products called “gas dusters” that are used to blow dust out of electronic equipment.
Canned air is a misnomer of sorts since the cans don’t actually contain air, but inert gasses. These can also be inhaled for a quick high that can get a soldier “out of Iraq for two minutes,” said Command Sgt. Major Dan McCraw of the 1st Brigade Troops Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division.
But huffing is dangerous and potentially fatal, as the substance deprives the brain of oxygen. In one case, McCraw said, a soldier went into convulsions. Two other cases have cropped up in the last 30 days.
Currently, the 679 soldiers in McCraw’s unit cannot have canned air in their barracks rooms if they are ranked E-6 or below. But soldiers can borrow it from those ranked E-7 and above, use the canned air in their office spaces or — in the future — use community air compressors in the barracks, he said. The community air compressors have been ordered, he said.
“They still have access to it,” McCraw said. “But we’ve got to start somewhere. Only a small percentage of the soldiers are doing this, but we should do something to prevent anyone getting killed by this.”
Soldiers caught using canned air for huffing can be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, said Capt. Kevin Landtroop, a military lawyer. Users can also be enrolled in drug and alcohol abuse treatment programs.
But so far, it hasn’t been a widespread phenomenon, he said.
“We see a lot more alcohol cases,” Landtroop said. “But then again, alcohol usually can’t instantly kill you.”
The thick Ramadi dust — infamous for its ability to find its way into all things — keeps canned air in high demand and short supply, said Ramadi Marine Corps Exchange manager Gunnery Sgt. Edgar Newton.
“We can’t keep it in stock — you’ve seen how dusty this place is,” said Newton.
They carry four different types of canned air, and for the most part, it is ordered in bulk for office use, he said.
There are other ways to keep electronics clean than keeping canned air in barracks rooms, McCraw said. He recommends taping up unused USB ports or taking electronics to office spaces and using the dusters there.
“Soldiers here have enough to worry about avoiding bullets and mortars than to worry about injuries due to huffing,” McCraw said.