A long time ago in the Gulf War, I took about a hundred million pictures (okay slight exaggeration) of 1st Armored Division 501st MPs. Over the next several days, weeks, and months, I’m going to start scanning and posting them. I was officially the unofficial photographer of the unit and had tried hard to record who we were, and how we lived.
So, stay tuned for that. I will also use the page as an excuse to start coming out from the Shadow of Will Ablan. (Hmmm, good title for a book there). It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out Will Ablan is really a very thinly disguised Richard Muniz.
I also made a promise years ago that I’d get the pictures out there (we looked at photobooks, yearbooks, and so on, just too expensive). So members of 501st MPs, feel free to download them and consider it a promise fulfilled.
Here’s the first of the many pictures that will make it in here. It’s yours truly standing in in front of my Humvee.
Our adventure began December 14th, 1990. It had snowed in Ansbach. That was the only snow I’d see that year. We were up before the sun, getting our rooms closed out, drawing
weapons, and getting our bags downstairs for transport. Buses showed up, and good byes were made.
We were confined to barracks the night before. Most of us had ordered food in. My last meal in Germany was Spaghetti Carbonara ordered from a small restaurant just down the block. Felt a little like a guy waiting for his own execution, but I’m sure most everyone felt that way.
The next morning we had a light meal. The kitchen was already closed down and the next food we ate would be MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, or meals Rejected by Ethiopia – take your choice).
I think it was especially hard on the married guys, or those with young children. I think what the hardest part was that we were just a few weeks away from Christmas.
It’s unfortunate, we couldn’t pick the day we left, but that’s the way it goes for a soldier. Many of the families had celebrated Christmas weeks before we left.
That morning, the normally bustling kaserne (barracks) was quiet. The field artillery guys who shared the kaserne with us had shipped out a few days before.
By evening, except for a few folks left behind to keep an eye on things, it would be quiet there.
We boarded buses and were driven to the airport in Nuremberg. A Pan-Am 747 waited to fly us to Saudi Arabia..
It would be several hours before we boarded. Cots had been set up and many of us took advantage of that and caught a quick nap, or just tried to relax.
Several hours later, we’re en route to Saudi Arabia. Suffice it say, it was a party at thirty thousand feet with unlimited sodas, in flight movies, and stewardess that looked after us. I remember watching “She Devil” with Rosanne Barr. I’d have preferred a western, but hey, it was free, and not a half bad movie. Here’s a page I put together showing pictures from that flight.
Never in my life would I have dreamed of flying into combat with movies, stewardesses, and first class accommodations. My uncles who served in WW II got to their battlefields on a ship. I doubt there was the luxury we had. I’ve seen the old movies with guys smoking and playing cards to pass the time. I’m sure most of them threw up all the way over.
Now here I was, flying into combat. It was more like flying cross country for a business meeting.
Sometime I wonder who goes to bed nights, and dreams this stuff up.
The party atmosphere changed as we approached Saudi Arabia. As we turned to land, and the lights came down low, the plane quieted. I remember looking out the window and seeing the city of Dhahran spreading out in front of us. I don’t know what I expected. I guess I’d expected the city to be blacked out like the cities were in World War II. But not here. The place was lit up. I could see the runway, and as I watched, I saw several bright, star-like object race down it and head up into the sky. They were fighters launching into the sky. A Combat Air Patrol (CAP) was already standing by.
A few minutes later, we landed. Reality now slapped us in the face. I remember as we rolled past a connecting runway, I had a glimpse of an F-15 sitting there with people around it. What caught my attention was the plane had missiles under its wings. White ones. It was loaded for combat.
We stopped a few minutes later and got out. We stood in the sand as our duffel bags were unloaded. A few minutes later, we picked them up and waited for someone to tell us what to do next.
What to do next turned out to be get some sleep. Buses wouldn’t be here until after sunrise, and we were hours away from that. I put my duffel and ruck down in the sand next to a busy runway. Spread about me were the two hundred plus people who’d flown with me.
With jet fighters screaming down the runway, helicopters flying overhead, and engines whining, we lay down and slept.
