MPs are very good at doing something called a “Route Recon.” As the name implies, we go in and look over an area someone will be traveling through. Sometimes this takes us into enemy territory, more often than not, we’re looking over an area that will be used as a Main Supply Route (MSR).
We’re looking for a lot of things to include condition of the road, potential problems, signage (if any – sometimes we have to make out own) and of course anywhere the enemy might be operating or set up little surprises like minefields and etc..
We got up early, tore down our tents, and were headed out my sunrise. I remember crossing the desert along a road we’d used before. Around us, the debris of war was all to obvious. Destroyed tanks and trucks, spare parts littered the landscape. One surprise was passing by the remains of an aircraft. It was just the tail assembly of a plane, and looked like the tail off an F-4 Phantom or a MIG-21. I can only assume it was later.
It wasn’t long before we reached hardball and drove south into Kuwait. Driving into Kuwait we saw the oil well fires. I’ve spoken at length about them and the Highway of Death, and beyond the shock of seeing the devastation war can cause, I’m not going to speak about them today.
Instead, we took a detour into Kuwait City just to check it out. I remember as we we came into it, I was struck with the utter emptiness of the city. The city seemed like a dead thing, lying in state and shrouded in death robes. The Iraqis had trashed the city. Every overpass seemed to have at least one or two fighting positions built to protect it. They were long abandoned. Here and there, several houses had been turned into fortresses, with sandbags up to the rooftops.
I think what surprised me most (but shouldn’t have) was the utter lack of life. The only other vehicles we encountered was a British vehicle driving about.
We turned down a road and headed east towards the Gulf.
We passed several buildings that had been burnt to include the Kuwait City Sheraton. This was the first sign of anyone not military in the city. As we drove past, I took this picture below.
We passed the Sheraton and a few minutes later arrived at the beach overlooking the Gulf. The calm water stretched into the distance with the sun reflecting off the waves. It looked way to calm to have been the site of war, and everything in me just wanted to grab a fishing pole, saunter down to the waters edge, and see what swam in these waters.
But there was a lot to discourage the idea.
Signs everywhere, written in several languages warned of minefields along the shore. Then there was the squat pillboxes and trenches built to give a commanding view of the water approaches. Finally, Saddam’s merry men had been busy putting wire up and down the beach. Additionally, there was tangle foot down to the waters edge. This is wire designed to trip a rushing soldier and make it easy to kill him using small arms fire. Of course, it slows down troops that are rushing in because they don’t want to fall down, making it easier to shoot at them.
Not far from the beach was a structure that looked like a work of art. I’m not sure what it represented, but it looked a lot like a sail on a ship to me. What I found incredible was that it was untouched by everything that had happened around it.
We went to look it over, and what happened there was an encounter so bizarre it felt more like something from the Twilight Zone.
As we were looking it over, we heard a car approaching. Music was playing from the speakers, and when we looked, we saw a small two seat convertible approaching.
Two girls were in the car, and they weren’t dressed in the head to toe black we’d come to expect from Arab women. Instead, they were fashionably dressed as if they just come from a boutique in France. They pulled up and got out. Both girls had on makeup, their hair done, and smelled of fine perfume.
They came up, greeted us, and then gave us each hugs and thanked us for giving them their country back.
Then they got in the car and sped away, leaving only the scent of their perfume on our dusty uniforms.
We stood looking at one another and wondering if what had happened had indeed just happened.
We left Kuwait City, and drove west on Highway 70.
One of the things we’d been assured of before we left was that the roads had been cleared of mines. What’s interesting is no one said anything about the shoulders.
As we drove, we started coming up on a bus. It was a school bus, and wouldn’t have looked too out of place in any neighborhood except it had been painted sand color, and the coalition forces markings were on it. There was a British flag in the back window.
We were still a few hundred meters away from it when it pulled over to the side. Several British soldiers started getting out. Obviously this was a bathroom break in the middle of the desert. We’d done it several times ourselves, and no one thought much about it.
We slowed down out of concern for safety. You could never tell when some half asleep soldier would step out in front of you.
There was the sound of a loud explosion and dust and dirt flew up in the air among the group of men. Several fell over, and the others started to move, and then froze in place as they realized what had just happened. They’d pulled over and gotten off the use the restroom in the middle of a minefield.
We started to stop to help. We had aid bags, and several of our platoon members had received Combat Medic training. Additionally, I was a still a registered EMT at the time. Between us, there was a lot we could do to help.
Funny how a first responder thinks. When everyone else is running from danger, cops, firefighters, and EMS, rush into it. I guess MPs are no exception to that rule.
And we would have if a Brit NCO didn’t start yelling at us to keep moving. I recall the LT yelled back we had medics and he said they did too, and for us to get out of there.
He was right.
We’d have ran in there, and probably just added to the casualty list. Years later, I’d recount the story on Our American Network. You can hear it Here.
About half an hour later we crossed into Saudi Arabia. The border check station on the Kuwaiti side had been sandbagged, but still shot to heck.
We crossed over into Saudi and it was like entering a whole different world.
Gone was the war debris. And unless some Iraqis had snuck across the border, there was no threat from mines. Funny how an invisible line in the sand can make such a world of difference.
