Attrition: More Cold War Casualties

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September 20, 2010: Three Russian aircraft technicians, part of a twelve man team sent to Indonesia to prepare recently delivered Su-30 jet fighters, recently died from drinking contaminated alcohol. The men had apparently bought some local moonshine (illegal home-made alcohol), which was contaminated with methanol (industrial alcohol that has toxic substances in it, but otherwise appears identical to ethanol, which is non-poisonous alcohol).

Russians have a lot of experience with methanol and dodgy sources of alcohol. This was especially true of those in the Russian military. For the bulk of the troops in the Soviet era armed forces, duty consisted of dreary living conditions, made worse by the out of the way location of military bases. Officers and career NCOs usually spent their entire twenty or so years' service with the same unit in the same location. Most conscripts were sent off to their units within days of induction. They would stay with these units for their entire period of service. Although ten to twenty percent would go to a technical course first, most training took place at the unit level. While the official training schedule was extensive enough to take care of every waking hour, in practice many of the troops found ways to make free time for themselves. If the officers were inattentive enough, and many were, the troops got into mischief, such as stealing military equipment and bartering it to the locals for booze and better food.

The biggest problem was that some military equipment used alcohol, and this drinkable stuff had a tendency to disappear if not carefully monitored. Unlike the West, where "industrial" (methanol) alcohol, which was unfit for human consumption, was used in most military and industrial applications, the Russians know better and use drinkable alcohol for many industrial applications. The poor medical care in the military caused enough losses without more from denatured (industrial grade) alcohol.

Thus older (the three found dead in Indonesia were in their 50s) Russians tend to ignore the possibility of encountering methanol in moonshine. Not so in Indonesia, and many Moslem nations.

 

 


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