The next morning was a blur. The buses arrived, and I have a vague recollection of getting our stuff and boarding them. I put my duffel in the overhead bin, sat down, and looked down at my feet. There was a hole rusted through the bottom of the bus. As we started off, I looked through the hole and could clearly see the ground passing under us. I found it remarkable that the bus was even running. I should have felt concerned. I didn’t. Instead I fell asleep again. I woke up once to see my side of the bus headed into another bus. I remember saying to myself, “Boy, go back to sleep. You’re about to be part of something you don’t want to know about.”
Remarkably, I did.
I felt like I slept forever. When I woke up, we were just a stone’s throw from a large oil refinery. Someone with a sense of humor had made a sign and hung it up like one would a city limits sign, or a sign for a fancy hotel. It was tent city, and they’d named it the Dew Drop Inn. We’d be there for a week or so until our vehicles caught up to us.
Here’s some stuff I put together that came straight from the old photo albums.
After several days, our Humvees caught up to us. We were relieved that they’d arrived safely. We stowed a lot of gear inside them, and it was all there. SP4 Doty had traveled on the ship with them, kept an eye on things, and he said he had a good time on the voyage.
We’d been pretty much sitting on our butts despite some light training. Then we got a mission. I’d heard a bomb was found just outside the entrance to the Dew Drop Inn. I’m not sure how true that was, but something prompted someone to start taking things a little more seriously.
With security suddenly an issue, someone realized there was a company of MPs doing nothing. Since we had our vehicles, we could patrol the camp and its area. After all, that is the job of an MP, to secure the rear area.
There was one small problem with the idea. We had no bullets. I guess we could have thrown rocks.
We finally got one box of ammo per M-60 machine gun. There was about a hundred rounds each. That would have lasted about four seconds in a fire fight. But we patrolled the camp, and made a show of force that might keep any would be terrorists or the like away.
We had this mission for just a few days. Finally, word came that were moving out. We didn’t have a clue where we were headed, but move out is exactly what we did.
It turns out we were moving inland. We left early in the morning, and convoyed out to TAA Thompson, a large, spread out area near a small town. I thought I’d seen the middle of nowhere before.
I was wrong.
On 22 December, we officially arrived at the middle of nowhere.
We were about a mile or two from a small community called Al Qaysumah. Someone had gone ahead of us and erected a tent base for us. For the next month or so, that would be home.
A mission we picked up quickly was what we called Checkpoint Bravo (I don’t think it ever really had a name). All it was was the turn off from the main highway and out to the the desert. It seems we spent most of our time there yelling at drivers to put on their
The engineers had dug out a pit where we could park our Humvee. But it rained and the pit turned into a swimming pool. Needless to say, we didn’t park in there.
One of the coolest things that happened occurred with SSG Hahr. He’d come to us from recruiter duty, and now he was standing alongside a dusty MSR (Main Supply Route) along with everyone else.
A truck pulls off the road to turn down towards the division assembly area, and the driver of course didn’t have his helmet on. SSG Hahr went to tell the driver something, and got a reaction he didn’t expect. The driver almost fell out of the truck laughing, looks up at the sky, and says, “Thank you, God. My recruiter is here with me.” It was a nice reunion for them.
Life at TAA Thompson was rather uneventful. Christmas day brought our first sandstorm, and it was a very gloomy day for us all. The stove was going full blast, but it
barely kept the cold at bay. I think that’s one thing that caught us by surprise, was just how cold the desert can get. I guess in retrospect, that shouldn’t have been a surprise since there’s really nothing out there to hold the heat. I was thankful for cold weather gear.
Some of the guys cut up an MRE box and drew a Christmas tree onto it.
Everyone wanted to be anywhere except there. I remember lying back and thinking of the Kringle Market in Nuremberg, and buying a glass of warm Gluhwein. The Christmas before I’d done just that, and walked around looking at the different booths. I remember it was snowing, and the snowflakes fell into the drink like tiny meteors hissing to their death. My Christmas dinner was a Chicken and Rice MRE. I gave myself a treat, tossed it on the stove, and heated it up.
