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Efforts continue to posthumously promote EHartford man who opposed military vaccinations

Efforts continue to posthumously promote EHartford man who opposed military vaccinations
By Thomas D. Williams
Special to the Journal Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, September 24, 2008 10:34 AM EDT

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is continuing months of efforts to press the state’s National Guard and Gov. M. Jodi Rell to posthumously promote Russell Dingle of East Hartford — one of the nationwide leaders of a successful effort to promote drug safety and licensing requirements for the military’s mandatory anthrax vaccine inoculations.

“Lieutenant Colonel Dingle, at great personal and professional sacrifice, not only persevered in challenging the legality of the vaccine, but also succeeded in forcing the (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to correct the warning label on the vaccine — thereby avoiding birth defects and other serious health problems for many people,” Blumenthal said in a May letter to Rell.

“Therefore, I strongly urge you to consider this posthumous promotion as a fitting tribute to a Connecticut Air National Guard member, someone who did so much for his fellow soldiers, his state, and his country,” he wrote.

The attorney general long has supported efforts by Dingle and others to stop the use of the vaccine because he considered it unsafe and improperly licensed.

Dingle, who died of cancer at 49 in September 2005, waged an unprecedented eight-year battle to compel government recognition of improper licensing of the controversial vaccine.

Eventually, his protests to government agencies, the courts, and two presidential administrations helped result in a December 2003 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in Washington, D.C., temporarily blocking required military inoculations eventually aimed at all 2.4 million service members.

After the Food and Drug Administration made adjustments to the vaccine’s license, ordered by Sullivan’s ruling, the Pentagon continued mandatory vaccinations. The inoculations caused thousands of adverse reactions and hundreds of disciplinary actions, including service removals of military men and women who refused to be vaccinated.

“What began as a task to investigate the anthrax vaccine (Tiger Team Alpha) has resulted in nonspecific personal threats, verbal abuse, ostracism, and, most recently, defamation of character and slander,” Dingle wrote in a February 1999 letter to his commander, Col. Walter Burns, weeks after he and seven other veteran combat pilots announced they were being forced out of the Air National Guard. He and others involved in opposing the vaccine, Dingle said, were being compared to “Nazi sympathizers.”

In August of this year, the FBI identified its second prime suspect in the September 2001 attacks that involved anthrax spore mailed to media outlets, two Democratic U.S. senators, and others: military lab vaccine scientist Bruce Ivans. The FBI insisted the national threat to cut off use of the anthrax vaccine motivated Ivans to spread terror with the spores to promote the vaccine he had a financial interest in.

Federal government discussions, including some involving former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, aimed at possibly halting the mandatory inoculations resulted in part from the earlier legal battle and other governmental pressures brought by Dingle and several Air Force colleagues. Initially, soon after the attacks, high-level officials, including President Bush, suggested foreign agents spread the anthrax spores and, as a result, the threat to discontinue the vaccine ended.

But, in fact, Dingle and Air Force Reserve Maj. Thomas Rempfer — a close friend, fellow military pilot, and vaccine-fighting colleague — argued that the threat of a foreign anthrax spore attack is remote. It had been used only once, and unsuccessfully, in 1995 by terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo in a Tokyo subway station, they said. And what’s more, Dingle and Rempfer added, the spore is difficult, dangerous, and expensive to produce.

A month after Blumenthal’s request to promote Dingle, Maj. Gen. Thaddeus J. Martin, the state’s adjutant general, rejected it. Martin said Dingle “voluntarily transferred” from the Guard to the U.S. Air Force Reserve, so he wasn’t qualified for Guard promotion.

But Dingle repeatedly had insisted he was forced out of the Guard in early 1999 because Guard officials didn’t want to accept his investigative findings that the vaccine was a dangerous health threat and was improperly licensed.

Most recently this month, Blumenthal — after reviewing evidence supporting Dingle’s claim supplied by a reporter — sent another request to authorities because he became convinced that Dingle was illegally forced out of the National Guard.

Dingle’s inspiration to oppose the vaccine arose in 1998 after Burns, his former Air Force National Guard commander, assigned him and Rempfer, then both majors and pilots, to research all aspects of the controversial drug.

After their “Tiger Team Alpha” found the vaccine to be too likely to cause adverse reactions, to have failed manufacturing inspections, and to have been improperly licensed, Burns rejected their conclusions.

A video shows that Burns later told Guard members they would be “traitors” if they failed to take the vaccine.

A deposition of Burns quotes him as saying: “If you do not get the shot during this time period … all you’re doing is kicking the can … if some of these issues are burning inside you. … Can’t have that because words like traitor start coming up in my mind, and I don’t have a lot of time for those kind of people. … If you’re not going to be ready to go to war whenever we’re called, you are sponging America as far as I’m concerned.”

The videotape, sworn testimony, and other data were e-mailed by a reporter to Martin, the state’s adjutant general. Martin, who in the February 1999 letter from Dingle to the Guard was accused of berating Dingle, continued to insist Dingle voluntarily resigned.

Ultimately, his press spokesman, Lt. Col. John Whitford, insisted that all queries be directed to Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C. Air Force spokesman Michael Andrews said any such questions should be addressed instead to the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C. And there, spokeswoman Kristine M. Munn ultimately told a reporter that such subjects were in the purview of the Connecticut National Guard.

Blumenthal is asking the Guard and Rell to promote Dingle to the rank of full colonel from his Guard rank as major. After leaving the Guard in early 1999, Dingle moved into the Air Force Reserves and eventually was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

Rempfer supports the attorney general’s efforts. He said Dingle “should be posthumously promoted to full colonel, though he likely would have risen farther had he been allowed to remain. Russ was a leader with unparalleled integrity, and the state of Connecticut should honor his service accordingly.”

A Rell spokesman, Christopher Cooper, declined comment until the governor reviews a letter Blumenthal is preparing for unidentified authorities.

In May 2001 Dingle wrote to three congressmen seeking their intervention in the court-martial of then-Air Force Capt. John Buck, a medical doctor, who refused to take the vaccine.

He said: “`When the U.S. military no longer allows for professional dissent within its ranks; when the U.S. military mandates that any and all orders be obeyed regardless of their moral or legal basis; when the U.S. military allows its members to defend themselves with ‘I was just following orders’; then the U.S. military will cease to attract men and women of principle and honor. … It will end up resembling the military organizations that we have fought for the last 60 years.”

Dingle was survived by his wife, Jane; two daughters, Megan and Emma; and his mother, Barbara.