February 21-27, 1991

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

Al-Jubail and Tapline Road

Thu 21 Feb

We spent the morning on DC briefings. We started with an excellent briefing by a Mr. Cooney from the State Department, whom we would see again in Kuwait and yet again in Kurdistan.[Note: Cooney disappeared in Chechnya in 1995 and was probably killed. Not everyone who dies for their country dies in uniform.] He likened the damage during war to that of a severe earthquake, and noted the survival problems are the same: good chances of rescue from collapsed buildings in the first day or two, virtually no survivors after five days. He also noted that human rights problems are likely to be most acute ten days or so after liberation; after the immediate trauma has passed but while animosities are still strong, order is not yet restored, and weapons are widely available. He then reviewed the different legal categories of displaced persons, and the MP's demonstrated how to do personal searches. The afternoon consisted of long, boring classes on commo, designed mostly to fill blanks on the training schedule.

One of our junior enlisted was called on the carpet for telling too much about our mission in letters home, so I decided to call Shawn and tell her not to discuss my letters with anyone. In the actual event, I didn't need to worry; we were long in Kuwait before any of my letters from Jubail reached her! I was waiting for the phone when a Scud alert sounded. I ducked into the mess hall and waited. Long after the Scud should have been intercepted or the all-clear sounded, I decided to go out and make my call. That's one way to get a phone! I was on the phone when the all-clear siren sounded. Shawn heard it and asked what it was, and I said "nothing", which was the truth, more or less. She had gotten one of my letters from Khobar and had sent me some. She had also gotten orders extending me to a year, but Aggie Christopherson, the commander's wife, expressed the opinion that we would be home by summer (I hoped fervently!) Between the phone call and the Scud, I didn't get any PT in today. It was cloudy, windy, cool and humid all day.

Fri 22 Feb

A sonic boom about 0515 shook the building. Some suspected a Scud but I listened for, and heard, a jet engine sound immediately afterward. This was another day where an hour of training stretched out all day. In the morning LTC Ohmart briefed us on the medical situation, then we broke into platoons for common task training. CPT Haney taught the first platoon (my platoon) techniques of mine and booby trap detection, mostly the method of using a hanging string to detect tripwires. In the afternoon a class on convoy procedures. After class, we played volleyball against the 403rd CA Co. (Doug's unit), winning two out of three. These were some of the best games I've ever played in, with long, well-fought volleys. I did catch a volleyball on the bridge of my nose and got a nasty cut from my glasses. Then I ran 2-1/3 laps (about 2.5 miles).

The weather all day was downright weird. It was very chilly, and although the sun was bright it gave little warmth. The sky overall was dark gray, as if a thunderstorm were coming.

In the evening, I went to the rec hall for a video: Robo-Cop. I was curious to see how much had been cut for TV; it turned out, not much. (My kids have no difficulty reconstructing the original language!)

Sat 23 Feb

Uncle Saddam sent us a wakeup at 0515, a Scud Launch. We got the all clear a few minutes later. The weather is the same weird sky as yesterday, and there is some speculation it may be due to smoke from burning oil wells in Kuwait (In fact, this is the case. We later see satellite photos taken during this time showing thick smoke plumes extending down the coast from Kuwait) It's quite chilly, about 50 degrees at 0930, and we can faintly see our own breath, a dramatic illustration of the "nuclear winter" effect. The sky is slightly blue overhead but dark gray toward the horizon. It's sunny, but the sun is dim.

In the morning we heard a briefing by Red Cross worker Sandra Williams. She was an employee of Kuwait Airlines when Iraq invaded, and finally left a month later. This was one of the few briefings we have had that anyone considered worthwhile. We were impressed with her courage in turning herself in to the Iraquis rather than continue to endanger her hosts, and for returning as a Red Cross volunteer. Besides, she was quite attractive, and there's nothing like a cute stewardess to get the troops fired up! Afterward we split up for team meetings, mostly dedicated to griping about the lack of intel, without which planning was futile.

In the afternoon we had a class by the Marines on mines, again a useful and interesting class. Afterward I gote in some volleyball for PT, then reported for staff duty NCO at 1700. CPT Gerald Watson is duty officer.

Sun 24 Feb

I slept from 0000-0300, then gave Watson a turn. About 0700 we got the news that the ground war was on. After we were relieved, Watson and I helped the 352d decipher the dashboard of their new German Army truck. I got a couple of hours sleep, then went to Mass at 1130.

It rained a bit overnight. The sky is cloudy but not dark as it was the previous two days. It rained sporadically throughout the day.

In the afternoon, MAJ Bob Johanson gave us an update briefing on Kuwait, then I took a nap to finish catching up on my missing sleep. The video tonight is "Running Man", some good, mindless escapism.