Lt. Bielecki and SFC Gallizou disappeared for a while. We didn’t think anything of that. That evening they came in, told us to grab out gear and go down to the checkpoint. So we got dressed, grabbed our rifles, and convoyed down to the checkpoint. We had a nice surprise waiting for us. They had gone into town and purchased soda pop and snack cakes. SSG Honor was a PK (Preacher’s Kid) and had a put together a small service for us. He preached from John 3:16, and talked about how Jesus had taken on flesh and died for our sins. Afterwards, we had one of the strangest communions I’ve ever been part of. A single slice of bread had been torn apart, and we had a juice container like a kid would have in his lunch. We each got a piece of bread from a canteen cup, and a sip of juice. It was one of the most meaningful communions I’ve ever partaken of. Afterwards, we hugged and talked, ate our cakes and drank our soda like the big happy family we were.
One of our constant fears was that Saddam would do a preemptive strike on us before we got to strength. We still had very little ammo, but we did dig in, just in case. We built a series of bunkers connected by trenches. It was back breaking work. Digging into the
Saudi Desert wasn’t like trying to chop through armor plate, but it was pretty close. It took us several days to get it the way we wanted. The bunkers were large and, all things considered, comfortable.
We’d managed to scrounge wood and, in some cases, even steel to provide overhead cover for us. Days later we were ordered to remove the cover. Apparently someone had a bunker cave in on them (not our unit), and there were several injuries.
We did as ordered, and thought all along how vulnerable we now felt. I’ve gotten up on
Google Earth and looked at the imagery of where I “think” we were. I think I found the perimeter of our camp (the engineers dug a ditch around it), but I’m not finding any trace of the fortifications we made. Maybe some future archaeologist will find them, dig it up, and find the letter in an envelope that proclaimed “Kilroy was here.”
Training was also high on the list. Since Saddam had chemical warfare capability, we did a lot of NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) training. Since I had a secondary MOS of Chemical Warfare Defense specialist, I backed up our NBC NCO, and helped her deploy and keep up the monitors, train soldiers, and test their gear.
We also trained calling in fire or air support. What this involved is a map, binoculars, and trying to determine where a target was. We’d call grid coordinates off the map of
where we thought the target was, and if we were correct, they’d drop shells on target. The idea was to watch where the first shells fall, and adjust. If it took you more that thirty seconds to destroy the target, it was probably gone already.
Equipment maintenance was another never ending task. Our gear was ideally suited for European operations.
The desert was a whole another problem. One of our problems was keeping the dust out of the engines. Beating dust out of the air filters was a daily task. We’d put cloth around them to help, and that was met with mixed results. One thing we hadn’t expected was how the sand would tear up the brakes on the Humvees. Shortly after we got there, the
engineers began making roads across the desert. This was really handy for finding our way around, but when it rained, the roads became ditches full of water. The traffic going through it stirred up the sand, and kept it in suspension. This got up into the brakes and ate the brake pads alive.
The majority of the Humvee fleet was sidelined because of brake pads, and it took setting up a special shipment to get new ones in. When we got them, our mechanics had their hands full replacing them. If
memory serves, a few of us who knew how to replace them pitched in and helped, even if it was just jacking up a Humvee and yanking the tire off for them.
Calling home turned out to be an adventure. I’d see in movies how we had phone tents and so on. Later, we did. But initially, we were on whatever resources were local. The nearest phone was in Al Qausumyah, about three miles away. It’s a small community, smaller I felt than the small village of Capulin back home (Colorado). There was one phone outside a small store, and it wasn’t uncommon to see three or four hundred soldiers waiting to use it. We’d have made one heck of a target for some lucky terrorist.
The first time I was able to call home, I dragged my folks out of bed. They said the TV showed us living in air conditioned barracks, with satellite TV and hot meals. My response was “I don’t know what army you’re
looking at, but I’m not in it.” I explained I was living in a tent in the middle of nowhere, and hadn’t seen a TV in months.
I suppose things have changed with cellphones and email out in the field, but we lived for mail call. What was really interesting was how it ran. It wasn’t uncommon to get a letter mailed say January 15th before getting one mailed January 2nd. So sometimes you got a letter
and felt a little like you’d walked into the middle of a movie because something was referenced in an earlier letter that hasn’t arrived yet. Still, mail is something we lived for.
It brought not only news, but pictures, magazines (reading material was at a premium), and often times, goodies.
Of course, the mail was gone through with a fine tooth comb. There were certain things that just didn’t make it out to us to include skin magazines, booze, etc. I think Cpl Eric McArtor summed it all up when he complained by saying, “No Booze. No dope. No babes. What the hell kind of war is this?”
