For the next few months, I am going to do a series of posts intended for my children. This will be a written diary of what I experienced in Iraq during the spring and summer of 2003. These are stories that I don’t want to tell them now and in twenty years I might be a vegetable so now is a good time to get these stories down. These will be glimpse into what life was like in a real shooting war. I will be using my memory as the primary source but I also have my Loadmaster’s diary to use a reference. These thoughts and comments are all mine though, and I will only refer to my crew by the first name. All of the following pictures were taken by Captain Bill Grimes. My pictures are all on 35mm film and not digitized.
We landed on Tabuk, Saudi Arabia on 9 March, 2003. I have no idea what time it was because for us time had ceased to exist. It was either day or night, there was no other choice. I have two distinct memories of the night we landed in Tabuk. I could not believe how cold it was. Tabuk rests on a high dessert mesa. I had a jacket with me because when we left West Virginia, it was cold. Otherwise, I would have frozen.
The second memory was riding a bus from the flight line to tent city. I had a flashback to SERE, also known as survival school. The short description of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape school is one week of academics, three days camping, two days evading, two days in prison camp, three more days academics and a couple days back in prison. During the capture phase, the bad guys put us on a school bus and drove us to the prison camp. That night, I had the exact same feeling on that bus in Tabuk that I did in SERE school. It was eerie, and surreal. I think the best word that would describe the feeling is desperation. On that dark bus, it was as if there was no hope of escaping the future. I never have asked anyone else about what they felt that night, so I cannot speak for others. But I really did not want to be there.
For some reason, it took several hours to be released to find out tent. Riding that same bus of emptiness, we were dropped off about a ¼ of a mile from our tent. I had three large duffel bags in addition to three smaller bags that contained my flight gear. One duffel bag contained all of the ground ensemble chemical warfare gear. The second contained all of the flight ensemble chemical warfare gear and the third smaller duffel had all of my personal clothes. We lived twelve to a tent had everyone had the same amount of gear. There was a literal mountain of bags pilled on the side of the road. A couple of guys went out looking for the tent while the rest of us stayed behind with the gear.
Finally, we found the tent and made the multiple trips in the cold, dark night like a pack mule. The tent was empty, dark and cold. There were no light bulbs, no cots, no heat, no nothing but an empty tent. Tracy, my loadmaster disappeared for a few minutes and returned with light bulbs and cots. I never asked where he found them and honestly I did not want to know. Someone got the heat working and it wasn’t long before it was lights out ending the two day trip from civilization to living like a zombie.
The morning came early, and we started the process of making the tent our home. The tent floor was a rubber liner and it was literally covered in dust. This area of Saudi Arabia is home to fine, silt like dust. Think Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and that perfectly describes Tabuk. However, we were later told that the area where we built tent city was actually a landfill that was covered with dirt. I don’t know if that was true, but I never got a shovel and started digging. It took about a week, and magically a pile of lumber was dropped off near our tent. We took that lumber and made a wood floor. That was a lifesaver. Later, piles of gravel started showing up and we made paths between the tents. That was another lifesaver. It dramatically, cut down on the dust and made walking less filthy.
The bathroom tent was two rows behind my tent. About 100 paces one way, we called it the walk of shame. The shower tents were also two rows behind the tent but on the opposite direction. It was about 200 paces one way. It seems like a long way but we were relatively close. My buddy Bill was twice as far. Near, where the bus dropped us off the first night was the chow hall. To describe it as a chow hall is an understatement. It was actually an open area where there were pallets of MREs and water. When someone would get restless, they would walk down and grab a case of MREs or water.
An MRE is a Meal Ready to Eat. As an occasional meal, they are not bad. When they are a staple of your diet for months on end, they get old. I have repressed the memory of which ones were good and which ones to avoid. I usually ate the main course and a snack. We kept a box for all of the items that went uneaten. It filled up quickly. Most of us brought several containers of Kool-Aid or Gator-Aid. To me a guy addicted to Coke, it was a life-saver. I mixed the Kool-Aid thick and strong.
That’s all for now, next week I will tell how I got a tent building merit badge. Hope everyone is having a great week. Keep on rocking!