Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
I wrote up my Tapline Road adventure last night, and also narrated a tape and sent it home. Good thing, too. At 0430 Top came around and woke us up. We move out to Kuwait today. We spent the morning packing and loading, and were ready to go by 1300. In addition to my duties as driver, I also met with our Kuwaiti interpreters, who only arrived from the States in the wee hours of the morning. At 1300 we formed up and the convoy officer told us to move out. Assuming we were going to form up on the road outside the compound, I followed the vehicle ahead, only to see it disappear into the traffic. 1LT Rich Kuhr, my co-driver, and I conferred briefly and decided the safest thing to do was return to the compound and find out where we were supposed to go. Eventually most of the other vehicles did the same thing. At 1400 we finally moved out to the marshalling area, in a proper convoy, and with all the drivers knowing where they were supposed to go. The marshalling point, it turned out, was the fuel point. The 431st and 352d came over to the marshalling yard and then spent over an hour fueling up. We finally left at 1600.
The order of march had the 352nd, the 431st, and us in a convoy of 109 vehicles. We headed west out of Jubail, took the first exit north, went about 5 miles into the hills, and stopped. Seems the convoy commander took a wrong turn and took us down a dead-end road. It took half an hour to turn the convoy around and get back on the road.
While all this was going on, SPC Kuyper and SPC Mike Rabideau took off on an adventure of their own. They discovered a radiator leak in their vehicle (one of innumerable mechanical problems to crop up in the vehicles we drew from KKMC), and after it was determined that the leak was unrepairable, went back to camp to draw a new vehicle. They went to the fuel point to fill up and then tried to catch up with the convoy. No problem, since there was only one main route to Kuwait -- unless the convoy is off somewhere up a dead-end road. While the convoy was turning around, they passed us. After a couple of hours, they decided they had somehow missed the convoy so they did the only thing they could do: went on to Kuwait alone. They happened by chance to spot a vehicle with a USACAPOC bumper marking, flagged it down, and ended up getting to the Kuwait encampment six hours before the main body!
Meanwhile the 352nd was setting a slow rate of march, 35 to 40 MPH. Every vehicle problem, and there were many, required a halt, and it took 15 minutes to get the convoy rolling again, since the convoy stretched 3 miles. The vehicles from KKMC had been turned in for new Humvees, and had been very poorly maintained, and there was no time to give them thorough maintenance before we left. My vehicle had a functioning electrical system at 1600. As it got dark, I discovered that I had no lights or wipers. I hoped it wouldn't rain, but it did. We rolled into Khafji. I recognized the arch over the road from new stories of the battle here in January. Shortly thereafter, the truck died entirely, its electrical system out.
Lt. Kuhr, two interpreters who had been riding with us, and I found spots on other vehicles, and the motor section took my truck in tow. By this time I was exhausted from driving four or five hours in the dark with no lights, the last hour trying to peer through a rain-spattered windshield.
We crossed the Kuwait border about midnight. The ride was very bumpy and rough because of mine clearing and debris. It was hard to see much from the back of the truck, but one driver said over the radio that he saw a body, and there was a lot of radio chatter about war damage. Civilian trucks came by trailing Kuwait flags in the wind. Near Kuwait City we began to see burning oil wells. The sky was lit up with an orange glow, silhouetting the power transmission towers.
We pulled into our compound about 0330. I rolled my sleeping bag out on the ground and went to sleep. I woke up at 0745 with the sun shining in my face; it brought back pleasant memories of field trips out West. We were allowed to wake up on our own; between dozing in the truck and the sleep I got on the ground I felt pretty good. It was a beautiful sunny day. We spent the morning working with maps and getting oriented, then got our vehicles ready to go out with our teams. We had no idea what to expect, and discussions included arranging for MP escorts, finding alternate routes in case our primary route was impassible, and carrying food and sleeping gear in case we could not get back to base. In fact, none of that proved necessary.
Our base is in the industrial suburb of Subhan, in a warehouse compound once owned by the Kuwait Ministry of Education, then later used as a base by the Iraqis. The Iraqis left bunkers, ammunition, and grenades all over. From the south wall of the compound we can see dozens of oil well fires.
The afternoon was exhilarating and personally rewarding, but unproductive from a work standpoint. The sector teams went out to Bayan, supposedly to make contact with people who were to lead us to the food distribution centers. We waited two hours, but our contacts were no-shows. Everyone is flying Kuwait flags, honking and waving to every Allied vehicle they see. While we were waiting, people came out to greet us. One lady had a flag and a picture of the Emir. She grabbed a soldier and had her picture taken with him. A car with two teenage girls in back came by; one of the girls leaned out and hugged one of our women soldiers. After we were done for the day, one of our interpreters said of his conversations with the locals: "If it was a horror movie, I wouldn't believe it".
