One of my favorite TV shows is one called “What On Earth . . .”
It’s about this: we know there are hundreds, if not thousands, of satellites with a camera watching the earth continuously. A lot of times, they spot something interesting or weird. And a story gets built up around that.
Intrigued that they often spot things that are thousands of years old, I wondered if I might not find imagery of the site 501st MPs occupied in Saudi Arabia before the Gulf War.
So, I got up on Google Earth and went looking.
I had a couple of challenges here.
First, I never wrote down the Lat-Long of the site. I had a map that an aircraft might use, and I found our location on it using our LORAN device.
The Gulf War was called the First GPS war, but many of us used other means to find our way around. Without landmarks to navigate by, finding your way around the desert and the ocean had a lot in common. More than a few times, I wished I’d packed my sextant along.
LORAN uses triangulation to find its place in space. You have several transmitters across the world that send out pulsed radio signals. The device receives the signals, and through a mathematical process, figures out where it is in relation to them.
The other challenge I had was my sense of direction was always screwed up while we were in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait. Despite watching where the sun came up and set, the stars’ motions, and using a compass, I had to stop and think about which direction was North.
All of that made my life a little more complicated when I went looking for our site.
The most significant reference point I had was the town of Al Quasumah. I located it and started looking up the highway in the direction I wanted to find.
It didn’t take me long to find something familiar. The oil pipeline was on the map.
A large berm had been built over it, so heavy equipment could be moved from one side of it to the other without running the risk of crushing the pipe. Sending the tanks over the berm was how we got tanks from the hardball out to the desert.
Now, this is where things worked for me a bit. One of the first things the army engineers had done was to make roads across the desert. Of course, this was to move military vehicles, but some of them were still visible even after all these years.
I followed them out into the desert a little, and I found something. After all these years, I hadn’t expected to see anything that could have been our camp.
Yet there it was.
Unless I’m mistaken, this is what’s left of 501st MPs base in Saudi Arabia.
(I hunted the artifact down again, and here’s the lat-long. 28.247850, 46.251194. That’s pretty close to what I have on my map.)
When we first arrived, someone had gone ahead of us and set up eight large tents. Each was big enough to house a platoon, with a tent left over for the women and a headquarters tent. A burn pit, latrines, and piss tubes had been put in for us or dropped off.
Soon, with fears of a pre-emptive strike by Saddam and his merry men, we began digging in. A little while later, an engineering detail showed up with a road grader and a bulldozer and bulldozed a parameter around the camp.
Several days later, a Bradley showed up and I don’t know what they were doing, but they drove the Bradley into the ditch and then back out. Maybe they were testing it.
I could see discolorations in the terrain where the fortifications we dug had been in the overhead imagery. I could also see where the burn pit was. The foxholes and pits had been bulldozed in. I don’t know who came behind us and took care of that, but it makes sense. The locals and nomads always crisscross the area, and sooner or later, someone would drive into them, and that would hurt.
I remember looking at the overhead imagery, my eyes tracing the outline of the camp. Briefly, I looked over the burn pit, my eyes seeing the foxholes others had dug and the scar where we (6th Platoon) had dug out bunkers and trenches.
The place had been home for a very short few months. Yet, it had been an important part of my life.
If I stopped and thought about it, I could still hear my buddies sleeping around me in the tent. Or the soft rustle of an evening breeze against the tent fabric. I could hear someone up lighting the stove in the morning and the inviting aroma of coffee as the percolator started making the coffee.
And I can see their faces again. I know we’ve all gotten older. Most of us are parents, some of us grandparents. And I’m sure some of those people in the pictures are no longer with us.
In my memory, we’re still a bunch of kids.
That small patch of ground represented a separation in our lives from the old to the new. It was a cocoon of sorts. When we came out of it, we were very different people.
Now it was just scars on the desert. Someday, it might not even be that.
But maybe thousands of years from now, some future archeologist will excavate the site. They might find the bottle I left behind. It contains a 1st Armored Division patch, MP collar brass, and a piece of weathered paper with our names if they do.
I wonder if they’ll wonder anything about who we were?