Operation Desert Storm

I don't remember the exact day I got this in the mail, but it's fair to say it's the most upsetting piece of mail I've ever received.

The upshot of all this was that I got to reunite with my best friend from my regular service days, Raul Garcia. I can't remember the name of the third man in the picture on the right, as he wasn't in our previous unit and wasn't assigned with us when we shipped out.

I'd been recalled to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, which was were I'd received my MOS training (Military Occupational Specialty). It was quite unsettling to be walking such familiar ground. Little did I know that very soon my journey would take me even further back into my limited military history!

First order of business? Haircut, of course! I have no idea what happened to the souvenir sweater. Supply did not have enough gear to complete our issue, so we took a bus ride to another base. That base happened to be Fort Dix in New Jersey, where I'd done Basic Training. We even went to some of the same buildings! Raul and I both did a double-take when we saw our senior drill instructor in the hallways!

Behind me is the plane that would take us overseas. I like how the lighting evokes my expectation of the dark days ahead.

After a transfer in Germany, the plane landed in Saudi Arabia. We were driven to a gym that was being used as a large holding area. I can't remember if I'd brought ear plugs, but it would've been a good idea, 'cause this room was NOISY!

Here I am on the bus that would take us to the unit that we'd been assigned. After several days of traveling, I would finally arrive at my "home away from home."

We rode most of the morning and afternoon, but THE VIEW NEVER CHANGED. It was quite awe-inspiring, but my amazement was superceded by my seatmate's extreme diarrhea of the mouth. He just would not stop talking!! I feel for the guy now, as I'm sure he was terrified and talking was his way of dealing with it, we just had absolutely nothing in common.

We stopped a few times on the way to stretch our legs, and I thought this pose summed up my feelings about the landscape.

When we finally arrived at our unit, it was only miles from the border and we could hear the bombs that US planes were dropping on the front lines to soften them up for the ground war that was days away. I don't know where I got those ridiculous sunglasses, but I was happy to have a flak vest!

The first day we moved out, we stopped at the birm, a quickly raised dual-line ridge of sand to denote the border between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. There were tons of US propaganda leaflets scattered about here, and after watching several people pick them up, I decided I should get some souvenirs of my own.

I love this shot because I really look like I feel. We'd had to don our chemical protective gear, which is lined with charcoal and gets you even filthier than you already are. I also spent the night in the back of the truck, trying to sleep on top of an uneven pile of supplies.

Our unit was one of the last in the convoy, so we watched as all the other vehicles pulled out, lined up and prepared to cross the border.

All my gear on and ready to roll. Can't you see the joy?!

Even before we crossed the border, the smoke from the countless burning oil wells was visible. As we rolled on, we got even closer to them.

We made a temporary camp by the road for one night, and even though we'd travelled most of the day we were still surrounded by countless fires.

Possibly one of the tanks responsible for plowing the hole through the birm.

Two soldiers inspecting a destroyed enemy tank.

Another one-night roadside camp and burning lights still dot the horizon in all directions.

That particular morning as we departed for our next temporary camp, the smoke darkened the sky to an amazing extent. Even though it was only around 8 o'clock in the morning, it seemed that we were driving at the end of dusk.

We were left behind at our last stop, and were to follow our company the following day. I had to sleep under this trailer and it RAINED! I don't know why I've got such a big smile. Perhaps it had something to do with the absence of NCO's and officers who were always trying to find BS things to occupy our time!

Despite the rain, I'd had a really good night's sleep, and posed for this wannabe "hero" shot.

Just a few hours from departure time, and I'm all geared up for another long ride.

We passed quite a few enemy vehicles on the journey, in various stages of destroyed-ness.

This tank just about had its turret completely blown off. IIRC, our tanks had a huge advantage in that they could actually move while aiming and firing while the Iraqi tanks had to sit still to fire. Talk about a turkey shoot!

An armload of captured AK-47's made the rounds with everyone vying to pose for pictures. I was no exception!

I'm so happy to be here, I could just *hit!

Right near our latest camp was an assembly of many captured vehicles. Since we had nothing to do but mark time, we got our tourist kicks by snapping pics!

This picture is particularly chilling, as you can see how the round not only easily penetrated the vehicle, but also blew the front hatch off in the process. The area where the round hit was the gunner's chair, and he probably took it in the stomach. Given the size of the round, he was likely instantaneously converted into tomato paste.

Just hangin' out, waiting to go home. Still no desert camo's.