We drove till we got to Hafar Al-Batan, and then our Platoon Daddy called us to a halt. We parked, and as we got out, each of us sniffing the air. A wonderful smell drifted through the market place. We all knew it. It was the smell of Gyro meat roasting.
“Grab some lunch,” SFC Gelizeu said.
And we did.
For months we’d been eating either MREs or what came out of T-Ration tins.
We each purchased our lunch from the sidewalk vendor along with a cold Pepsi and chips. Dressed in combat gear, we had a picnic lunch atop and around our vehicles.
With the sun warm on our bodies, we took off our helmets and sat and ate. The simple meal tasted like takeout food from Heaven. The sauce and onions were something forgotten by our tongues, and we each sat eating slowly and just enjoying the taste of real food and each others company. Several of us went back for seconds.
I think we’d have been happy to have sat there for a week or at least until our money ran out and eating Gyros.
But that wasn’t going to happen.
We started off again, and soon, trouble reared it’s head.
The LTs brakes went out.
It was getting late, and so we stopped for the night and camped out in the town square of Al Quasumah.
When we woke up the following morning, we found that a farmers market had sprung up around us.
It was actually rather cool because I had a chance to see the locals in what amounted to a normal environment for them. I’ve no idea where all the produce came from, but it was colorful and the smells of onion and garlic filled the air.
It brought back memories of peddling produce with my grandfather. He’d buy a load of watermelons and cantaloupe from the Rocky Ford area, and he’d set up a stand on the side of the road. We’d sell watermelons, drink soda, and talk.
That’s a lot of what a Farmers Market is about.
An Arab farmer who reminded me of some of my uncles, broke out a small gas powered stove, opened a can of dates, and invited us to sit and enjoy an impromptu breakfast.
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. I’ve been all over the world, and never have I experienced better hospitality than in Saudi Arabia. The people were always warm and inviting and treated a guest like they were the most important person to ever sit at their table.
That’s something that as Americans, we could stand to learn.
He spoke good English, and when he learned that my grandfather came from Lebanon I was treated with the utmost courtesy and respect. He and those with him seemed fascinated by my telling them of my Grandfather, and how I was the result of many different peoples, tribes, and nations.
I recall one asking if the American Indian was still a problem, and I had to explain that I had the blood of several tribes in my veins. They’d heard of the idea of the “Melting Pot” in America, and here sat a man talking with them who was the end product of that idea.
After eating and drinking coffee with him, I thanked him, and continued walking about.
The colors and energy of the market were incredible. I purchased a small case of apples. It had been a while since I had fresh fruit, and I shared the produce with my buddies.
But we still needed to fix the LT’s Humvee and we were several hundred miles from our unit.
After a lot of running around and asking different units, a Syrian unit told us about a group of Army National Guardsman who called themselves “The Road Warriors.” They ran a tow service and had helped them out with a couple of their breakdowns.
We got directions and headed down that way.
We found their camp easy enough. They had several large tents, barb wire around their perimeter, and no one at the gate. We pulled up and looked around. Several large tow trucks sat off to one side, and the sound of music filled the air. The smell of roasting meat drifted over us.
Someone honked a horn, and a minute later this soldier comes out of the tent we’d heard the music coming from.
I use the term “soldier” loosely.
His hair was cut in a Prince Valiant style and he had a goatee beard. His BDU top was unbuttoned and he had both hands thrust in his pockets. he didn’t look like any soldier I’d ever seen. Instead, he looked more like a hippie from the Taos commune that had taken a wrong turn someplace and ended up here.
He walks right up to the LT and says, “What do you want!”
No “Can I help you?”
Just an insolent, “Want do you want!”
The LT went into low Earth orbit on the guy.
The guy doesn’t even bat an eye, and stood there looking at the LT like one would look at a dog barking.
Finally, he pulls a wallet from his back pocket, and opens it and puts it in the LTs face. Inside the wallet is a New York City Police Department badge and ID.
“Sir,” the soldier said. “I’m Officer John Chalker, NYPD. You’re under arrest because I think you’re a pervert!”
The LT stood there with his eyes wide and mouth open.
Somebody said, “Sir. That’s a New York City cop. He ain’t afraid of you.”
Chalker starts laughing and says, “Sorry guys. I couldn’t resist messing with my own kind. What can we do for you?”
We told him, and he says, “Hang on.”
He ran into the tent and came out with a soldier who was one day younger than God. We told him what was going on, and he said, “We can fix you right up.”
They followed us out to the LTs Humvee.
They looked at it, bled the brake system for us, and the vehicle was back in business.
Being a cop, Chalker was of course very interested in what we did, so we had to tell him, and give him the tour of the Hummers.
All in all, a fun day.
We headed back for Iraq, rejoined our unit, and waited.
We all knew we were one step closer to going home.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Like my blog and stories? Check out my novels available on Amazon. I have two out right now, The Cross and the Badge, and Against Flesh and Blood. A third novel, The Judas Tree will be coming out soon. Click on the novel names to be taken straight to them.
As always, thanks for dropping by and for your support. God Bless.