One of my fondest memories of something that did make it through came from SPC Arnold.
Arnold was descended from a long line of military types. His great grandfather was General ‘Hap’ Arnold, the Father of SAC. It’s safe to say that generals and colonels are a dime a dozen in his family.
He’d just gotten a small package from home. Inside were 10 wax bottles. They resembled the wax candies we got as kids that were filled with Kool-Aid. Only this wasn’t Kool-Aid. They were filled with different kinds of wine, etc. He offered me one, I took it, and when I drank from it, discovered it was filled with peach brandy. It was one of the biggest surprises of the war. Somehow drinking something we weren’t allowed felt good! A little rebellion is a good thing now and again.
Enough can’t be said about the great folks who supported us over there. At least once or twice a week, each of us got a box, and it would have stuff like candy bars, notes, books, magazines and so on stuffed into them. Sometimes they were things we really needed (toothpaste for instance).
For some reason we had trouble getting essentials. We had a small PX that operated out
of a truck, but while it was well stocked on candy bars, and even film, it didn’t have things like shaving cream, soap, and so on. So what came out of a box was often times a Godsend.
Occasionally, our goodies boxes had some really interesting items. One guy received some girls underwear and a proposal of marriage. Another found a box of Trojans. They were useful to keep dirt out of the M-16s. By far the most interesting thing we received were several copies of the Sports Illustrated Swim Suit Edition. They were most definitely a moral booster.
I did my level best to respond to folks who included a return address. It was hard though, and I’m sure I missed some folks along the way. All I can say is God bless you for your generosity, support, and prayers. They sure weren’t wasted.
One fine beautiful morning, we received word that the preemptive strike feared from Saddam and sort of happened. A handful of tanks and troops went into Saudi Arabia. It wasn’t in our section at all, but sending troops down Wadi Al Batin was a scenario we thought Saddam might try. If that happened, we could expect company. We were rousted early, and sent to the trenches. The war was officially on, even if we hadn’t done much more than show up.
I recall turning and looking at the sunset that evening. Like so many sunrises and sunsets in Saudi Arabia, it was spectacular.
On January 17th, 1991, I had the watch. Normally, it was nothing much more that sit in the command tent, drink coffee, and answer the radio if someone called. There were several of us in there. I recall one of the Privates commented there seemed to be a lot more jets overhead.
I’d expected that. The date the UN Security Council gave Saddam had come and gone. As if to confirm that, a message came over the radio. In a nutshell it announced that we’d
begun a series of deep attacks into Iraq, and for local military commanders to assume a defensive posture. I wish I could recall the exact message, or find a copy of it. But the air war was on.
“Go wake up the captain,” I told a private. “Tell him the air war has started.”
Our immediate concern was a counterattack from Iraqi forces. We’d been slowly getting stronger and stronger. Each passing day brought more troops and equipment. We now had adequate ammo for our weapons. The entire back half of our Humvee was filled with ammo for the M-60s, M-16s, our pistols, and we had about a dozen grenades each, AT4s, and a couple of mines. I remembered telling one of my friends that any of us got hit, it would be a glorious ending.
So with our strength up, and loaded for bear, it reasoned Saddam might try to even the odds with a gas attack delivered by his missiles or aircraft. We went into the trenches wearing our protective masks.
As the sun was rising, I heard thunder in the skies. A strike was heading in, and I caught jet contrails up high.
We came out of the trenches about 8 AM, but stayed close. No one seemed to know what was going to happen next. Would Saddam fold, would he come south? No one knew. We got out of our MOPP gear, and went about our day. Everyone kept looking north as if they expected something terrible to materialize in the distance.
But nothing ever did. We continued getting ready, and then one day it came time for us to leave.
Our platoon’s immediate mission was to help the division cross a major highway. We broke camp and loaded up everything we owned, including the large tents we’d been staying in. We were already cramped for space and they didn’t help any. Fortunately, each Humvee had a trailer and most of the gear we’d never use was stashed in it. Taking down the tents was a huge effort. I don’t think any of us had ever seen that big a tent, but somehow we got them down, and loaded up. Also loaded up were the basins and shaving stations, and in some cases, even the johns.
The company was breaking up to go handle the many different jobs assigned to us. the Captain came out and gave us a little pep talk before we left. Captain Kroupa was a
great guy. He was one of the best Commanders I’d ever had.
