Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
Liftoff about 0030, sitting in web seats alongside our strapped-in vehicles. We have to carry web gear, mask, and weapon since we have know way of knowing what conditions will be like when we land. Once airborne, people got up and found places to sleep. I laid down on the web seats, but awoke a couple of hours later very cold and aching. I looked out the window and, to my surprise, saw distant city lights; our flight path probably takes us up the east coast. I guessed the lights might be Halifax or St. John's, judging by the time. Then I laid down on the hood of a truck and slept until 0630 (Bragg time). The plane, a C141, is cold in most places but nice and warm near the heat vents. Later on I found the best spot of all: on top of a pile of duffle bags next to a porthole.
We landed in Ramstein about 1530 local time, and were bused to the mess hall. Ramstein is an attractive base in the hill country near Kaiserslautern. It was nice to eat like civilized people again. I saw my first normal-sized spoon in a month; the spoons at Bragg are all large soup spoons. We waited around the terminal several hours, and finally departed about 2100. Once in the air again, I sacked out in my favorite spot atop the duffle bags. Tue 5 Feb
En route I saw ships' lights in the Mediterranean, and gas flares from oil wells, probably in Egypt. It was still dark when we were ordered to strap ourselves in for landing, but to my surprise, it was daylight when we landed at Dhahran about 0630. the temperature was 60 degrees, a nice change from the 32 degrees in Germany. The scale of the military operations is huge; there were vast lots full of supplies and fighters taking off every minute or so.
First impressions are indelible. I was struck by the warm tropical feel of the air. On one side was a long covered shed with pallets filling some stalls and a fighter plane another. Vast stacks of pallets everywhere. A pair of fighters roared off the runway in tandem. We were met by a couple of friendly officers who welcomed us, pointed to a stack of fruit boxes and fruit juice, and told us to help ourselves.
We took a bus to Khobar Village, where we billeted. [This is the same Khobar that was struck by a terrorist attack in 1996. The terrorist truck bomb parked by the former main gate, near where we parked our vehicles.] The buildings, originally built in a largely futile effort to settle the Bedouins, are seven-story apartment blocks. There are four suites on each floor, each suite with a common room and balcony, kitchen, two bathrooms, and five bedrooms. We had 3-4 people per room. The floors are marble. On the down-side, the elevators are small, slow, and easily-broken, and the sewer pipes are such small diameter that we cannot flush toilet paper. The uniform is full gear, mask, and weapon; even though we're 200 miles from Iraq, post perimeter guards, and have about 10,000 troops in the area.
It's a gorgeous day, warm but with afresh breeze, and reminded me of Hawaii. About 1700 I called Shawn, who was surprised and delighted, and checked out the PX, which was crowded but pretty well-stocked. We met most of our advance group today, though a few are still in the field. I have guard duty tonight, so I went to bed about 1900.
I pulled building guard from 1100 to 0300. The morning was mostly free, so I caught up on lost sleep. The last increments arrived between 0400 and 0600. SSG Connie McNamara brought late mail from Fort Bragg. I got an Arabic dictionary that Shawn had ordered for me plus two huge boxes of goodies from my sisters to share with the troops; candy, nuts, etc. In the afternoon, we unloaded our trucks, a job that got bigger and bigger until we finally got done at 1900. The weather was nice, with enough thin high cloud to moderate the sun. After supper we packed our tents into a couple of trucks, then I went to bed. My roommates are SSG Bob Anderson, one of the advance party, and SSG Keith Chamble, a black NCO from the 308th.
I think this is the anniversary of the day I called Shawn from Antarctica, which I duly commemorated in a letter home. We got up at 0630, then after 0800 formation, the 2nd ACR team met for a briefing. The mission of VII Corps is to find and DESTROY the Republican Guard; not neutralize, but destroy. [I feel sorry for the hapless conscripts we pounded during the air war but nothing but loathing for the Republican Guard. They are among the best-educated citizens of Iraq. They get the best training, equipment and treatment, in return for which they remain loyal to Saddam Hussein. These are the people who could and should be bringing Hussein down, but they sold out. There is no delicate way to phrase it: they are whores.] The 2nd ACR will be in the front but we should be somewhat to the rear ourselves. The mood is somber and apprehensive. I still wonder what kind of a mission there can be for us, since the 2nd ACR area is all but uninhabited. Most of the day is spent in organizing personal gear and team supplies. We are supposed to move out Friday (tomorrow), later changed to Saturday.
I slept poorly, and was not helped by our first Scud alert about 0200. The loudspeakers repeated "Scud ..... launch ...." slowly but it took a while to understand what they were saying. (After a few more, we began parodying the warning, for example, any time someone drove a volleyball out of bounds.) We masked briefly, then got the all clear. I spent all morning tracking down tents; we had been told we had 5 GP Small tents, but we only could locate two. After lunch we pulled out and checked all the tents, a backbreaking job that took a crew of about 15 to do. We found one more tent, but are still missing two. Then we went to NBC class and did maintenance on our mask and weapon.
