March 4 - 8, 1991: On Patrol in Kuwait

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

Mon 4 Mar

T-rations for breakfast, our first hot meal since leaving Jubail (11 consecutive MRE's, and 13 out of the last 15 for me). It was a busy and somewhat productive day. We led a convoy of trucks from the fairgrounds to Ash-Shuwaikh with MP escorts. We had been frustrated for days over the inaction of the food relief efforts. The holdup was a debate over who would hand out the food, where, and how. The government wanted the food presented as a gift from the Emir, and was reluctant at first even to use the local food co-ops. The Kuwaiti Resistance already had their own plans for relief, but the government was reluctant to let them assume too large a role. Meanwhile, food trucks sat in our compound. Once we were rolling, we saw two Kuwaitis investigating a body by the roadside. After dropping the convoy off, we went back to lead a second convoy. The convoy was held up when a shot rang out and the MP's sent someone off to investigate; they found nothing. Stray shots were common in Kuwait, mostly what we came to call "happy fire": celebration.

Driving in the Arab world follows the "rule of eye contact". If you make eye contact with another driver, he assumes you see him and are prepared to react to his moves. In Kuwait many intersections were blocked by a median down the more important street. To make a left turn, a driver drove to the middle of the block and made a U-turn through a gap in the median, then drove back to complete his turn. It was less dangerous than allowing left turns across traffic.

After leading the second convoy to Ash-Shuwaikh, we went off to CPT Bartleme's area, leading a maintenance truck. I nicknamed him Bad Luck Bartleme today; yesterday he got shot at, today a truck trailer tipped. When we got there, the trailer was tilted about 30 degrees. One of the front jack pads had simply punched through the pavement, leaving a neat hole, and sunk two feet into the sand. I wouldn't have believed it was physically possible if I hadn't seen it. I can only surmise they didn't compact the ground before paving it and the sand settled.

From there we went to Sabahiya to allow Salem, our interpreter, to visit his family. While the rest of us were waiting, the family across the street invited us in for tea. It was very dark outside because of the smoke, and the house was dimly lit by kerosene lamp. The woman's brother was a high-ranking officer in the Kuwait Army. He had been taken off to Iraq, and she had no idea where he was. She began to cry as she told us.

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Tue 5 Mar

We went off with the G sector team to check out fire stations in Manqaf and Fahaheel. Then we checked out schools in Sabahiya. For the most part, I manned the radio today. Salem, our interpreter, visited his family and they had us in for a traditional Arab meal of rice, lamb, and warm pita bread. We came to nickname these meals "goat grabs". We all sat on the floor. They provided us with bowls and spoons, but they ate traditional style, by hand. It was delicious, and a very moving gesture from people who have been under great hardship for the past seven months. Many Kuwaitis had managed to hoard enough food for some time yet, but for others the food situation was getting serious.

A southeast wind blew smoke over the camp. When we came back at 1730 it was bright and sunny a few miles away but literally night at the camp. It had rained off and on all day, sometimes heavily. The runoff from the roof is jet black. The roof of our billet leaks through a shrapnel hole (I later found the piece that made the hole) and someone set out a bucket to catch the drips. The water is literally black as ink.

The shower point is now up in the compound. I had my first shower in a week. The shower tent is so foggy you can't see across it. Our billet is a warehouse formerly owned by the Kuwait Ministry of Education. The place is full of steel storage cages measuring about 6 feet on a side, stacked two high. They are normally used for storing books, but people have turned the empty ones into individual living spaces. We use boxes of books to build walls, stairs, and so on.

The camp is called Camp Freedom. The required uniform in camp is helmet, mask, weapon, and web gear. For a while we even had to take our mask and helmet to the shower, although ARCENT rescinded that rule. Combat units camped nearby wear only BDU's and soft cap in their compounds. A full colonel, whom we nicknamed COL Chinstrap, goes around reprimanding people who did not have the chinstraps fastened on their helmets.

Wed 6 Mar

We got up at 0600 to leave at 0700 to call home. We were looking for a prominent radio tower, but it was so smoky and hazy it took us an hour and a half to find it. The telecommunications center in Mishref was crowded with people trying to call. A trailer with about 20 phones for Allied and U.S. forces was crowded but the line (mob) moved quickly. I woke Shawn at about 0300 her time; she was thrilled. The Kuwaitis often wait six hours to make a call. We got back to camp by 1030, by which time the wind had shifted and cleared the smoke away.

Despite the thickness of the smoke from burning oil wells, the smoke pall was not very dramatic when seen from outside. It was usually dull gray and looked like thick haze. Often, on hazy days, it could not be seen at all.

In the afternoon, some of us went out on a truck loading detail, but stopped first along the beach to see Iraqi positions. While checking out an abandoned tank, I spotted a red cloth on the ground and picked it up, thinking it was a Kuwaiti flag. It wasn't - it was Iraqi! SSG Bob Anderson had just stepped over it; he was furious! To the end of deployment, he kept referring to it as "his" flag. The actual detail turned out to be minor. Later that evening we unloaded two truckloads of medical supplies just as it began to rain.

My war souvenir brings up the issue of souvenir hunting. Initially we were told that the slightest souvenir collecting was good for a term in Leavenworth. The actual regulations turned out to be quite reasonable, and just what any soldier could have figured out from common sense: no weapons, explosives, or looted private property. However, as the word came down the chain of command, each level of command embellished the story a little for effect.

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Home Sweet Warehouse

gwh306a.jpg (40309 bytes) View from the loading dock showing light from the oil fires.

Thu 7 Mar

The slight damage in Kuwait has left many teams with little in the way of a mission. CPT Wayne Huempfner went out and found one. The handicapped hospital in Sulaibikhat is low on the priority list of places to repair, so he got permission to seek volunteers to help out. Since my team had a light day, I volunteered to go out. The job mostly entailed mopping floors in some vacant rooms plus four wards of severely retarded children. The place is grubby from lack of maintenance but otherwise not in too bad shape.

At supper, Wally Coyle, Bill Seija and I had a German rap session. There was no mail for me today after three consecutive days of letters. Can't win them all. The weather today was sunny and quite nice.

Fri 8 Mar

I went to the hospital again, and spent most of the morning guarding vehicles. In the afternoon I helped mop up and unloaded a flatbed full of relief supplies. The stockroom manager had absolutely no concept of how to stack things, and ended up with teetering piles stacked nearly to the ceiling. I only hoped we would get out before a pile fell on someone. I was scheduled to get on a chopper flight today, but it was cancelled.

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