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As the Haboob blows…

March 26, 2013


Photo from Yahoo


Hey Y’all,

I entered the Air Force at the tender age of 26½, armed with four years of college, three more in Graduate School and 500 hours flying. I had spent some time exploring the underbelly of life as most American males did in the 1990s. I thought I knew some stuff, I was a cool daddy. After entering the Air Force, I learned that I knew nothing about how the world really worked. My new buddies gave me a Doctorate in running the streets.

By the time I hit Tabuk, I was a 33 year old, newly married, Instructor Pilot, with experienced Captain Bars on my uniform. I had been to war in the Balkans. By the way, that is how war should be fought. Live in Germany, fly every third day and tour Europe on the other two day with six of your best buddies. Good food, beautiful sites and great friends is how a European vacation should be spent.

Back to reality, I thought I lived in the tall cotton, but there was one little Arab word that I didn’t know; Haboob. Pronounced Ah..bu. The very thought of it, makes me ill. Literally, this afternoon, ten years after my first experience with the haboob. I was looking for pictures to add to this post, I still can taste the dust.


dust landing

I have no idea where this was taken, but I have always loved it. Photo from Yahoo


Not to be confused with her boobs, haboobs are evil. A haboob is the Arab term for dust storm. Sitting around the tent, someone said we might get to catch a dust storm. I didn’t think twice about it. For one thing, I couldn’t stop it when it happened. And so what, it gets a little dusty then it goes away. We were already living in a dusty part of the world, what could possibly go wrong?

Another quick aside, if I were starting a heavy metal band, I would consider the name Haboob. It is a cool word, with a dark meaning. If anyone wants to use it, please take it. Just let me know so I can be the first to buy a record.

Back to story time campers…

tabuk 009 tabuk 020 tabuk 026

Photos from Capt. Bill Grimes, Tabuk, Saudi Arabia. March 2003.

Before the first haboob, we saw several twisters move across the camp. That was really cool to see a mini-tornado pass through. It didn’t do any damage, all it did was leave the unfortunate tent really dirty. The tents were well protected with double liners. Both liners closed with a zipper. The air in the tent was regulated by a military grade air conditioner/heater. This monster would put out some serious air. When we moved to Al Udied and the outside air temperature rose to 130, the tent stayed a cold 98. It was relatively speaking, nice. Again, another story for another day. Together the air conditioner and the layers of the tent worked very well to keep the air quality somewhere above filthy. To improve life, most everyone built an entrance to the tent. Most of them were about six feet long with another double liner to the outside world.

Zipping the tent got old, so after a week or so, the only zipper that was actually shut was the interior zipper. Since we were one of the cool tents, and we had a couple of guys who knew how to operate power tools, we built a cabana. With plywood half walls, and a railing to lean on, we had a tent that attracted the masses. By folding the outside flaps up, we were open for business serving the best MREs and water in camp Tabuk. On ladies nights, we served Kool-Aid. Actually, every night was ladies night, but there were no ladies in Tabuk. Again, I digress.

The first haboob hit Tabuk without warning. It was sometime in the morning. I don’t remember the time or day because we were in the land that time forgot. We saw it approach tent city. It was a literal wall of dirt. Fast moving, it was on us before we really could react. Quickly securing the flaps of the cabana and closing all four zippers, we all got a good laugh from the excitement, while rinsing the dust out of our mouths and blowing dusty, snot boogers out of our noses. With nothing left to do, I crawled into my cot and pretended to read, sleep, play a video game, and listen to music. In reality, I was looking at the roof of the tent, wondering when it was going to be ripped off. It wasn’t the first time I realized we weren’t in Kansas anymore. But it felt appropriate to think it.


haboob 2

Photo from Yahoo. Unknown Location.

The tent was now a living, breathing organism. Like the human lungs, it inflated and deflated with a rhythmic deafness. The sound of the tent flapping was overwhelming. It wasn’t as loud, as it was constant. Some impacts of the wind were more violent than others, and all occurred without a pattern. One end of the tent might be expanding, while the other was contracting. Think of a rolling flag and add that image to all four walls and the ceiling all flapping in different directions.

The double walled tent was actually dark, even in the day time. But during the haboob, it was a kaleidoscope of lightness and darkness depending on the position of the outside flaps. The particles of dust rained down through the top and sides of the tent leaving a fine coating on everything. By this time, we had only been in Tabuk for three weeks, but already everything was coated in the fine, powered dust. There was no escaping the filth, but on this day that filth seemed to fall like manna from the heavens. It was the gift that kept on giving.

Hours passed before I reached my limit. My Navigator, Gary S. was a veteran of the first Gulf War. He had spent several rotations in the region, and was my number one pick for a crewmate. In the next post I will talk about my crew. So I walked over to Gary’s bunk, ashamed and defeated. I was giving in and turning to my crusty, old war buddy for some comfort. He wasn’t sleeping, just staring at the ceiling, like the rest of us. I asked him if he had seen anything like this. As I remember it, he replied with a line from the movie Tombstone. “I ain’t never heard of anything like this.”

Actually, I was relieved to know that we were all in this together. Later, my Loadmasters, Deron T. and Tracy J. couldn’t take it anymore. They bundled up and left the tent. Armed with Deron’s video camera they stuck their head outside. The video wasn’t on long, and they didn’t go far. Afraid that they wouldn’t find their way back to our tent, they reported to us what they saw. Not much. They could see about three tents away and nothing up above. They wrote some notes on the table outside, but like the ocean that washed away the sandcastle, it was gone when the storm finally passed.

