Wednesday, April 2, 2003


KUWAIT – It’s o’ dark thirty somewhere near the airport. In our large tent, hundreds of soldiers are playing cards, talking, getting ready for a night’s rest on the plywood floor. Most are stuck here, just passing the time while they wait to move “forward.”

Many of the soldiers that we’re with are from the 300 Quartermaster Company from Peru, Illinois, deployed here to help in Operation Iraq Freedom. They’re here waiting to get to the front lines.

The steady hum of cargo and passenger aircraft traffic on the nearby tarmac has a soothing effect as this background noise drifts into the dark Kuwait night.

It’s all suddenly drowned out by the piercing scream of an air raid siren.

“Lightning…Lightning” comes the voice over the loudspeaker, and in an instant, the tent comes to life. Everyone springs for their gas mask. It’s something they’ve been training for, but here in Kuwait, it’s not a drill.

“There will be no more SCUD EXCERCISES,” reads a sign on the entrance to the chow hall. “If you hear an alarm, it’s the REAL THING.”

Real thing indeed. I’m caught up in the middle of this whirlwind of activity, when I suddenly realize, I’m not immune. When the alarm sounds, it means everyone is a target, including me.

I was trained to get my gas mask on in nine seconds. After getting over the initial shock of the alarm, and then finally finding my mask, I calculated it took me about fifteen seconds. My colleague, Army Sergeant Joe Thompson, is obviously a pro at this, and is halfway done with donning his MOPP gear by the time I’m finished fumbling with my mask.

The chemical protective jacket and trousers are called J-LIST in Army lingo, and they come sealed by convection in foil pouches. Once they’re opened, they have a shelf life of about one hundred and twenty days, and already our first day in Kuwait, we have to open them.

“Thank God we’ve got two sets of this,” I said to myself while realizing a long and dangerous road is ahead of us, provided we make it through this alarm.

The soldiers around me are gearing up for a fight, locked and loaded, full battle rattle and guns ready as I finish putting on my chemical protective gear.

It’s hot in this stuff. The JLIST was not really made for warm climates, and even in the middle of the night when the weather is cool in Kuwait, I’m working up a dreadful sweat just existing in the extra layer of protection.

Joe breaks his glasses in the process of putting on his gear, and just when I begin to ask him what we should do next, a voice can be heard above the waning of the air raid siren.

“All Clear, All Clear” comes as a welcome sigh of relief for all of us in the tent, and the first thing that comes off is my gas mask.

That’s when another voice comes over the radio, in a thick British accent.

“All Clear, All Clear… British Forces… All Clear.” I tried to figure out why the British troops needed a special message. This becomes the running joke with many of the soldiers in our tent the rest of the night.

No word filters down as to what caused the alarm, and images of Patriot missiles blasting SCUDS out of the sky start running through my head.

I packed up my JLIST, my mask, and put it all back in my duffel bags to get ready for our journey into the city of Kuwait the next morning.

Three hours later, it was clear this was an exercise in futility.

“Lightning, Lightning…..”

The tent springs to life again. A soldier across from me cracks a joke as he dons his gas mask.

“Gooooooooood Morning Kuwait!”

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