As I arrived back in the barracks I felt confused, disoriented and dizzy. I didn’t know how to fix my mama’s pain and that really bothered me. The endless amount of activity I was about to be thrown into, however, would wash those feelings from my psyche like a thunderstorm washing dirt off the sidewalk. Over the next few months, our equipment, supplies and personnel would more than quadruple. We would have to train soldiers who were being pulled from all over Europe and out of the Medical companies on the Air Base and being assigned to 12th Evac.. Our training would include how to build our hospital, store and inventory our equipment and ultimately load all of the above onto a “rail head”. A rail head was a rail freight train. Our supplies, equipment, vehicles, Milvans and expandable Iso’s would serve as the freight. The freight would be loaded onto a ship and brought to the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.
As we were training soldiers how to be 12th Evac. ready, we were getting more and more equipment and supplies. As new supplies came in we would have to inventory it, rotate it into training and ultimately load it into Milvans. We would work seven days a week upward of 16 to 18hr days to complete this objective. However, we didn’t officially find out we were slotted for deployment to “Operation Desert Shield” until mid October. The reality of not knowing yet assuming the worst was beginning to wear on us all. The press was giving us more information then our chain of command. We were learning about Saddam Hussein’s ruthlessness, his stance towards Israel and his apparent desire to destroy all American Troops deployed to Islam’s sacred land, Saudi Arabia. As a 20 year old soldier, my only way to deal with the mounting uncertainty was to have fun and laugh with my over worked friends.
Military humor is a unique blend of offensive sarcasm mixed with self deprecating acts and sexual inappropriateness. Chain gang style work was the most effective method to involve everyone and get maximum results in a short amount of time. I can not give an accurate amount of times we had passed heavy equipment, that had been inventoried, to another soldier with our penis’ out. This simple act somehow made the longest day seem to pass with ease. The more surprised someone was to see a freed penis the funnier it seemed to be. The jokes that followed penis freeing were endless and brutal.
The workload and hours seemed to be a welcomed distraction from the reality of what we all faced. As men and women continued to be reassigned to our company, the penis joke would be brought back to life. The day my buddy Dan showed up with orders reassigning him, I made sure he stood between two men on the chain gang to get a fuller affect. After he created a big scene and drew a lot of attention to the freed penises, I couldn’t help but feel grateful he was now with us.
The official count of personnel in 12th Evacuation Hospital in early September 1990 was 108 soldiers of various medical backgrounds. By December 5th 1990, the day we deployed to Saudi Arabia, our ranks had swelled to 331. Somewhere in the middle of those two dates I was promoted to PFC (E-3) in a group promotion ceremony including twelve soldiers.
Two weeks before we deployed we were given a full day off. We couldn’t leave post but we didn’t have to report for duty. The majority of us went to the E-club on post to release stress by drinking and dancing. A newly reassigned cook from Gay Moose had been pushing my buttons for a few weeks. He obviously didn’t volunteer for reassignment to the 12th Evac.. I struggled with his arrogant defiance when explaining his unfair cookie distribution at chow. He didn’t like me questioning his authority. After a few German beers and two or three shots of American whiskey we were both getting louder and louder with each other. He was a big, Polish American from New York City with a loud voice. When he decided to put his finger in my face I went into demon mode. I snap kicked his jaw, then dove on top of him after he lost his balance. I pummeled him with right hand punches to his eyes and nose until the security guards pulled me off of him. They hand cuffed me and brought me to the MP station.
The next day I was told to report to the company commander in her office. After explaining my side of the story, she gave me an Article 15. An article 15 is a section of the Uniform Code of Military Justice allowing commanders to carry out discretionary punishments without judicial proceedings. I was given 7 days of extra duty while on 7 days of restriction. Our days were already filled with slave type labor and we were restricted to post. There wasn’t much restriction or extra duty that could be added to the strenuous days I was facing. She explained to me she felt compelled to make an example of me because of the seriousness of what I did and the potential for anarchy and division amongst the troops. She decided to flag me from any further promotions and bar me from reenlistment. My company commander was ending any career I could have in the Army and I was about to deploy to combat. I felt crushed and humiliated.
Dan, my buddy, held no judgment of me. In fact, he treated me as his hero. The cook, according to Dan, was not only unfair to him at chow but he also picked on Dan on a regular basis. Dan started to call me Bob. It didn’t make any sense and I had no idea what he was referring to, but from that point on he referred to me as Bob. I , in return, called him Bob also.
The day we flew into Dhahran, Saudi Arabia from Frankfurt Germany, Bob never left my side.