This first haboob lasted the entire day and deep into the night when suddenly, it magically ended. Once it was gone, everyone slowly ventured out of the tents. I will not quote the most often used words, but I think collectively we all said “Wow.” I distinctively, remember another haboob, and there may have been a third. They all run together. I don’t know that the others were as impressive, but they all equally sucked. The next one I will talk about, we didn’t ride out in a tent. We landed in it.


haboob 6

Phot from CNN. Unknown Location.

haboob 5

Photo from Yahoo. Unknown Location.

haboob 4

Photo from Yahoo. Unknown Location but I know it isnt from Iraq. The lights are on.

haboob 3

Photo from Yahoo. Al Asid, Iraq

haboob 1

Photo from Yahoo. Al Asid, Iraq


To quote the great Coolio. “Slide, Slide, Slip and Slide. Everybody hide when the five rolls by.” If he had been in the tent with us in 2003 he would have changed the lyrics to “Slide, Slide, Slip and Slide. Everybody hide when the haboob rolls by.”


Hunker down everyone and keep on rocking!



From → military

  1. Wow. That’s crazy! I’ll have to ask my brother if he had to sit through any of those. I do remember him talking about the sand and the heat. It took him a few years to be able to handle the cold after his two tours in Kuwait.

    • Abby thanks for the comment.

      I would not be surprised if he had a similar experience with the haboob as well. I know there were several impeding the advance into Iraq during late March and early April 2003. By the way, thank him for his service.

      I will tell this story later, but when I returned from there in September 03. It was a warm West Virginia day. Mid-80s. My wife had a red convertible at the time and driving down the road I had to turn on the heat because I was freezing. It is true, it takes a long while to adjust to normal temperatures.

      Ask him if he was overwhelmed by the colors when he returned as well.

      • I hadn’t thought of the color. He came back in the fall I think. Texas doesn’t have quite the fall color show, but I bet it was still overwhelming. He flew back in via Ireland and I know he said he couldn’t stop looking at all the green even outside the Airport window.

      • And thanks, I’ll pass your thanks onto him. 🙂

      • Yes, Ireland was overwhelming to color starved eyes.

  2. Rob, all I can say is this is just both informative and fascinating. I’m really looking forward to your posts, and feel like I’ve been so insulated from these realities. I have no idea if this is the direction you want to go, but your experiences and your ability to write about them would make a great book.

    • Wow, Julie. That is a great compliment. I do appreciate that you think this is story worthy. Coming from someone like you, that is a high honor. Thank You.

      We all have different experiences and backgrounds. I have no idea what it is like to hike in the Colorado mountains. I thank you for sharing your world with the flatlanders as well.

  3. Oh my….that”s one experience I’m content to read about….don’t need to experience. Great description.

    • Thank you Lynn.

      To be honest I spent the first eight years of my military career trying to avoid going to the desert. After I went, I spent the next five trying to avoid going back.

      I don’t need to be shot to know that I don’t want to experience it.

  4. Karlene permalink

    Wow… these are incredible photos of what could be a frightening experience. 26.5 eh? Wow. That’s amazing. You entered the military a unique way and time and I have to wonder if having some life under your belt, before you lived that life wasn’t a really good thing. Another great post!

    • Karlene,

      I was a late bloomer and so fortunate to sneak in under the age limit wire.

      I really appreciate Billy for allowing me to post his photos. I was home this past weekend and one of my goals was to dig into my pictures and turn some of them into the digital quality. I know that you can appreciate the fact that time slipped away from me and now I am back to work relying on yahoo and Billy’s pictures.

      Oh well, it is how the world goes.

      • Karlene permalink

        Oh… time flies. I almost went into the service about the same time but couldn’t get commissioned by the time I was 27. I did not realized there was an age limit. And… when I was younger girls couldn’t fly. go figure. Thank Billy for the great photos!

      • Wilco…

  5. Awesome article! By the way, quick tip. You can insert captions into your pictures. Aside from making them look more presentable, you’re less likely to mess up all the alignment and stuff. Under images, just write in the captions column. The pictures will get a nice grey border and the words inside the border.

    Cheers and looking forward to more of your zany adventures. You’ve seen sights the rest of us can only think of.

    • Thanks for the tip about adding the captions. I am not the guy who is craving to learn about new technology. I find a way that works for me, and once it meets my needs, then I’m good.

      Next post I will attempt to add the caption. My goal is to bring that world to life for you guys. I think that if we collectively learn about each other and the world, then maybe we are less likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.

  6. I got stuck in one of the storms in the middle of Afghanistan. Needless to say we weren’t able to move anywhere for the next week. Missions and flights continually got rolled. At least I got to sleep in!

  7. Mike,

    Thanks for the comments. It is amazing how the environment can shut down the most powerful fighting force ever assembled. It takes an act of nature/God to put us in our places, sometimes. Good to know that you used the time productively.

    If anyone is looking for a great site to learn about the Marine Corp and what it takes to be a real leader in the world. Check out Mike’s site. He is a real American hero, if you were to give me ten more men like him, I know that we could rule the world.

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