Georgians less eager to improve sanitation of kitchens, bathrooms
KRSTANSI, Georgia — U.S. soldiers concerned about health hazards at a base being used by Georgian soldiers recently condemned the toilets and showers and are pushing the Georgian military to make other improvements.
“We know people are getting sick there and are going to hospitals, but they won’t tell us about it,” said Sgt. 1st Class Paul Guerrero, the senior preventative medicine noncommissioned officer for the U.S. European Command’s Georgia Training and Equip Program.
GTEP is training Georgian soldiers light infantry tactics and other skills. Medical classes, including personal hygiene and preventative medicine, are part of the program.
GTEP has shifted some funds to upgrade the Georgians’ base, but there is only so much the United States can do, Guerrero said.
The Georgian government houses and feeds its soldiers, while the U.S. government provides equipment and training. American forces are housed in prefabricated buildings with running water, and they have a full-scale dining facility provided by Kellogg Brown & Root.
“They have to take care of their own soldiers. We really don’t know what to do,” Guerrero said.
Last week, U.S. forces got the Georgians to set up new toilet and shower facilities.
The toilets had been outhouses, and rats had infested them. Guerrero said rats were crawling in the building and on the roof.
The showers, erected inside a torn, ratty-looking tent, allowed water to collect and had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and malaria, Guerrero said, and they were also being used as toilets.
The new facilities use a rough septic system for the waste water.
But there are other problems. The drinking water always tests positive for fecal coliform bacteria, the most common of which is E. coli. The Americans have told the Georgians to add chlorine to the water, which will kill the bacteria, but they have refused.
“They tell us they don’t like that taste,” Guerrero said.
Last week, as part of the GTEP training, Georgian soldiers took samples from their own water supply.
“We know it’s going to be positive for coliform,” said Spc. Jessy Ring, who was leading the testing class. “It always is. Maybe this will get them to act.”
Then there are the kitchens.
The Georgians are using filthy work areas, and they are having problems boiling water because the generator they use for power is broken, Guerrero said.
He is especially worried about food-borne illnesses such as salmonella. The cook uses a cutting board fashioned from the stump of a tree. On Tuesday, he was cutting chickens, which Guerrero noted can carry salmonella.
“You need to keep that kitchen clean, and they don’t,” he said.
He said part of the problems may be cultural. “They just look at it as woman’s work,” he said. “And they’re young soldiers. Hopefully soon they’ll get it.”
Guerrero is also concerned about the Georgians’ living quarters, especially as the colder weather and flu season approaches.
The Georgians sleep in tight quarters, with beds literally touching sides and troops sleeping head to head. Guerrero said U.S. soldiers sleep head-to-toe and have at least one meter of space between beds to prevent the spread of air-borne illnesses.
Army Lt. Col. Richard Wigle, the task force medical officer, said the Georgians “aren’t dirty,” but do live in a poor culture. He said many of the problems the Americans are concerned about can be overcome with education.