March 9 - 14, 1991

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

The Choke Point and a Chopper Ride

Sat 9 Mar

The wind shifted overnight to the south, and blew smoke over the camp. At 0830 it was still night. Later the Sun became dimly visible as a red ball. Our team signed up for a visit to the "choke point" today. We were supposed to leave at 0900 but there was some concern the tour would not go at all because of the poor visibility. However, we left on schedule. A few miles west of camp it was bright and sunny, and we went from night to day in about a mile. Some of the smaller fires are dying out; one well had only a small flame and oil was flowing on the ground.

The choke point is a few miles west of Al Jahra, west of Kuwait City. There the main road (the only road) to Iraq runs up through a line of bluffs, which are about the only significant relief in Kuwait. The bluffs are not very rugged, and only a couple of hundred feet high, but it is just rugged enough at the top of the bluffs to block wheeled vehicle traffic. On the north side of the road the bluffs come right to the road; on the south side a pipeline trench channelized movement. Tanks would probably have no problem, but wheeled vehicles couldn't make it. Our tanks and planes caught the retreating Iraqis here and smashed them. Once the road was blocked at the top, there was no place to go. We found a miles-long wilderness of burned and abandoned vehicles.

Against regulations, and on a strict promise of secrecy, the driver stopped the bus for 15 minutes. Stopping was discouraged because of plentiful unexploded ordnance. I found an old-style pineapple grenade and a Russian version of the LAW with Cyrillic characters on it. More sobering was a spot about 50 yards of the road where a shell had killed 5 or 6 Iraqis, who were still there. The shell crater was about 10 feet across by 2 deep.

That afternoon our team went to Sabahiya. Food is getting through, and they had rice, powdered milk for infants, oil and bottled water. They had jury-rigged a generator to power the store and police station.

The wind shifted to the west and cleared the smoke away from us for much of the afternoon. In the evening I cleared out some boxes and pallets to make a nicer living area. I was out with my team the first day and did not get a cubicle, so I used boxes to build a wall for a little privacy.

Sun 10 Mar

A busy day. First we went to Sabah-al-Salem. They are getting food, but not enough for everyone, and they cannot easily transport it from the "central" depot at Ash-Shuwaikh, which is actually on the west side of Kuwait and well removed from most of the places that get food. This would be a recurring complaint all day.

Then we visited Egeila. Despite a large U.S. supply unit in town, the Kuwaiti captain told us the town was still not entirely secure. There are a lot of vacant blocks, where Iraqis may still be hiding. In a trash heap nearby were the remains of a still-unburied Iraqi, badly decomposed. A piece of his skull was lying nearby. We went with the captain to check out several Iraqi headquarters buildings; I bet we helped clear them for him. Then we visited an antiaircraft battery on the edge of town. There was a lot of ammo lying about, plus, at one bunker, a large pile of women's clothing. I had seen this before and we would see it again repeatedly; strong evidence for rape.

From an Iraqi headquarters we got a situation board to be translated, but it turned out to contain nothing significant. Egeila was not a nice place, while checking buildings I chambered a round for the first time. Yet the houses are some of the most attractive I've seen.

From Egeila we went on to Fintas. The food situation there was the same as at Sabah as Salem: not enough for everyone and insufficient transport.

Then we went south to Abu Hulaifa. The first odd thing we noticed was the most intricate barricade system we'd yet seen, plus a long line of vehicles waiting to be searched, plus a soldier in a foxhole on guard. From the high-rises I surmised (correctly, it turned out) that this was a Palestinian area. Kuwaitis don't like high-rises; they prefer their own homes of one or two stories. The high-rises are occupied mostly by foreigners. We went down the coast road looking for a housing area that turned out to be nonexistent, or at least misplotted on our map. The tanker terminal here had been fiercely ablaze when we came through on March 5, but the fire was dying out. Evidently the oil in the pipeline had largely burned off.

At another barricade, a Special Forces Humvee stopped us. The 352d was supposed to have warned us to stay out of this area, since Palestinians have been sniping at Americans. Okay, we're out of here. They said somebody had been promising the Palestinians relief supplies. If so, that was big-time stupid, since the US has no control over relief supplies and the Kuwait government line is relief supplies for Kuwaitis only. The SF said they were told the promises were made by someone with a USACAPOC patch. I doubt anyone in USACAPOC would be that rash. There are several unit patches that could be confused with ours, or possibly someone interpreted a statement as a promise when it wasn't meant that way.

We dropped Salem off at his home in Sabahiya, then returned to Camp Freedom.

A lot of Arabs seem genuinely surprised by black Americans. Several have asked CPT Yancy if he's Arab!

Mon 11 Mar

A good day. We started off with a gag. Because of the smoke, plus LTC Christopherson's laryngitis, everyone lined up for 0800 formation wearing blue surgical masks. When MAJ Bob Dickson came up to speak, he said "Good morning, Smurfs". That was too good a straight line to pass up. We all replied "Good morning, Papa Smurf".

We spent the morning checking out Kuwaiti defense installations. One vehicle maintenance complex was hit by two bombs. One had hit the side of the office, blew a large hole in the wall, and took down every ceiling tile in the place. The other hit a maintenance bay and exploded when it hit a roof girder. Shrapnel riddled the heavy, double-walled sliding doors. You could go to any shrapnel hole, look through the mating hole on the inside, and look straight back to the point of burst.

A nearby brigade headquarters had several bomb craters 20 feet across and 6 feet deep, each with a waist-high rim. Another bomb had brought down a radio tower. A Marine detachment was billeted on the base. Their captain told us the Iraqis had a food warehouse here, piled roof-high. By the time we got there, the Kuwaitis had stripped it clean and were sweeping grain off the floor, all in less than a day.

In the afternoon, I finally got my helicopter ride. Our route took us northeast to the coast, around the shore to the Choke Point, then back south through the burning Maqwa oil field. A spectacular trip.

The PX van opened here today. Life is getting a tad more normal. I hand-washed some laundry. The bag I turned in for Quartermaster laundry on Friday only went in this morning. I got a shower in the evening after a half-hour wait.

Tue 12 Mar

One of the darkest days yet, like deep twilight at 1100, and chilly, too. We went to Ash-Shuwaikh and waited around for trucks to escort. When that mission fell through, we went back to Camp Freedom and got electricians to check out the generators at Fintas. We escorted them there and waited from 1230 to 1700. While we were there a truckload of frozen chicken came in, but the freezers aren't running! The Kuwaitis plan to hand it out immediately before it spoils. This was about the most unproductive day yet.

Just south of the co-op at Fintas is a big open area, where the Iraqis dug about the most useless defense position I've seen yet. It's a massive crescent-shaped trench about waist deep, and the sand here is partially cemented so it's not easy digging. Yet the position is too far from the beach to provide cover for the beach, and it faces a street instead of the beach anyway. But the street is 50 meters away and there are trees between the position and the street! I can't figure out what it's supposed to protect or what it's supposed to defend against. Busy work for the troops, maybe. SPC Dale Raby later told me of an even better position he once saw; for sandbags the Iraqis used bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer! Very considerate of them; a self-destructing fighting position!

Wed 13 Mar

Very dark today, but not as dark as yesterday. It was clear along the coast where we worked. Despite the smoke, it was fairly warm. The winds are changeable enough that it is rarely cold even under thick smoke.

First we checked out the food distribution point at Dhaher. Like all sites, it's functioning but short critical items. From the garbage piles, it looks like everyone in Kuwait got frozen chicken yesterday!

We went to the director's house for tea and war stories. He told of one friend who was arrested by the Iraqis. After several days, the family was notified that he would be released. They all turned out to greet him. When he was ten feet from them, the Iraqis killed him. I had heard the same story before, sometimes involving children in their early teens, but never from somebody with such direct knowledge.

He also told of one woman collaborator who sold booze smuggled in from Iraq with the pitch "20 dinars for me and the bottle". His comment: "She's a bitch". For somebody with limited English, he had a surprisingly functional vocabulary of swear words.

Half a mile west of Dhaher is a burning oil well, the closest we can get to one in the open (we pass closer to several on Seventh Ring Road, but never stop). It gives off a steady roar, punctuated by great whooshes and hissing sounds.

In the afternoon we check out the food sites at Hadiya, Riqqa, Sabahiya and Fahaheel. The last evolved into Dodge City, Fort Apache, and the Shootout at the OK Souk. We had accompanied CPT Pressner's team there and were waiting in the parking lot when a burst of automatic weapon fire was shot off. We locked and loaded and sought cover. After a minute or so, I realized that people were not screaming and running for cover, and that whatever it was had not been serious. Later, when visiting the police station, we heard that a guard fired "to calm the crowd". It sure calmed me; a flat EKG is about as calm as you can get!

At the police station we sat around in the troop billet and had yet more tea and an almond sweet that I likened to nut-flavored Spackle. All that tea is hard on the bladder!

Thu 14 Mar

A nice warm sunny day. I got a lot of personal business done, despite a general lack of work for the team. Last night I got the first package from George French with a copy of the NASA Augustine Report and some other things. I read it in the morning, then after we got back in the afternoon I dictated a taped reply and sent it off (it finally got to them six weeks later, after the rest of the Committee had finished its report). That I could get all this done gives some idea of how little work there was to do today!

About 1000 we left with CPT Pressner's team and some mechanics to Fahaheel, to check out their generator, and hung around until 1230. One funny incident took place while we were there. Salem told some of the locals I had been studying Arabic, so they quizzed me. I felt a bit like a three-year old kid, unsure whether to feel embarrassed or complimented. I wondered whether they were going to ask me to sit up and beg, or roll over.

After this we went to Mishref to call home. I talked to Shawn and Brendan for 10 minutes. Thanks to a ten-minute limit and an organized rotation, the line moved quickly.

In the evening I went up on the water tower to photograph the oil well fires, and counted 91. Then I got in two games of cribbage. Emery Maloney and I skunked Todd Frisque and Todd Inman twice. I got a 12-peg, only the second one I've ever seen in my life (the first was over 10 years ago). We had a huge mail call. I got two cards and a letter.

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