At 1300 formation we got the word to stand fast; we are not moving out as planned and may get a change of mission. That's a relief since we were not at all ready to move out, missing tents as we were. It's a nice day, but very windy late in the afternoon, and lots of dust.
Well guess what? The mission changed. The 354th Civil Affairs Brigade took over the VII corps Civil Affairs mission. They needed to chop (release) a company to the Kuwait Task Force, and since we are not normally aligned with them, we were picked. I think we got a good deal. We get to stay as a unit, our team doesn't go with the 2nd ACR, and the mission sounds more interesting. I for one am relieved, but we put a lot of work into preparations that didn't pan out (not for the last time, either!). Something had felt out of place ever since we got the 2nd ACR mission -- this "feels right".
In retrospect, I think we did in fact get a good break, but it was a very controversial change among the unit at the time. Some people speculated that the commander maneuvered to get us the mission change for a variety of reasons like keeping his personal command intact or trying to get a more high-profile mission. Some troops attached to field units were angry at being brought back in to a garrison situation and being deprived of a chance to participate in the ground campaign.
We pulled motor stables and returned tents to the supply point in the morning, then I helped conduct NBC training 1000-1200. It helps to have a science background; nobody in the unit had bothered to read the labels on the NBC decontamination kits, for example. One ingredient is sodium hydroxide - lye - an irritant but hardly enough to eat skin away as some people had rumored would happen. I know - I had my hands in a sink full of lye the night before M-day (see 5 Jan). Another ingredient is zinc oxide, obviously for relieving skin irritation, and doubtless what leaves a white film after use (that's why we don't use it on mask lenses)
In the afternoon we returned the rest of our team gear, then had PT. I played volleyball, then did a lap around the compound, about 1.7 miles. It actually felt good to run, believe it or not. Then I walked around and shot a few pictures. Our briefings and handouts made it sound like you take pictures in Saudi Arabia at the risk of your life. In fact, I took pictures of mosques and people and never had the slightest problem.
At 1930 I went to church, the first time in Arabia. 30 people have been pulled for compound guard durty, but the last name pulled was SSG Wally Coyle, just before me. I'm up for the next duty, though.
With 30 people out on guard duty, things are pretty quiet. Morning is spent on church call or cleanup of rooms, masks, and weapons. I have building guard 1100-1500. It's dull but not bad, and beats a lot of other things I could be doing. In the afternoon we have briefings on Kuwait and Marine Corps operations, since we may end up supporting them. Our probable packing date is Tuesday, moving out on Wednesday.
At 1630 some of us went over to the Dhahran PX, which was about like ours; most of the necessities but nothing more. For example, no PX anywhere ever carried slide film. Then we went to the Pentagon chow hall, which was pretty good (but had lousy pizza). Our own mess halls are located in the underground garages at Khobar. We eat on picnic tables. They are run by an outfit called Tamimi Global catering, and have cold, greasy food, poor variety, and poor service. I once came in late from detail and got to the mess hall 5 minutes after closing time; I was lucky to get a slice of bread; everything else was packed away.
SSG Jeff Poh, who builds log cabins in civilian life, has been building things here. He turned the kitchen of the headquarters suite into a workshop, and is the happiest man in Saudi Arabia, though he says he wishes he had logs instead of 2x4's to work with. He put a sign on his workshop: "Home of Jackpine, the Combat Carpenter".
We moved office gear and supplies until 1430, and loaded trucks in preparation for moving out. The rest of the afternoon I spent reading Arabic, as well as taking a short nap. We had a Scud launch alert at 2000, followed by the all-clear at 2017. A second alert came at 2200.
The poor guys on guard duty are on 4 hours and off 4, but with the time it takes to get to and from their posts it works out to 5-3 or worse. They got stuck with a second day because the compound housing directorate heard we're moving and want to get their share of work out of us. Some of them are exhausted.
Not so the advance party, who went to Bahrain today for a little R and R. Fair enough; they were stuck here for Christmas.
I went up to Jubail with the advance party. On the way we passed camels and a sabkha (that means something to a geologist, since Persian Gulf sabkhas, or salt flats, are thought to be present-day analogues of the environments many ancient rocks formed in. One of the Arabic briefers at Fort Bragg was astonished that I knew what a sabkha was!) The desert looks like some of the worst-trashed parts of the Mojave Desert; eco-activism has not caught on here.
We got to Jubail at 1200, waited an hour and a half to draw buildings, then cleaned buildings and unloaded trucks until 1800. We found the fuel point a few miles away, fueled up, and returned to Khobar about 2030.
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Last Update January 14, 1997
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