Depending on how the wind blew, the days could be quite dark. The poles and canvas on the left are a makeshift latrine for guys. Just whip it out and let it go into a tube pounded into the ground. Ain't military technology wonderful?!

On the right is garbage that was burned almost every night, as if there wasn't enough smoke!

One night these soldiers came through the camp looking to swap gear as souvenirs. I didn't have anything to trade but I did get this picture.

In the morning, we stomped out to get more pictures of captured vehicles.

Are we going home yet?!

Nope, not yet! First, we have one more road trip to our final camp. On the way, we passed more destroyed enemy emplacements and more infinite views of a neverending desert.

This burned out truck was just a foretaste of the destruction we'd see on the way. We actually rode down the infamous "Highway of Death" and I managed to get a few shots of the wasteland of blasted vehicles.

Approaching our final campground.

The tent on the right was our home for another few weeks while we waited to head back to port.

Most civilians don't know that even in wartime, you spend a LOT of time being bored! To break it up, we headed out to Camp Freedom, where we'd be able to buy toiletries and, of course, souvenirs!

This car actually passed us on our journey, but we later caught up to it because the driver fell asleep at the wheel! I can't really blame the guy, as the unchanging view would knock anyone out!

On the way, we passed a lot of oddly familiar signage . . .

and some that weren't so familiar!

All the while, the fires continued to burn.

We'd get a lot of thumbs up from children in the hopes that we'd throw food. That was disturbing to say the least.

Camp Freedom was our last road trip before heading back to port. It's kinda weird now to think about how the first thing they wanted us to do was spend money! Not really surprising, just weird.

One of many checkpoints we passed through.

You can just make out the line of vehicles and power lines fading into the distance.

I never noticed until I had this slide scanned that someone spray-painted "MEAT" over the Bahrain sign. Gee, wonder what that was supposed to mean?!

Another all day caravan that was at least punctuated by a lovely sunset. We were put up in a complex of several apartment buildings that I believe were often used by migrant workers.

Once we'd all had showers and a decent nights sleep, shenigans ensued!

I wish I could remember what the story was behind this poor, unfortunate bunny. I don't know whether it was a gift from a loved one or someone's childhood memento. Either way, ya gotta wonder, what the hell is it doing hangin' here?!

It's gonna take more than just a push to get THAT Humvee out!

With even more free time on our hands than usual, it was just a given that we'd eventually be given guard duty. For one long night we strolled up and down this street, making sure nobody messed with our parked vehicles.

I managed to buy some local clothing and try it on. Can't remember what I did with it when I got back.

An M105 Howitzer.

We weren't supposed to leave the apartment complex and go into the local town, but hey, rules were meant to be broken! I found a smoke shop and got a lighter engraved with my name in arabic (at least, I hope that's what it says!), and we had a nice lunch of local food. However, there were some very odd signs . . .

They forgot 'e'; "You have forestalled imminent death for a few minutes. Please use this precious time to get right with God!"

While the food was great, it's a darned shame the proprietor was not a better photographer!

Here I am, looking like an idiot wearing some captured gear consisting of an ammo belt, tanker's helmet and regular army helmet.

FINALLY, we're packing up to go home!!

Between the music from my cheap walkman and the imminent departure for the airport, I managed to raise a real smile!

It's amazing how much gear each soldier has to carry around with them. Even more amazing is how quickly they move it when they know they're going home!

Hurry up and wait! The order of the day (and pretty much every day).

Here we are, waiting to board the plane. The guy on the right is Strickland. I can't remember his first name. We were buds for most of our time in the desert, but I lost track of him once I got home.

Night shots with that old camera usually weren't too good, but here we are boarding the plane to take us to Germany. Due to all our gear, the pilot had to use the entire runway to get enough speed to take off!

We had a brief layover and there was a USO tent. I don't remember much of it except the giant flag they had . . .

I could hear George C. Scott in my head while I posed for this shot!

At last, the plane that would finally take us stateside, although it would still be another few weeks before I actually became a civilian again.

We transferred planes in New York, where I was able to get this serendipitous shot.

My unit's home base was Fort Hood, Texas, and there was a massive gathering of families waiting for them.

These were the barracks where we stayed while we handed in all our gear and were processed out of active service.

The last leg of the journey home ensures both rows of teeth sparkle when I smile!

This small prop plane was the first part of my final journey, taking me to a larger airport where I rode a 747 to Oakland, California.

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