We drove from the camp to a place some miles away. A single two lane highway was what we’d have to control. This was the area 1st Armored Division had to cross in order to arrive at the Saudi-Iraqi border.
Once the Division was across, we’d turn north and follow them. Our mission then became one of locating stragglers, breakdowns, or anyone who had just gotten lost along the way.
This move represented our getting into position to invade Iraq.
It took several hours to get Division across the road. From here, our mission would be to finally hook up with the Battle Central. The mission 6th Platoon historically had was the defense of the Battle Central. Interestingly, in exercises in Germany, we set up an access control tent, sent out a few patrols, and that was it.
Here, out mission was different. There would be no tent, and we’d protect part of the flank of the Battle Central.
But first, we had to get there. With Division across the road, we now followed them north. The area reminded me of many of the areas in the San Luis Valley, a wide dry plain dotted with sagebrush. The only breakdown we found was a single truck, and his outfit knew he was there. We just made sure the two soldiers were okay, had food and water, and moved on.
I think one of the most heartbreaking pieces of the war happened while we were conducting this sweep up patrol. We came across an area where some outfit had emptied out their refrigerators. Piles of food had been dumped and burnt. I remember rolls of hamburger, burnt and rotting in the sun. Bread now crawling with ants. There were eggs in the pile, their shells burnt and blackened, and I tried to remember the last time I’d eaten an egg.
The good news was, we dug through the piles of food and salvaged a couple of bags of potatoes and some cooking oil. That evening when we stopped, we cut up the potatoes, broke out the cooking gear, and made a campfire. We made french fries and that was our dinner. We had little salt, no ketchup, and the fires tasted like a slice of heaven. That day it was perfect to be a U.S. Army Soldier in the field.
As I mentioned, our mission had changed some by the time we hooked up with the Battle Central. Instead of an Access Control Tent, we were part of the muscle on the perimeter of Battle Central. As much as we like being with our Company, 1st Armored Division, Battle Central was our home away from home. It meant hot meals, showers, and friends.
We worked closely with everyone there and had good working relationships. For some, it was indeed a family reunion.
All things considered, it’s odd that I don’t have a lot of pictures of the Battle Central or the people around it. I think I was starting run low on film and wanted to save what I had for Iraq.
It’s really too bad, I had some good friends there. One was a Sgt. Richard Mooney, Satellite Communications Expert. Another was a young lady who was a cook. She was a model, and together, we’d made some money. I’ve no pictures of either one of them, or for that matter, much around the Battle Central. But here’s a few photos.
We did manage to get some baseball in.
And we got caught up on much needed personal hygiene such as haircuts and the like. The only downside was that, once again, our mail had no idea where we were, and we waited patiently for that to catch up to us.
This is the Battle Central–several expandable vans. When stopped, they pulled out the sides, linked them together, and it formed a mobile/office area to coordinate the battle. Each vehicle was stuffed with desks, radios, phones, and computers.
Being such a key piece of real estate, our job was to protect it.
We had a lot of help. The perimeter around it was protected by us, the Boys and Girls of the Headquarters Company, a team of engineers, and the 1st Infantry Division Band. With the exception of the headquarters folks, we’d never really worked with the other elements, and it took some getting used to.
When we first learned that the band had a piece of the defense of the Battle Central, it caused us a little concern. Most of us didn’t think in terms of the band being combat soldiers. Yet they were.
Here’s a link to some video about the, during the war. It was shot the same day we went in. Watch for a guy walking the perimeter at about 1:40. That’s me. Also, look around 4:30. That’s me in the shower. And then read my story here on my blog.
Here’s a few more shots from around the Battle Central.
We also had some heavy muscle we’d never worked with either.
In addition to the Band (who incidentally had a couple of 50 caliber machine guns, and the Engineers who had M119s and 50s also, assigned to us was a small Anti-Aircraft contingent. Battle Central would be a target the enemy went after, and protecting it was a big deal.
MPs are also extremely well armed. The typical MP team (or at least we did) were armed as follows:
Team Leader – M203: This is an M-16 with a grenade launcher attached. A serious weapon and a lot of fun to shoot.
Driver – M 16
Gunner – M-60 machine gun
In addition to these weapons, we each carried our sidearm. Aboard we had a dozen hand grenades, ammo for the 203, 4 AT-4 anti-tank weapons, and
claymore mines. We were most definitely a force to be contended with.
