Former Marine Speaks About Military Toxins, Potential Health Risks

SemperFiAlwaysFaithfulsmA former Marine Corps Master Sergeant is in Alaska visiting communities to talk about military toxins and the potential health risks of those exposed. Jerry Ensminger spent 25 years in the Marines, but a local television news story about drinking water contamination that became a super fund site at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina changed his life.

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“Here I am, I retired in that area, that’s the only reason I heard that news report. All these other people that had been exposed at Camp LeJeune, that was a transient population, these people are literally spread out all over the world. My mission was to get this word out, that these other people that have that nagging question of what happened to me or what happened to my family member, they deserve a possible answer,” Ensminger said.

Ensminger’s wife was pregnant when he was stationed at Camp LeJeune. Their daughter Janey died of Leukemia at age 9. He believes there may be a link between the contamination and his daughter’s cancer. He says there has also been a high rate of male breast cancer among service members who were stationed there before the toxins were identified.

“We just found the 85th man. And the only thing these men had in common is that they either lived, or worked or were stationed at Camp LeJeune,” Ensminger said.

Ensminger is in Alaska to visit military contamination sites here and answer questions at the screening of Semper Fi: Always Faithful, a documentary about the polluted drinking water at Camp LeJeune.

The contamination, possibly from asbestos coated cement water lines and other chemicals was present from the early 1950s to the late 80s.

President Obama signed the Janey Ensminger Act last year. The act, named for Ensminger’s deceased daughter, covers those who lived or worked at Camp LeJeune from 1957 to 1987. Health officials believe as many as one million people may have been exposed.

On a website listing information about the Camp LeJeune contamination, the Marine Corps says its goal is to use the best science to get families the answers they deserve. Ensminger says he’s proud of his military service but he feels betrayed by Defense leadership.

“People try to paint anybody who speaks out against the military about contamination and environmental pollution, they try to paint you as unpatriotic. Well they have a hard time painting me that way. You know I spent a quarter of a century of my life defending this nation in the Marine Corps. I was a former Marine drill instructor. Now, you come tell me I’m unpatriotic,” Ensminger said.

A screening of Semper Fi: Always Faithful will be this evening at the Anchorage Museum at 6:30, Ensminger will be in Fairbanks tomorrow at 7 at the Pioneer Park theater. He’ll also travel to Nome and St Lawrence Island where clean up of military toxins there is still ongoing.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori