January 15-23, 1991

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

Fort Bragg Drags On

Tue 15 Jan

Dawn was clear and cold. Blood donors did not have PT, but it was still frosty at 0800. We spent the morning in NBC class, including an hour in mask and helmet. I called the Language Center about our schedule conflict; as I feared, the class fell through. The afternoon was free. I boxed some excess gear and sent it home, then went to the PX. Later I called home. Today was the deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait, but it passed uneventfully.

Wed 16 Jan

PT at 0545. It rained all night and the ground was very wet. I spent the morning on Arabic study. We had a thunderstorm followed by a beautiful rainbow about 1100. The afternoon cleared to a gorgeous sunny day. After lunch, we started packing, then I went to church call for a short prayer service. Later we had a briefing on the medical threat in Southwest Asia. This brief was a good example of what turned out to be a common problem: people with limited firsthand knowledge overdramatizing threats. I came to call it the Cowboy Syndrome. By the time this medic was done he had most of the unit too terrified to eat, drink, or touch anything in the Middle East.

We had been scheduled to leave at 0100 on the 19th, but at 1800 we heard our departure date was pushed back to an unknown date. I was waiting to call Shawn at 1830 when someone yelled that the war was on and Desert Shield was now Desert Storm. I got through to Shawn, who had already head the news from my sister Louise in California! She also heard from Chris Haglund in the support group that LTC Ken Bukowski had gotten orders extending him for a year. We also heard from the CO that four Iraqi hit squads were reportedly in the US, one in North Carolina. The base is now at Threatcon Bravo: closed except for one entrance, and barracks guards must be posted at night. The general feeling is disbelief coupled with relief that the war has started before we got over there.

Thu 17 Jan

No PT due to threat condition. We formed up on the parade field to hear a short address by BG Hurteau. I spent the rest of the morning working on Arabic and gave a class at 1130. After lunch we had briefings on handling displaced civilians (DC's) and dealing with culture shock, then I gave a second class at 1600. The weather today was beautiful and sunny. At 1800 we met to go to the company party at the NCO club. The food was mediocre and insufficient in quantity. Many of us spent the evening watching war news, featuring the first Scud attacks on Saudi and Israel.

Fri 18 Jan

When I got home from the party at midnight I locked my keys in my locker, so I had to wait for SSG Mitchell to bring the bolt cutters and missed PT (I'm on profile: I can't go out to PT in my underwear!). I got out in time to complete the run. It was frosty at dawn, but developed into a nice, sunny day. We went to supply for still more clothes, then I spent the rest of the morning on Arabic and personal business. In the afternoon I taught a class on counting in Arabic, then I was followed by briefings on history by Wally Coyle, and training on the functional CA teams. We heard that our load date has been pushed back to 3 Feb, and the next PT test, scheduled for tomorrow, is cancelled. At evening mail call I got a box of cookies from Louise. I wrote 3 letters, but couldn't make a phone call because the lines were too long.

Sat 19 Jan

Dawn was beautiful but the rest of the day was cold and gray with some rain. We had PT at 0550, then spent the morning on motor training, which was held outdoors in the cold and wind. I did a language class at 1130 and a terrain walk at 1300 (how do you spend an hour telling people the area of operations is utterly flat and uninhabited?) The rest of the afternoon was spent on classes on Arabic culture, by SPC Tom Winchell, and security. Then I called home. Shawn thought we were already on our way and was delighted to hear we were staying until 3 February. In the evening we went to the JFK Center for a class on terrorism. We weren't happy about losing our free evening, and the class was so poor that it made our tempers worse. In two hours we got perhaps 20 minutes of useful material. The sergeant giving the class was trained in counter-terrorism, but from the way he fumbled over the slides it was obvious he was unfamiliar with his materials and not properly prepared. He ran out of time just as he was getting to the potentially useful material on personal countermeasures.

Sun 20 Jan

A free day, cloudy early on, then nice and sunny. I slept in till 0730, went to chow and church, then slept a bit more. Spent the day mostly studying Arabic, doing laundry, and relaxing.

Mon 21 Jan

A clear but chilly day. We had PT at 0550 on the wet ground, then did vehicle maintenance and language training. Big event of the morning was an inventory of essential gear; mine was good to go. After lunch we loaded the trucks for departure. After supper I found an open phone (no waiting!) and called Shawn and my folks.

Tue 22 Jan

Clear but very cold and windy. Sunny all day but no warmth. PT at 0600, then spend much of the morning being briefed by a MAJ Bechtel who spent 4 months in Saudi, with no days off. He was generally very informative.

In retrospect, early-deployed troops had some things better and other things worse than those, like us, who deployed later. By the time we deployed, most of the worst shortages had been cured. We never lacked for batteries or toilet paper. On the other hand, early-deployed troops (poor Major Bechtel was an exception!) often had opportunities to get out into the local economy or meet local nationals that were denied to later arrivals.

MAJ Bechtel told an interesting story about Saudi justice. An Air Force soldier had been having an affair with a Saudi woman. They were found out, the military quickly shipped the soldier out of Saudi Arabia, and she was arrested and publicly beheaded. Later in Saudi, I heard the same story from SSG Bob Haglund, one of our advance party, except this time it was a Marine. My first reaction, like everyone else, was to think how horrible it must be for the soldier to have such a thing on his conscience. Later on, after learning more about Saudi culture, and especially after being there myself, I began to see more and more holes in the story.

In short, this story has all the earmarks of an urban legend. Between the medical brief and this story, some of our less experienced troops were positively terrified of going to Saudi Arabia; they were convinced the Saudis would take violent offense at the slightest inadvertent misstep.

After MAJ Bechtel's talk (which was really pretty good, notwithstanding my comments above), I did a short language class. In the afternoon, most of the unit went on the confidence course. Elliott, Coyle and I went to the JFK Center and did other errands. I was very homesick all day, but a call home in the evening helped.

Wed 23 Jan

Dawn was clear, with heavy frost but no wind. BG Hurteau was not happy with some units not showing up for PT, so he ordered all the CA companies to form up on the parade field at 0545. The result was entirely predictable: the mass formations lasted about two days. Hurteau did slip into our morning run formation on a number of occasions and complimented us on our workouts.

At 0800 formation there was a nice moment. LTC Climek, our chief validator, said he had been proud to work with us. Then he presented an amulet to LTC Christopherson. Climek got it for saving a Montagnard's life in Vietnam with instructions to pass it on at the right time to another warrior. The amulet was 200-300 years old and Climek was the 25th person to own it. It had always been owned by a warrior and no one who carried it had ever been harmed in battle. Now LTC Christopherson is the 26th owner. We all felt that this was quite an honor for all of us.

The rest of the morning was spent on motor stables, communications classes, and yes folks, Arabic again. In the afternoon we had a class on NCO development, which ended up being a bitch session, then a class on setting up DC camps by CPT Gerald Watson. He had me busy the past few nights translating signs; not easy without a good dictionary. I had to go through an Arabic military dictionary page-by-page looking for the right words. The miracle is that I found about half the entries he wanted. The 418th CA Company from Missouri sat in on the class. After they left, we tried to simulate screening and inprocessing, but it was near chow time and the exercise degenerated into mass horseplay.

In morning Arabic class, held in the Reserve Center on Fort Bragg, someone found an Arabic dictionary. I left a note in case anyone asked but hoped nobody would claim it. Actually I located the owner on Wednesday, 30 Jan.

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