We did have one big surprise for a defense of the Battle Central. Two M1A1s had been shipped to us to help with its protection. In a worse case scenario, their firepower would have been a huge asset.
As it was, they mostly ended up babysitting. I wonder how the tankers assigned to us felt being left out of the last great tank battles of the 20th Century.
As they say, all good things must come to an end. The air war had been going on for over a month, and we were coming up on the end of February. While the weather hadn’t been too bad yet, it would be hot soon. The desert heat would probably be more dangerous to us than the Republican Guard ever would.
One day we were working and a wonderful smell washed across the compound. The cooks were getting lunch ready. Every cowboy knows the smell. it smelled like they were grilling steaks, but then everything they cooked smelled like grilled steak.
When we went to lunch, a big sirloin, cooked to perfection, was on my plate. We were going in. Before the sun went down, we were heading North into Iraq.
The Battle Central breaks up and heads north. There was a light sandstorm to hide our advance.
I always thought the light sandstorm was convenient for us to move out in. Later, I was to see an event in the sky that made me wonder if there wasn’t some weather warfare being conducted. Note that’s a wild guess, totally unconfirmed on my part, but it still made me wonder.
The sun went down while we still moving, and somewhere around 10 PM, and in the dark, we crossed the border into Iraq. There’s these large berms of sand bulldozed up on the border. Our engineers had made roads through them, and it seemed that every ounce of traffic in the world was headed right for those openings. In the dark, all we could see were the small red blackout markers of other vehicles. We spotted one of the vehicles with the convoy we were with, and stayed focused on it’s black out markers. I remember hoping it was doing the same.
That was hard, because if you blinked, it was sometimes hard to reacquire the black out lights.
Somehow, Battle Central made it through the narrow gaps intact, and with no one following the wrong vehicles. I didn’t see any MPs directing the traffic, and unless we were staggered and I didn’t know it, I don’t know how we got through without getting tangled with another convoy.
We traveled for several more hours, and finally stopped for the night about two thirty in
the morning. I slept in my chair, my elbow on the window sill. We were moving early the next morning.
One thing I’ll never forget is the cooks showed up with boxes of breakfast sandwiches. I haven’t a clue when they set up the kitchen, or cooked them. For all I know, they cooked them before we left Saudi and just kept them on ice. They were just a friend egg, a slice of cheese and ham, and mayo between two pieces of bread. I hung the name of First AD sandwiches on them. They’ve been a favorite breakfast since, even if my kids did call them “First Eggee Sandwiches” when they were younger.
We drove all day, stopping only to refuel, eat a hasty meal, and then get on our way. Only once did we see anything that even remotely look like combat. About noon, one of our MLRS systems located a few miles away fired a single missile. It arced away and I wondered what that was all about. I never did find out.
We stopped moving about sunset. Our first night in enemy territory and we hadn’t seen any evidence they were even around. I admit I was getting a little worried. I’d have
expected something by now. I half wondered if Saddam wasn’t trying to do to us what the Russians had done to the Germans in WW II. Get them in deep, then cut their supply lines.
We stopped moving, and set up the perimeter for the night.
Along about midnight, a storm moved in and it started raining. We’re not talking a small storm, but buckets of water from the sky.
Small rivers flowed about, and the heavy rain swallowed up what little light there was. I’ve seen dark. I’ve never seen this much dark.
Someplace out there, a tank battle was underway. We could hear it on the radio, and bright flashes of light would erupt through the darkness. It looked like something out a Sci-Fi movie. When the sun came up, the storm moved out. In the sky, I saw a meteorological phenomenon I can’t explain. The clouds were marching out in what looked like waves. I was reminded of one of those animated diagrams of wave propagation, which shows a radio wave moving away from a radio antenna. I’d never seen anything like it or since. For all I know, it’s a weather event peculiar to that area. But I never shook the impression I was seeing weather warfare. The rain and darkness would have certainly given us another edge in what was already an uneven fight.
Sometime in the afternoon, we began to see evidence that the Iraqis had been around. We started coming across abandoned bunkers. Truthfully, the place looked like the
city dump. Abandoned gear, helmets, clothing, and the like were scattered everywhere.
