We sat at the airport for hours, but at least the air was on. To kill the time, we played spades, dominoes, read books, or mused on what we might face on our first night ‘in country.’ We left in the late afternoon and boarded our plane. It arrived hours later at the airport in Kuwait. My group offloaded the plane, and we stood in columns in front of more buses. As hot as it was in Texas, it had nothing on Kuwait.
“Jesus,” I muttered trying to regain my breath. “It’s like breathing in a furnace.”
The guy next to me nodded in agreement. We took shallow breaths and tried not to move. Salt stung my eyes, and I blinked my eyes shut. Screw this place, I miss home already.
Our bus pulled up and we boarded it. The driver had the air conditioner running full blast, but it did nothing against such oppressive heat. Curtains covered the windows; they blocked the view of anyone trying to look in, or to protect the public from the busload of Americans who gawked at the strangeness of their new surroundings.
From somewhere in the rear someone yelled, “what’s the curtains for?”
Someone yelled back, “so you don’t look at their women, you godless heathen.”
The driver, a thin Arab man with a massive mustache never said a word. His eyes gave away his displeasure though, as he watched the commotion from the rear-view mirror. Howls of laughter filled the bus, but it died down almost as quickly as it started. Our thoughts drifted back to the families we’d left behind.
It was after dark before we made it to our temporary home. Large brown tents stood in rows, each one air conditioned, and this would be home for two weeks. As we piled off the buses, NCOs herded us into a formation and gave us our bunking assignments. Then, we received another briefing, and we went for midnight chow.
Even at night, the heat was smothering. It was hot, not the 117 degrees it was when we arrived, but it was near 100 that night. A group of us troopers got together and headed off to find the dining facility. The chow hall was two miles from where we bunked, and it took us several minutes to find it. We crammed into the tent, and all around us were soldiers, airmen, Marines, and sailors. Some National Guardsmen sat on the left side of the tent, the only place where a few empty tables were available. The 82nd Airborne had taken up the right side.
I nodded to a couple of them, and they nodded back. My friends and I got our chow and went to sit down. A loudmouthed kid across from us said in a loud and obnoxious voice, “You couldn’t pay me to wear a 1st Cavalry patch. The horse you never ride and line you never cross.” He thought it was hilarious until his eyes noticed he sat across from about fifty of us all wearing the patch he had dissed.
“Uh, I um, I…”
“You should shut up,” I snarled at him. “People like you couldn’t cut it over here, that’s why you would never wear our patch.”
His eyes dropped to the ground, along with his voice, and we watched as he walked away. One of his battle buddies came by and said, “You’ll have to excuse my friend, he’s a bit stupid.”
“That’s one word for it,” I retorted.
I learned many lessons from my time around various units. We all like to think we’re the special donut, but in the end, all we had over there was each other. It wouldn’t take long to realize that in the sand, no one turned away help-regardless of who it came from.
I never saw the fat body who had lumped us in with the garbage, but he wasn’t alone. Each of us kept our own thoughts on the war, or on how the war would get fought. Lord knows, we all reacted to things differently.