When we finally decided that the contacts were not going to show up, my team (me, CPT Yancy, 1LT Kuhr, and SPC Demerath, plus our interpreter, Salem) drove down to Fintas on our own to check out the food site there. Our responsibility was called Sector E, the coast about 10 miles south of Kuwait. To our north was sector C, and to the south sector G, both covered by other 432d teams. For the first few days, like most of the unit, we were apprehensive about entering uncleared buildings. Technically, it was EOD's job to clear buildings, but it would take forever to clear everything in Kuwait, and it soon became clear that there were few booby traps.
That night, I went to the south wall of the camp to photograph the oil fires. I counted 45 burning oil wells.
I got my first mail from Shawn today. She had delayed writing because of conflicting word about our address. We spent most of the morning waiting for team assignments, then went out to Sabahiya to check the food co-op out. Most places bearing the name Sabah, the royal family name, were renamed during the occupation. Just like yesterday, everyone was delighted to see us. One Kuwaiti said, after looking at the damage done by the Iraqis: "Thieves? Thieves are nothing - savages - worse than savages. God bless you guys". Our belief that we were the first U.S. forces to get here was demolished when we came out of one building to meet another one of our teams, plus some Special Forces troops.
The Special Forces people were interesting. The NCO I talked to had been involved in training Kuwaiti soldiers; the Kuwait volunteers got three weeks' basic training. He remarked that he had seen nothing of the elaborate defenses the Iraqis were rumored to have. All the positions were hasty constructions, even near the border.
We were about to leave when our companion truck broke down. Help didn't arrive until 1500, then we went back to Fintas, which we visited yesterday, to get facts and figures. I was radio man today, so I stayed with the vehicle.
Omar, ou interpreter for today, saw some of the war damage and said "Look how they destroyed my country". Actually, the damage south of Kuwait City is fairly light, mostly a lot of litter and junked vehicles. The Special Forces said damage in Kuwait City was heavy, but I think Kuwait will recover quickly. (Physically, that was probably true, but the principal problem would be the Kuwaitis themselves, who were often unwilling or unable to do the manual work necessary for recovery.)
On the way back we came in from the south and got a panorama of the burning oil wells from Seventh Ring Road. We can't see all the wells from our camp. 1LT Kuhr said he counted over 80 fires. It is an indescribable sight because nobody has ever seen anything like this before, literally. There has never been a time when this many oil wells were on fire at once; the previous record, I read later, was three. The image that kept coming to my mind was of an open plain dotted with trees, except the trees were on fire.
We went back to Fintas to discuss relief efforts over a lengthy tea in the co-op director's office. Two Kuwaitis told of being held by the Iraqis. One was just taken off the street for no known reason and thrown in a cell with 10-12 others. They were told they would be shot the next day but the Iraqis ran away and they escaped.
The other was a black chemist for one of the refineries. He and his family were held in their living room while the house was searched. An Iraqi on the roof discharged his weapon and shot himself in the foot, but the Iraqis accused the Kuwaiti of having collaborators who were sniping at their soldiers. They took him to the police station and put a gun to his head. Finally one of the Iraqi soldiers managed to explain that the shooting had been accidental.
The black chemist was a devout Moslem. He told the Iraqis, when they threatened to kill him: "Let me pray first". He told us of Iraqis attempting to get Kuwaitis to renounce Allah, and of raiding mosques during Friday prayers to round up prisoners.
Then we went to Ar-Riqqa to check the market, which was in good shape, but empty, as were all the food stores in Kuwait. The clinic was in good condition, but short on supplies, and the Iraqis had stolen the ambulance. The school, which was used as a barracks and headquarters, was trashed and filthy, as were most of the schools in Kuwait. We ran into more Special Forces people, who were curious about why we were there.
There was a rough scene at the police station. A large patch of blood and a lump of tissue were on the ground outside the front door. Some of the 432nd people who went in said they heard sounds of fighting and cries inside (they reported the incident when we returned to camp). Iraqi prisoners are being held here and the Kuwaitis are probably being pretty rough on them. There are lots of Iraqis still around in civvies. Most of them are trying to hide or escape, but one of them killed two Kuwaiti soldiers the other day. One report claimed that over 1500 had been caught so far.
We had a little free time so we went into Kuwait city. It's an attractive city and not as badly damaged as I feared, though one royal palace had been demolished and quite a few buildings burned. Gulf Road was all but impassable because of a non-stop victory parade up and down the street. People in the mood to celebrate just came out to Gulf Road and paraded up and down. It was exciting. While there, we monitored the radio chatter. CPT Bill Bartleme's team was pinned down by gunfire as local security people chased down an Iraqi. It sounded like a major firefight on the air, but though bullets were flying in the area, they themselves were not targets.
I was both driver and radio man today, since we had a pickup truck. We didn't have an interpreter, but our contacts all spoke English, some perfectly.
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Last Update January 20, 1997
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