April 24 - 29, 1991

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

We Move to Kurdistan

Wed 24 Apr

I was up at 0030 for vehicle guard. I passed the time star-gazing. It was a little too late to spot Alpha and Beta Centauri, if they were visible at all because of horizon dust and lights. I spotted Scorpius and Libra, and thought with some amusement about the long names of the stars in Libra; then I realized with a start that I knew what the names meant in Arabic! There were also several takeoffs by F-15's. The afterburner flame is a light purple, crossed by a dozen or more light orange bands from shock waves in the exhaust. The whole effect is very beautiful.

The rest of the flight was supposed to get up at 0300 to report for our 0800 flight. I was supposed to be relieved at 0330 but didn't leave until two hours later; fortunately, somebody saw to it that my stuff came with the unit. We all went to the Pentagon for a real breakfast (with bacon!), then returned to the airport to find that our flight was rescheduled for 1615! Rather than return to Khobar (by now most of us regarded that as a fate worse than death) we crashed on benches in a Quonset hut in the departure area. Most of us slept until 0900 or so, when the building began to get hot.

After lunch, again at the Pentagon, our departure is still on. Those of us designated to drive went out and waited by the vehicles. It was sunny, hot (around 100) and extremely dry. CPT Bill Bartleme told me the high temperature on the 22nd (a day I slept most of the time because of the bug) was 112. It doesn't feel quite that hot, but the dryness is beyond belief. I can hardly utter a sentence without needing a sip of water.

We sat by the vehicles until 1500, then, incredibly, moved to the flight line to load up. To say a C-5 is a huge plane is like calling a dinosaur a big lizard; it just doesn't do justice to the subject. The vehicle bay is about 15 feet high and big enough for two vehicles abreast. To me the most impressive indicator of its size is the passenger compartment; it seats 65 people facing aft, and is tucked away behind the wing over the vehicle bay. It's as if they had a little leftover space and decided to build a passenger compartment as large as on some airliners in it. Civilian aviation experts have been trying for decades to have passenger seats facing aft for better crash safety, but without success.

We took off about 1630. It feels incredibly good to be out of Saudi Arabia! Unfortunately, the flight line service area was empty, so we travelled without box lunches or drinks. We landed in Incirlik at 2130, convoyed over to an inprocessing center and cleared customs. We were warned about insulting Ataturk or anything Turkish, for that matter, and were told of two military people who went to jail; one for insulting a flag, the other for throwing Turkish money on the ground and stepping on it.

After clearing customs, some went over to the hamburger bar and got a bite to eat. I just went to bed about 0030.

Thu 25 Apr

Today is sunny, pleasant (in the 60's) and humid. I'm still a bit light-headed from the flu bug. Incirlik is an attractive post. In some directions it looks like Germany; the military architecture and pine trees mostly. In other directions the palm trees look like California. I finally decided it reminded me of northern California. We're billeted in the post grammar school for a day or so. The facilities here are very nice, and we had the morning free to sleep, do laundry, and run errands.

We met the first flight here. It turned out the "poor guys stuck on the plane in Germany" were actually over at an apartment doing some serious catching up on their back beer consumption. They had quite a nice time after all.

In the afternoon we were briefed on the Kurdish situation and got team assignments. Then we went to draw casual pay, and I went to the gym for the nicest shower I've had in quite a while. I went to bed early, but most of the unit partied.

Fri 26 Apr

We got up at 0430 to load our gear. We had 5 buses and two trucks, so each person had a seat for the trip that turned out to be over 12 hours. After some milling about we left at 0730. For a few miles we drove through flat farmland, then got into the mountains, after passing two ruined castles. To me, coming back to Turkey was like a trip to the old neighborhood, though I never visited this area during my previous tour. The mountains were spectacular, then the route crossed a broad green valley. On the other side we drove into hill country with glimpses of snow-capped mountains to the north. We passed Gaziantep; guidebooks say the center of town is interesting but the part along the highway is modern and pretty nondescript. After Gaziantep the country is mostly grassy plateau. We stopped for lunch near Birecik, then crossed the Euphrates. We drove through more plateau country, often past fields littered with lava boulders. I was surprised to see mud-brick villages, but the buildings were well-kept and did not convey an impression of degrading poverty. Also surprising was the road. Our impression from the maps we had in Saudi Arabia was that it would take two days to reach our destination from Incirlik, and it would be a real adventure. In fact the road is a nice two-lane paved road with little traffic, and the bus maintains a speed of 50-60 mph.

After Kiziltepe, we travel along the Syrian border, at times right along the frontier fence. There are two fences a couple of hundred meters apart, with mine warnings hung from the barbed wire. A few miles to the north the country is mostly buttes and mesas. It is easy to imagine being in Montana or Wyoming. This road, being flat, straight, and through easy country, is an exceedingly ancient route from the Mediterranean to the East.

