Saturday, September 18, 2010

Desert Storm - It's HOT In Saudi Arabia

It was an October morning when we landed in Saudi Arabia. The air was already cooling in the West Texas Desert we left, but not on the Arabian Peninsula. It had to be in the 90s already when we arrived mid-morning on that day.

When the flight attendants opened the door, all the moisture in the aircraft was sucked out and you could feel the dryness on your skin. If you've ever flown to El Paso or Las Vegas, you know the feeling. It was more intense over there, though. It made me think of the science fiction book Dune. I was half expecting to be issued a "still suit" to recover water from my body.

I had a reason to be wary of working in such an environment.

Extreme heat and I have been enemies for a long time. Growing up in Michigan, I really didn't spend too much time in temperatures above 95 or so degrees. My time in the Army, though, was another story.

During my initial training I attended a school near San Angelo, Texas. Towards the end of our time there, we had a field training exercise which they called "Armydillo." It was a weekend trip to the desert to participate in "Army" activities such as digging foxholes and forced marches. I was careful to make sure I drank enough water to stay hydrated and taking breaks in the shade when told to. My tent mate, on the other hand, was a bit of a goof and brought two canteens full of Sloe Gin with him. I'm sure he had more fun than I did.

It was the hottest day in history for that September day in that part of Texas. I think the heat index (temperature eith humidity taken into account) was 110 degrees. We were all hot an miserable, and I more so than the others. I wasn't totally aware of it at the time, but I have a propensity to suffer easily from heat exhaustion (AKA heat prostration). I get to a point where my brain starts to shut down and I act as if drunk. Later, my cohorts in Saudi Arabia got to know my peculiar "thousand yard stare" and knew when I needed assistance.  On this particular day, though, none of us were quite prepared for how I was to spend the latter parts of that Saturday outside San Angelo.

I don't remember too much of what happened in the latter part that day. A lot of what I think I remember may have been related to me after the fact. Things started going downhill for me during the forced march. I remember walking in a staggered formation along with my fellow soldiers and being cold. I think I may have mentioned to someone that I was cold and was glad they made us pack our jackets even though it seemed a silly idea to haul around a jacket in September in Texas. Someone grabbed a medic, who forced me to sit on the side of the road while he poured water over my head. I remember the cool water hitting my body was very painful.

Because the only ambulance available was already transporting someone who fell and broke their leg to the hospital, I had to walk back to where we made our camp. I don't remember much about the walk, other than I remember it was more of a drunken stagger (picture a scene from a movie or TV show where someone is trudging through the desert). When we got back to the camp, the medic had my classmates help me to the just-returned ambulance so I could be further evaluated. I don't remember doing so, but my classmates later told me I had some very choice words for our instructor and told the chaplain to "F*** off" when he asked how I was doing. That was totally out of character for me, so my friends knew I wasn't doing very well. I'm also told that while I was laying in the back of the ambulance, one of my classmates tried to loosen up my belt and shirt and I took a swing at him. Again, this is totally against my nature.

The rest of the afternoon and evening is a blur. The next thing I definitely remember was waking up in the hospital with IVs running into each arm. The doctor told me that I came as close to having heat stroke as one could without actually having it. It mattered little to me at the time as I felt like I'd been hit by a truck.

Fast forward to Saudi Arabia. I'd had heat exhaustion many times up to this point, so I warned my compatriots to watch out for me. I was fortunate that my platoon mates looked out for me quite well. There were 3 or 4 of them who were trained as combat medics to give IVs. When I got to a certain point, they'd know to hit me up for practice. Here's a snap of one such instance (thanks for Spiffyd for the picture):

Yup, that's me on the cot. This was taken sometime during the months we were in Central Saudi Arabia waiting for either Saddam to capitulate or the shooting war to start.

I like to joke around that I had so many IVs during our months over there that I looked like a junkie with track marks when we returned to The States. It wasn't too far from the truth, though.

This is part 4 in a series. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19