Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Desert Storm - Still Waiting

Our daily routine during Desert Shield (which was the build-up phase of the war before Desert Storm officially commenced on January 16, 2001) was fairly sedate. The "OPTEMPO" (Operations Tempo) was rather relaxed. We did have time for side projects as I described in my last installment, but there were "Army" things to do, too.

Guard duty first comes to mind. Doing guard duty was so ingrained in Army life that one's first experience with it comes during basic training. Our time in the desert was certainly no exception to this.

Our platoon was assigned to help the Motor Pool folks guard the "gate" at the southeast portion of the perimeter. There were two troopers on guard at that location at all times, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) and a lower-enlisted person. We had enough people around that we were hit with a two-hour shift about once every 4-5 days. One person was stationed near the gate who was responsible to stop vehicles and check for proper response to the challenge of the day. The other person sat in a small bunker set up about 250 feet away with the M-60 machine gun covering the person on the gate. Each person would put in an hour at each point, sharing the responsibility. A camouflage net was set up near the gate so the person there had at least a little shade. The bunker, as I recall, was rather comfortable to sit in.

On one of my first shifts at the gate, someone from the regiment's support squadron stopped by to drop off food and pick up trash. Of course, he didn't know the proper response to the password. I tried to call the mess sergeant to get him to come and verify the person's identity, but no one would answer. The sergeant driving the truck was rather angry that I wouldn't let him through, but I didn't know who he was - and "orders is orders." The way I looked at it, he should have checked for the proper response before he left.

I remember one day we got quite a surprise. We were hanging around our area, probably playing cards or something, when we heard shots fired from the M-60 in the direction of the gate. We all grabbed our rifles and ran towards the gate. When we go there we found one of the sergeants from the motor pool yelling at the young man behind the M-60. There were two things wrong with this situation:

  1. There was no one anywhere near the gate other than the two guys on guard.
  2. The sergeant doing the yelling was one of the most easy-going guys on the planet. None of us had ever heard him raise his voice, ever.
This was quite an unusual event. Later we found out that the guy behind the '60 was fooling around and wondered what would happen "... if I turned off the safety and pulled the trigger." Well, he found out. He shot four or five rounds towards the sergeant, all of which missed (thankfully) and hit the ground about 5 feet in front of him. I can't say I blame him for being upset.

Another of our "hobbies" was burying commo wire. Commo wire was what we used to connect our field phones to the squadron's switchboard in the motor pool tent. It was a double-strand cable with plastic insulation, rather similar to 20-gauge speaker wire.Using the field phone it was possible to call any unit within the perimeter. Of course, wire simply laid on the ground would be tripped over and damaged quite easily. It was also standard procedure to hide common wire, and burying it was the easiest way to protect and hide the wire.

Other than the area where engineers had moved the sand aside to expose the bedrock for the flight line, the entire camp was like a huge sandbox with the sand being several inches to several feet deep. The problem with burying something in the sand is that it tends to work its way up and out eventually. This is especially true when the wind blows incessantly and people are walking on top of what you buried. This meant we had to bury the entire length of wire from our camp are to the switchboard every two or three days. That was a hot, sweaty job.

We also had to build fighting positions for the members of our platoons. For the first go 'round, we dug a small trench, lined it with sand bags and put a roof over it. This was similar to a "traditional" type fighting position, except that it held about 10 people.

Later, one of the pilots (our scrounger) thought it would be a great idea to build a bunker. His plan was that we would have some engineers dig a large hole with a backhoe, build a small building inside the hole, and then have the engineers backfill the hole with a bulldozer.

After the engineers dug our hole, we spent a couple weeks building the building. We had some pretty smart folks who were very handy with tools. Because of my lack of tool prowess, I was merely unskilled labor. We put together quite a nice little building, though. It was quite a sturdy structure - until the bulldozer pushed the sand back into the hole. Although the guys who designed the structure were pretty smart about how to put up a sturdy structure, they weren't engineers and forgot to take into account the weight of the sand pushing against the outside walls. Once the bulldozer shoved the sand back into the hole, the building twisted and collapsed. Although it was a bit of a waste, we did learn something from it. And, it was a great way to pass the time doing something constructive.

We also did some running to stay in shape. There were some roads worn cut through the squadron area which were suitable for running. We ran around the roads, sometimes with our backpacks on. This was best done early in the morning or late in the evening when it was cooler.

We had some flight missions during this time. More on that next time.

This is part 6 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

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