Toward sunset we saw mountains to the north and east and began encountering convoys. We crossed the Tigris River and entered Silopi. Just beyond the town, a small typical Turkish town, the north side of the road adjoins a huge logistics base. Trucks lined the road for a mile or more. A Turkish military post held a refugee tent settlement with at least 5,000 people. I later heard that many of these were selected influential Kurdish refugees with whom the Turkish government was trying to gain favor. Supposedly, in some cases they were called by name out of mountain camps and resettled.

About 1800 we got to the border post east of Silopi and could see a range of hills across the border in Iraq. We waited around for our group to assemble and for MAJ Dickson to come by with a truck to lead us into Zakho. We crossed the border into Iraq (somebody took down the border sign before any of us had a chance to photograph it in daylight) and almost immediately ran into some Dutch commandos who were astonished that we were coming in at night and without escort. After a somewhat surreal drive in the dark through Zakho, which was still without power because of the war, and several stops for directions, we got to our camp about 2200. The people already at work on the camp had set up a dozen small tents. We rolled our sleeping bags out on the ground inside and went to sleep. During the unloading process I lost my watch, so I had no watch until we returned to Incirlik in June. It was somewhat sobering to find Zakho still without power because of the war, and encounter armed patrols. In Saudi Arabia I had begun to think of the war as long over, but it's not entirely over here.

Sat 27 Apr

I woke up at 0630 to see our site for the first time. We are in a beautiful green valley with rugged mountains to the north. Isikveren, a snow-capped ridge in Turkey and site of one of the largest refugee concentrations, is visible to the far north. To the southwest near Zakho are more rugged mountains. A mile or so to our south are rounded green hills that look exactly like the California Coast Ranges. The scenery is remarkably beautiful; I remarked that if I owned real estate that looked like this in the U.S. I could make a fortune and retire.

Most of the day was devoted to setting up camp, pitching tents, and getting oriented. The refugee camp itself consists of hundreds of blue and white tents on a ridge about a quarter of a mile from us. The tents were donated by Sears and came to be called "Smurf tents". Our camp consists so far of 20 or so GP-small tents separated by the main camp by a shallow valley. I still have a touch of the bug and had a desperate trek to the nearest latrine before the Engineers built a latrine in our camp. The area is constantly abuzz with helicopters. The weather is perfect: about 75 during the day, 45 or so at night.

Sun 28 Apr

I got up at 0630 and went to 0730 Mass conducted by a Navy chaplain attached to tne Marines. The Marines sat out the Gulf War on carriers in the Mediterranean and for the most part are delighted to have a real mission. It was a zero day, with very little happening. In the morning we had briefings on camp organization and water supplies.

The Royal Marines have a strange compulsion to build latrines. They built one for us yesterday, then tore it down and rebuilt it today. In the afternoon we got some GP-medium tents and erected one. By the time this was over we would be experts at erecting tents. The mess crew and friends had a noisy party in the evening.

Mon 29 Apr

We had a meeting at 0700, then some of use erected the mess tent. Our vehicles began arriving from Incirlik on flatbed trailers. Later in the morning I helped erect the medical screening tents. While in the inprocessing area I heard one Kurd giving a friend an impromptu English lesson, repeating over and over "Dip-lo-mat-ic Im-mun-i-ty"! In the afternoon I went up to the main camp and helped supervise Kurdish crews who were putting up GP-small tents (no more Smurf tents!) The first refugees arrived about 1700, some by chopper. Over 100 were processed in.

The camp plan is the work of an Engineer NCO and is based on Kurdish cultural preferences about living. Eight GP-small or 12 Smurf tents in a circle make up a zozan (Kurdish for neighborhood). These held an average of 60 people, sometimes close to 100, when the camps finally filled, and were about right for a single extended family group. Four zozans in a square made up a block, bounded by fire lanes. Four blocks make up a Gund, a term that was never used much in practice, and four Gunds made up a subcommunity. The camp was to have five subcommunities surrounding a central administrative and supply area.

         FIRE LANE              +--+--+ +--+--+

       F  o  o   o  o  F        |  |  | |     |

       I o    o o    o I        +--+--+ + GUND+

       R o    o o    o R =====> |  |  | |     |

       E  o  o   o  o  E        +--+--+ +--+--+

       L  o  o   o  o  L        +--+--+ +--+--+

       A o    o o    o A        |  |  | |  |  |

       N o    o o    o N        +--+--+ +--+--+

       E  o  o   o  o  E        |  |  | |  |  |

          FIRE LANE             +--+--+ +--+--+

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