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Tabuk…An Introduction…

March 15, 2013

tabuk 007

Hey Y’all,

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.


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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.


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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.


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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!


From → military

  1. worldsbeforethedoor permalink

    oh MRE’s….my uncle, who was in the Marines, used to bring them to us when we were kids. We just thought they were the coolest thing at the time. 🙂
    Thanks for sharing this. Your children will thank you someday!

    • They were great, for about two days. I discovered that by the end of the meal, they all tasted the same. In each MRE there would either be peanut butter or cheese spread. High in calories, they are put in the bag to keep the war fighter going. I never really ate them, I like jelly with my peanut butter.

      The first care package we got from home was from several wives who thought we would like some peanut butter. Literally we had a year’s worth of peanut butter and not a drop of jelly. It turned into the source of endless jokes.

      • worldsbeforethedoor permalink

        haha! My sister sent a care package to my brother when he was in Kawait. She made ginger snaps with whole cloves instead of ground cloves for him. We still tease her about it. 🙂

      • I’m sure the drug dogs got to experience some of the ginger snaps too. As well as the Kuwaitis, the mail inspector at the base, the first sergeant and he finally got to enjoy them.

  2. Rob, thank you for sharing your experience. So interesting and eye-opening. Have you ever read Tracy Kidder’s “My Detachment”? It’s about his experience in Vietnam. Reminds me of this, and that’s a big compliment. I appreciate the candid and bold reflection of your experience and will eagerly look forward to future installments. You have my full respect and gratefulness for your service.

    • Julie,

      Thanks for the kind comments. I have not read many books about Vietnam since 2003. I read several before but once I lived it, I really didn’t want to re-live it. The books that I have read all have the same familiar descriptions of life in a war. I know that my experiences are not unique, they are just slightly different from the guys before me.

      I have a friend, Bert who was a Marine in WWII. Those guys really suffered. I was just slightly inconvenienced. I cannot imagine what it was like in the Civil War or hanging out at Valley Forge freezing to death. That must have sucked hard.

      • Kidder’s book was a unique take because he didn’t see combat. It was more a coming of age and humble look at his time of service, and he is such an excellent writer, it’s worth the read. Although, it makes perfect sense after living it to not want to read about it.

      • I will check it out. I read a book from a Vietnam guy who went to the BX (Base Exchange) every day and focused on one section on a shelf. He read everything word on every product on the shelf and then left. He spent his year focusing on one shelf at a time.

        I don’t have the attention span to focus like that. I walked the isles of the BX in about three minutes before discovering there was nothing in the store that I couldn’t live without.

  3. Karlene permalink

    I love these stories!! A great idea for your kids. And I smiled at the MREs. As a pilot mother I made many MRE’s for the family. BUT…. my hubby took the kids to McD’s and Pizza while I was gone and the MREs RIF (remained in the freezer) It took me two years to figure out and stop cooking before I left.

    • That is funny. I don’t blame him, it is hard to cook when all you have to do is hit the drive through on the way home. I assume that your kids survived the lack of proper meals.

      I will write about this in the future, but from one of the ramps, we could see the city of Tabuk. And shinning in the dark night was the Golden Arches of McDonalds. Just the thought of a Big Mac could drive a person crazy.

  4. Wow, I’m not an American, would be following this series to find out a different perspective of things instead of the usual news reports.

  5. Wilson,

    Welcome aboard. I hope you find my site warm, inviting, informative and just plain comfortable. The goal of these posts are so that my kids will have information about their dad before they were born. I haven’t yet but I will go into detail about my views on the war, religion, and culture of the countries that I visited. Of course, those thoughts have changed over time but they are still part of my thought pattern that have shaped me to who I am today.

    My perspective on the war in Iraq is very up close and personal. Almost like if you put your nose on a wall and then tried to describe a painting on the wall behind you. Most of my current knowledge about Iraq comes from the History Channel or books. If asked a question about something I don’t have direct knowledge about, I may spout out some dribble that the news reported. When I do, please correct me.

    Again welcome to my little spot in the blogosphere. For the record, I encourage all of my writer friends to check out wilsonkhoo’s site. Full of great information, writing tips, and other things us writers need to think about.

  6. Erica permalink

    Nice one.

    • Tabuk was called many names during the time I was there. I never heard it called nice. Ha ha.

      Thanks for the comment.

  7. Can’t eat them. Even the good MRE’s are disgusting.

  8. Two words that should not be in a sentence together. Good and MRE’s. I am sure that over your career in the Marines you are an expert in MREs. One of the many prayers that I prayed when I left the military was that I would never have to eat another MRE. So far, so good!

    Welcome to my site. Please make yourself at home. Marines are always welcome here, and thank you Sir for your service.

  9. wilsonagaba permalink

    I really appreciate you for being a great man. Rob, you are a hero! Thank you for sharing your stories with us.

    • Wilson,

      Thank you for the kind comments. I don’t always feel like I am a great man and certainty not a hero, but I appreciate the thoughts.

      • wilsonagaba permalink

        Rob, you are a great man! I’m so proud to be your friend.

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