We flew into Dhahran Airport. Dhahran is a major administrative center for the Saudi oil industry. Located in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, Dhahran sits on the coastal shore of the Persian Gulf. Immediately leaving the plane we were picked up by our advanced party and drove to “Tent City”. Tent City was a small communal area consisting of American military units waiting to get their pre combat destinations in country. Our temporary shelters, General Purpose Tents, would have to be built immediately in order to sleep. We waited on the shore training, in full M.O.P.P. (Mission Oriented Protective Posture) gear preparing for chemical, biological and nuclear war. Some N.C.O.’s were running their squads or platoons several miles along the rocky shoreline with chemical masks donned for training every day. .
Every day there were more and more soldiers arriving with orders attaching them to 12th Evacuation Hospital. All kinds of specialty doctors and specifically trained personnel were showing up. Some of whom had no field experience at all. A lot of these soldiers were reservists or national guard that had been called up to active duty by the President of the United States. Regardless of their field experience, they all reported for duty. Some had families, businesses, children and lives back home in the States. Yet without hesitation, they showed up. Some had very different attitudes from ours, however they came nonetheless.
The N.C.O.’s that were responsible for actual troops and equipment seemed to have a hard time adjusting to the newly arrived soldiers’ laid back attitudes. It was like watching the cast of MASH 4077 trying to mingle with the cast of Apocalypse Now. One orthopedic doctor argued daily with his platoon sergeants’ demand of not wearing flip flops to head count formation. A particular nurse seemed to purposefully match her bikini top to her Battle Dress Uniform pants, on a regular basis before chow, and tried to get her M.R.E. dressed as such. This whole scenario was a welcomed distraction for my friends and I. We started to take bets on who was going to have a nervous break down first.
After two weeks of waiting in Dhahran, our supplies and equipment finally arrived. On December 19th, the first batch of 130 personnel on 63 vehicles drove 300 miles straight, at night, with Night Observation Devices using noise and light discipline, to reach our pre combat destination. I drove a 5-ton truck pulling an emergency generator as my bearing load. The rest of the personnel would show up days later.
Over the next 10 days we built our 400 bed hospital and the living quarters (General Purpose Army Tents) for all 12th Evac. personnel. The Army Corps. of Engineers built a 12ft sand berm perimeter to prevent car bombers from directly attacking the hospital. Every given night we had 43 guards, junior enlisted personnel including myself armed with M16 automatic rifles, stationed around our perimeter to alert the unit and ward off any attack. We were the forward most unit deployed during “Operation Desert Shield”. Set up 30 kilometers from the Iraqi border, all combat units were rallying behind us geographically, organizing and preparing to invade Iraq and Kuwait. We sat out front, for over two months, in dark green tents with a big red cross with white background on it (the NATO identifier for hospital). We were the front line.
During this time we organized ourselves in tents according to comfort. I was most comfortable with soldiers who came from the Airbase. In my tent was a medic from Oklahoma whom I had gone to Medic School with in San Antonio. Bob, my buddy, was in the tent next to me. The tents that housed my friends and co workers were affectionately referred to as “the ghetto”. We were the workers of the hospital. We rotated through hospital shifts in different areas of 12th Evac., pulled guard duty and burned the digestive waste of all human residents, patients and otherwise, living inside our perimeter. During this time, to preoccupy our racing minds, we gambled. Gambling was an organized event. The subjects of which we gambled was wide and all encompassing.
We gambled on what we were going to eat, who could do more pushups, who had a bigger penis, who would pull duty and where, insect fights and ultimately who was having sex with whom. Men and women were in separate tents yet that didn’t stop hormones and emotions from becoming affected. Nurses liked doctors or vice versa, medics stuck with medics and married soldiers seemed to stick with other married soldiers. We were naming the gambling event “Super Sexy Drop your Panties” and everyone in the ghetto gambled on it. Getting proof, however, took skill, determination and ultimately Night Observation Devices. It was quite an event to behold. Not everyone was participating in Super Sexy. Some soldiers remained faithful and others, such as myself, were just not having sex.
Mama sent a care package to me somewhere during this time. Cheese, crackers, sausages and a book. The book was Steven Kings “It”. My little sister was an enthusiastic Steven King fan and persuaded my mama to send me something to read. In all my life, the only certainty I rely on to this day is NOONE should read Steven King’s “It” in the desert, at night, while preparing for war. I never, even to this day, finished that damn book.
My letters from home were mostly from my father. His letters were in depth details of the Chicago Bears football games. His written analysis of early 1990’s Bears football was entertaining and took my mind off of my surroundings. I imagined the Bears playing and him screaming at the television set when I closed my eyes.
In the beginning of January, 1991, our company First Sergeant “strongly advised” us to write letters to loved ones in case we were killed in the line of duty. The projections of casualties during this time were exceeding 2000 American wounded/fatalities per day for the first week alone. The information was sobering and caused some soldiers to loose their bearings. It was the first real information we had received in quite some time leaving some folks unprepared.
That night was the first time I ever attended church of my own free will. Church was held in a small General Purpose tent within our perimeter. It didn’t seem to matter to me that they were going to be talking about God there. I didn’t know who I was going to write a letter to and I had no one else to ask for guidance. God seemed like the last house on the block so I figured I would ask Him.
There are no words in the English language that describe the feelings involved with writing a “death letter” when you are 20 years old.
After church I sat down and wrote my father a letter telling him I forgave him and that I wished I had done better as a son.