Mon 25 Feb

Another slack day. In the morning we had a class on conduct of defensive operations; how to prepare foxholes and guard perimeters. In the afternoon we had a dry run to see how well the vehicles could carry their assigned personnel and gear, and began packing to move up to Kuwait. For PT, Wally Coyle, Jim Koehler and I played soccer against Dave Torbenson, Dale Raby and Lahela Corrigan. We got clobbered 9-1. I heard 1SG Gerlach looking for volunteers to go to King Khalid Military City (KKMC) to pick up some more vehicles, so I volunteered. It will be a good chance to get out of the compound and see a little of Saudi Arabia. I went to bed at 1930 since we have an 0400 wakeup.

Today I answered 3 "any soldier" letters, one from a school in DePere, one from a woman in Castro Valley, California (ten miles from my parents' home!) and one from New Hampshire.

Tue 26 Feb

Up at 0430, loaded by 0500. No breakfast, because of our early departure time. Then we waited for an hour for the 431st and 352nd, who are late; they did have breakfast.

It took until 1430 to get to KKMC. We had MRE's for breakfast and lunch on the bus. The other bus got a broken fan belt, so we had to stop to fix it. We stopped just outside a town called Al-Qaysumah that seemed to subsist entirely on auto salvage. Since the route we took was the infamous Tapline Road, they had lots of business. There was an overturned bulldozer, evidently fallen off an equipment transporter, on the edge of town. The buses had scarcely stopped when a tow truck came by to see if he could drum up a little more business. While we were waiting, I was looking off at the town when CPT Haney remarked that it looked almost Biblical. I replied that I didn't recall any mention of auto junkyards in the Bible!

We arrived at KKMC and waited until 1700 in a driving rain with wind gusts of 40 MPH that shook the bus. The radio was giving bulletins about the rapid ground advance into Kuwait. We grumbled that we were going to spend the liberation of Kuwait in a parking lot at KKMC. Actually, the snafu at KKMC wasn't really anyone's fault; the sergeant we were supposed to see about the paperwork had been sent off on an errand by his CO, and the vehicles at KKMC were in such bad shape that it would have been asking for real trouble to try to return that day. There really was no choice but to spend the night. We went to chow and slept in a dorm building. We had thunderstorms that evening.

Wed 27 Feb

Up at 0600, without shave or shower since none of us had really expected to stay the night and had brought no equipment. Then we ate in the mess hall, which was beautiful. KKMC is nicknamed the Emerald City for its green-roofed mosque in the headquarters area. We got a glimpse of it on the way out; it's beautiful. One of Jack Anderson's columns referred to the Emerald City as top secret; even the name and location are classified. That was a real laugh, since everyone in Saudi knew where the place was and a large fraction had been there. We went back to the motor pool by 0800, spent until 1100 milling around and checking out vehicles, then left for the trip back.

Between KKMC and Hafr-al-Batin, about 50 kilometers, I saw three recently-wrecked fuel tankers. At Hafr-al-Batin we picked up Tapline Road and headed southeast. For the next 2-3 hours, the landscape is the flattest and most barren imaginable; there is absolutely nothing to the horizon taller than stubby grass, which was surprisingly green because it had been an unusually rainy winter. This is the only landscape I have ever seen without the slightest trace of water erosion; whatever water erodes during storms is erased or filled in by the wind during dry times. You could not drive more than a mile or so cross-country in any desert in North America without running into a gully, and the bushes would make cross-country driving a chore. Here you could drive for miles in any direction. I had heard of Kuwaiti refugees striking off cross-country in their cars; now I know how they could do it.

The overturned bulldozer at Al-Qaysumah was still there. There are innumerable wrecks along Tapline Road, many mangled beyond recognition. The most interesting part of convoying was meeting oncoming convoys of HET's (heavy equipment transporters) with Abrams tanks. They take up the entire opposite lane right to the center line, and roll along at 60 MPH. They are definitely the top of the food chain on Tapline Road!

CPT Haney and CPT Pitts have distinctly different ideas on how to run a convoy, and it wasn't very long before we caught up with Pitts' serial, even though he had half an hour's head start. Fortunately, they soon turned off to pick up more vehicles at one of the other logistics bases and we passed them. We did up to 75 on the open road, less in congested areas. At one point, two vehicles weaved in and out of our convoy and passed us; a few miles farther on we caught up with them. The lead vehicle had rear-ended a slower truck, and the second one rear-ended the first. Fortunately, the damage was minor and nobody was hurt. About halfway between KKMC and Jubail the landscape is one of buttes and mesas, and I caught a rock in my windshield there. My truck had no lights, so as it was getting dark, approaching Jubail, I resorted to using my hazard flashers so the Saudi drivers would see me. We finally got in about 1830. We had heavy rain and thunderstorms all night.

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