Sunday, February 13, 2011

Gearing Up For the Ground War

The Air War Begins
On the morning the "Air War" phase of Desert Storm started, we were sitting in our tent listening to the audio feed from one of the major networks on Armed Forces Radio. We were all a bit frustrated listening to the announcer describe what was happening on the screen. It was something like, "... now watch the camera on the bomb as it leaves the plane and flies down. Look at the precision as it goes through the window and then explodes." Of course, we couldn't see it. I remember watching similar scenes years later and thinking to myself, "Oh, that's what we missed that morning."

Burning Down The Town
When we received the warning that we would be moving up to the Saudi/Iraqi border, we started to dismantle the town we built. We tore down the "hootches," the goody locker, the shower, the laundry, everything that could be burned was put into the large pit where our ill-fated bunker project had started.

Oh, I forgot about the bunker ...

The Bunker
At some point after we arrived, we were tasked to build fighting positions or bunker space where we could hide in case of an air raid or ground attack. Digging in the soft sand where we were situation was easier said than done. For every shovel full of sand you threw out of a hole, another would fall back in. We filled as many sandbags as we could get hold of and tried various methods of shoring up the walls while we dug. It was no use.

To make matters worse, a certain captain ("Lenoch" we called him) loved to drive around the encampment and look for troopers wearing "dew rags." Basically, anything wrapped around the head to keep the sweat out of your eyes was forbidden. It didn't help morale that we were working on a seemingly endless and doomed task, but to add the ban on "sweat in the eye protection" was too much.

To solve the problem, Scounger and a couple other of the more handy of us got together and drew up plans for a bunker.

He arranged for some engineers to come and excavate a large hole for us. Bulldozers and backhoes made the work easy and we had a hold about 100 feet long by 50 feet wide and about 10 feet deep in a matter of a couple hours.

Once the hole was done, we started building the bunker. Basically, it was a three-room building, much like a storage shed one might build in their back yard. There was room for twenty people to be inside without it being too cramped. There were 2 doorways and slots up towards where the walls met the roof so we could shoot out if needed. It was quite a nice little building. It took a week or so to get it all done. The plan was to "shingle" the roof with sandbags to protect the top from blast and shrapnel.

Once it was done, Scrounger called his engineer friends to come and backfill the hole so the bunker would be mostly underground. The bulldozer came and started pushing sand back into the hole. Everything was working just fine until at one point the the entire structure twisted and collapsed under the weight of the sand pushing on the walls. The building was very sturdy as far as free-standing structures went. Unfortunately, it was not designed to withstand the weight of tons of sand pushing in on two or three sides.

In our "After Action Review" of the collapse, we all agreed it was a good thing no one was standing inside the bunker when the backfilling was being done. We also agree that, perhaps, if we'd had the engineer push smaller amounts of sand at a time and made three or four trips around the hole as it was filled in, the structure might have stood up. Too much weight on one side or another was too much.

Back To The Burning
As we dismantled the "town" we threw everything we couldn't carry into the pit. That included (unfortunately) a lot of stuff people from home sent us as well as a lot of other stuff. I remember commenting that we should have at least left the lumber for the Bedouins in the area as they might have found it handy to use. No, I was told it all had to either go with us or be destroyed.

We packed up our stuff, loaded it up into trucks, made sure everyone had a ride (or a seat in an aircraft) and headed to the border.

We temporarily added an extra person to our group during this time. The guy who handled the squadron's mail was also a Blackhawk crew chief. He technically worked for the headquarters, directly for Lenoch. This knucklehead didn't have enough room for all his people. When the mail guy headed up to the headquarters to catch a ride north, he was told to hitch a ride because they didn't have room for him. As an NCO this incensed me. #1 Rule: Take care of your soldiers! We had room so we grabbed him up. It took a week or two before anyone in his group noticed he was missing. Terrible.

Moving North
Here's a nice map from Wikipedia showing the locations of the units before and after the ground war:

I'm not sure if this is completely accurate. As I understood we were the last U.S. unit to the west with only the French contingent being further west.

And there we sat for another month or so. We weren't totally idle, but we really weren't in any action either ...  yet.

This is part 11 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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