I pulled building guard from 2300 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.
Last Update January 14, 1997
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