Until a few hours before, soldiers had been living here. They’d left in one big hurry, and in a lot of cases left most everything behind.
I remember looking down into one of the bunkers. They’d been here long enough to have dug them out and made them somewhat comfortable. I didn’t dare go in, but instead crouched at the entrance and looked in. The bunkers struck me as perfect places to place a booby trap or two. I’d had a relative that had lost a body part by poking around in a German bunker back in WW II while souvenir hunting.
I figured the only souvenir I wanted was me intact and alive back home. I crouched down and took this picture.
Braver souls than I went into the bunkers. One came out with a spiral notebook like the kind a kid would use in school. There was a picture of Saddam on the cover.
I settled for some stuff I found lying about topside, a spoon and a beret (some war souvenir). I still have the spoon, but the beret was taken by my son to show and tell. One of his classmates stole it. I was a little upset.
Years later, my boy made up for it by bringing me back a helmet from Afghanistan. It’s one of my most treasured items.
Things become a blur of sorts.
We drove up on where the battle had been fought the night before. It was a small valley, and scattered below us were the remains of tanks, trucks, and tracks. Most were still burning, and the smoke of battle still hung over the area. I could see tracks of the tanks that had engaged them the night before. It looked like they’d gone straight through it, just shooting as they went, and leaving a junkyard behind.
It was like something from War of the Worlds, only we’d been the Martians.
Suddenly there was a shout that someone was down there. Sure enough, there was single human being walking through. He seemed to be the only survivor of the engagement. We went down to check him out. He was badly injured and noticed us only when we shouted at him. He turned, started walking to us, only to collapse from his wounds.
The medics came in, treated him, and a chopper was called in to get him to a MASH. What happened to him, I don’t know. I hope he made it.
What also made the scene unforgettable was a small song on the battlefield. I’d followed it and there was a small bird sitting on it’s nest. I wondered what it had thought of the night before when forces beyond its comprehension raged around it. I took a lesson from the bird that horrible things pass, and the sun always comes up. Here’s the story.
Things became a blur after that.
Seeing what’s left of a modern day battle is something I’ve never been able to find words for. I could talk about the broken machines, or the smell of burnt flesh and diesel that hovers around the wrecked vehicles. Or the carnage of it all.
Somehow, even almost thirty years later, I still can’t find the words.
I don’t think they even exist.
That night there were more battles. We stopped while one was being fought. We knew from reports that we’d inflicted serious damage to the Iraqi army, and that they were falling back.
About a mile from our location, the MLRS batteries started firing. These are multiple rocket launchers and it looked like something from Star Wars. With loud booms, the rockets ignited, and then hurtled into the skies, a trail of fire behind them. One after the other they fired, the rockets hurtling up and away over the horizon.
MLRS has often been referred to as the Division Commanders personal shotgun. I don’t know what they were shooting at, but I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that. I tried to get some pictures, but they were disappointing at best. If I’d had my Pentax 1000 instead of a small Kodak camera, I might have got some really good shots. As it was . . .
I don’t recall sleeping much that night.
The next day was more of the same. We rolled through and past more ruined positions. It’s a funny thing when you’re in the middle of a historic event, that you know nothing about what’s really going on. All we knew were now moving east. I’d expected us to keep
heading north till we got to Turkey, shake hands with the Turks, and call it good. That wasn’t happening.
I began to understand the the Republican Guard had at last begun to put up a fight. and we heard that Iraqi forces were leaving Kuwait. That put us in a rather interesting position. First, we had to make sure they didn’t get out. We’d be talking several heavy divisions retreating. They were also almost directly in our way. There was nothing to say they might not turn and join forces in the area. There was no doubt we couldn’t handle them, they’d just have made our mission harder.
That afternoon, we ended up going through a minefield. Scattered across an area dozens of city block in size, the Air Force had dropped land mines. What we’d done is to push the Republican Guard through it. I don’t know how well this worked, or what, if any damage had been done to them, but now we had to go through it in pursuit of them.
The Engineers had opened path’s through the minefield for us. Using M1 tanks with a rotating drum of chains the bet the ground, they detonated anything that they hit. The small mines that looked about the size of a frozen juice can, were too small to present a danger to the the tanks.
