Holy crap I am getting old. I mean what happened to the last 20 years?
Yesterday was the 20 year anniversary of the start of Desert Storm. That was my first wartime experience and even though a lot of the small details have faded, I still remember that day, January 17th, 1991. I can’t believe it has been that long since I was living in the first suck of our modern era out in the Saudi desert. A place where we fought scorpions between platoons for fun, where playing spades and reading the same letters from home over and over again were the only things to do in order to pass the time. By the time Jan 17th came along I had read every book I had and even read some of my friend’s books that I didn’t like but there was nothing else to do.
I can’t believe it has been 20 years since we were wearing our chocolate chips (desert uniform at the time), nomex flight suits and even BDUs in the desert. Actually a lot had happened prior to the transition from Desert Shield to Desert Storm. I had already been in the desert for five months. I had the chance to meet the “man” of the time, GEN Schwarzkopf, and I along with my platoon had already been scared shitless that we were going to get over-run. There was a false alarm long before the air war started which made us think the Iraqis were about to charge across the border at us to take advantage of all of our forces not being in place by that time.
The start of Desert Storm also marked the start of the longest time I ever went in not taking a shower. We started maneuvering to new places in the desert right before the air bombing missions began. When we started moving we left our portable, locally-built, showers behind. I would not see another shower until the end of March with the cease-fire was put into place. I did take what we called “whore-baths” with a little bucket and always cold water. There was no shame, or pride. You did what you had to in front of God and your platoon. We had no choice.
I still tell people today when they complain about not having a bath or shower for a couple of days about what real suffering is all about. See besides just being stinky from everyday body odor and sweating in the desert, we also “lived” most of that time in our MOPP suits. A MOPP suit was our outerwear that protected us against nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare. You may have seen soldiers wearing them at the start of the push into Iraq in 2003. Those were what the army calls JLIST, similar to the MOPP suit, but not as thick. The MOPP suit was this thick and hot top and bottom that were lined with black charcoal powder. It was full of it so when you wore it all day and sweated in it, well as you could imagine we were pretty nasty.
Oh those were the days, days that I can reflect on now but am very glad I don’t have to re-live anymore. I remember during those days of the air war that every time a SCUD missle came overhead we would put on all of our protective NBC gear, to include the protective face mask (AKA gas-mask) and would wear it for hours. We would sleep in it, work in it, etc. etc. for hours on end. I remember going to sleep at night on the floor of my track with my mask on and then being woken up to be told it was “all-clear” and we were allowed to take it off. Fresh air tastes better than steak and feel better than sex when you have been in a pro-mask for 5+ hours. I also remember being asleep and then being woken up by my driver and being told we had to “mask up”, and how friggen pissed I would be.
Another thing we did 20 years ago yesterday was take PB tablets. You can read a little about these things here, http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/medsearch/FocusAreas/pb.shtml. We have a saying in the Army, that says “We train like we fight”. So in all those years of training, how come we never “trained” or talked about PB tablets? You could understand our surprise when on Jan 17th, 1991 when our platoon leadership lined us up in the middle of the platoon assembly area as we stood there in full MOPP gear with our masks on and they handed out these packets of tablets. We were all dropping WTF are these? We were told to take them, so we did.
They also told us that these tablets contained a small amount of nerve agent in order to build up a tolerance, so we would all suffer different symptoms for the first couple of days taking them. I will never forget the following couple of days and having the worst headaches I have ever had. Everyone in the platoon had varying symptoms, but mine were the headaches. I was close to wanting to cut my own head off in order to make it stop.
Yep those are some of the memories I have of those times 20 years ago today….Damn I am getting old.