But that couldn’t be said for the trucks and Humvees in the convoy. Once again we were funneled down to a few lanes of traffic. The idea was to go straight, don’t steer to the left or the right. If you were off even a little, it could mean disaster.
I recall noticing a mine less that three inches from our front tire. They were scatted everywhere, and I had to hope that the engineers had gotten them all. There was very little room for error.
As we started to clear the minefield, we heard a loud explosion from one of the other lanes. A Humvee belonging to the Division Chief of Staff had hit a mine.
The explosion shredded the back tire, and shrapnel punched a hole in the fuel tank.
Another piece of metal exploded up through the floor board. All of the Humvees had sandbags on the floor. We’d placed them there for a little extra protection. It was the sandbags that helped save the driver’s life. The shrapnel ripped through the floorboard and sandbags, and through the back of the driver’s chair. The driver was wearing a flak vest. It was the vest that stopped the shrapnel and saved her life. It still struck her with enough force to knock her face first into the steering wheel and break her nose.
I understand she got the Purple Heart for that, and confessed she felt like a fool receiving it for something so minor.
Shortly after clearing that minefield, we stopped for the night. There were still mines in the area, and I remember soldiers marking them. We’d long since run out of yellow tape, and they were using the next best thing, toilet paper.
I recall hearing more battles on the radio, and we watched all night long. Then it was announced that a cease-fire would be in effect the following morning. We were hours away from the cease-fire when the big guns opened up. Not far away, the 155s were firing. It was the final chance to get a few licks in on Iraqi positions, and they fired right up to the minute the cease-fire started.
I remember my father telling me of seeing artillery rounds arching across the sky when he was in the Army. Now I got to see them move like stars up and then down on their
Then the guns went silent. The General called everyone together and explained the cease-fire was in effect, to get our maintenance done, get some food, and then go to sleep.
I slept for 16 hours.
We stayed in Iraq for several weeks, and life became routine again. We were just outside an abandoned Iraqi airfield. One of the immediate things that had to be taken care of were the huge numbers of POWs. Barb wire fences had been erected, and we used the Humvees as guard towers. The night winds were cold, and so
we gave them shovels to dig pits they slept in. Everything was spread pretty thin for them. We were able to get them food and water courtesy of the Air Force. The airfield we were at had been bombed. The engineers filled in the craters, and C-130s started bringing in food and water.
One of the things we did was get them out of Iraq and to Saudi Arabia. I heard that a an offer was made to each of them if they wanted to stay. I don’t know if any took them up on it.
One of the real issues we faced was that we were being spread kind of thin. We still needed to keep the area secure. The airfield we were sitting just outside had bunkers full
of ammo. I never went to check them out, but I also heard that there were a couple of fighters in the hangers.
Our female MPs weren’t supposed to be watching the POWs, but we had few choices. One of our MPs was SP4 Hahn. A pretty girl, she tucked her hair up under her helmet, put on a flak jacket, and she looked more like Ron Howard’s little brother. She pitched in and helped when we needed help the most.
We started settling in to life in Iraq. Between running missions, and waiting for whatever
was going to happen next, we forged a home of sorts. Someone had found a damaged table in a bunker and we salvaged and repaired it. We called it the “Stammtisch table” after the tables in Germany where the guests of the management were allowed to sit. We set it up in a tent, and that became our kitchen/rec room.
Things got pretty routine there for a while. Here’s a few pictures from our time in Iraq.
One night, Greg woke me up with one question, “Are you OK?”
Apparently, I was gasping for breath. It felt to me like I was running a fever, and when I tried to sit up, I felt weak, almost wrung out. The next morning I wasn’t any better.
SSG Hahr, my squad leader told me to go to the medics. I went, they checked me out, and then they told me to come back a half hour later, and leave my weapons with my platoon.
I should have expected trouble. Blackhawks were always coming in, and so I either didn’t notice the MASH Blackhawk that came in, or I was so sick I just didn’t pay it any mind.
I came back half an hour Later, and myself and a few others were helicoptered out to a MASH in Saudi Arabia.
I don’t remember much about the flight. I remember flying over the desert, and then falling asleep, and waking to be landing at the MASH. A medic took me in, and showed me a cot where I lay down. I was in a gym sized building full of beds. Most of them were empty. I thanked God for that.
A doctor came in, examined me, and then sent a medic in with an inhaler for me.