Operation Dance and Duck - A008
I volunteered to join the military, not because it was something I always wanted to do, like being challenged to learn to jump out of planes, get college money, serve my country by learning to kill people, but rather at the suggestion of my father.
I was 22 years old, not married, no children, not in college or on a career path and that made my family uneasy. They wanted me to be taken care of, just like most all families want for their children and they felt that my wanting to be a photographer for the National Geographic was not a lucrative enough venture. Thing is they didn't know how to help me become an entrepreneur, so that was another reason my father suggested the military. Innocuous enough I suppose and safe for them that I would be in an institution that would take care of my training, medical, dental, retirement and I would get to travel around the world. Since my father and his brothers had been in the Navy and his eldest sister was in the Army Air Corps during WWII, I think he felt I would be in good hands. I haven't had the heart to tell him most of my story and how that was really not the case.
It is true that the military trains photographers and journalists, however the entire 12 years that I was in the Air Force; the photography career field was closed. The very thing I wanted to do in my life was once more just beyond my reach, but I made due and trained as an Air Traffic Controller and then cross-trained into Top Secret Telecommunications and Cryptographic Security which took me to Spain where I stayed for seven years. However, in this new job I learned to work under intense scrutiny and with the threat and fear of going to jail if any of the 375 pounds of Top Secret Cryptographic materials I handled every two weeks, came up missing.
Strange as it may seem, I never really thought I would go to war even as we constantly trained in preparation for it. (I want to say here that that training did not include combat roles or strategies to stay alive in a firefight. It was just training around what my job was, telecommunications, not infantry as what most people think of about war). Most of the time however, I felt safe enough knowing that our greatest deterrent from invasion was our nuclear arsenal (which could destroy the entire planet 33 times) was in good hands with the people in charge. I can no longer say this, but that is another story.
After my time in Spain, I put in for a transfer back to the United States and landed in Arizona where my job, Computer and Top Secret Telecommunications Security Training Program, focused primarily on the new pilots who were at our base to learn how to fly and destroy enemies from the air. Our squadron's main mission was to support the training of new pilots period. None of us had any training or preparation for rapid deployment in the time of war. There were only a few members on our base who had that type of training, Security Police, Civil Engineering and medical personnel.
Then on August 6th, 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I went into my first sergeant's office and volunteered to deploy before anyone else in my communications squadron (about 100 people). The reason was that I was single, no children and not in a relationship. The thought of my not doing so and should anyone else go instead and die I would never have forgiven myself for being so selfish. However, the reality of anyone from our squadron being deployed in the beginning was like my getting a phone call from the president of the United States asking for my opinion about his foreign policy objectives.
As the summer and fall approached and passed, the military continued its buildup in the Persian Gulf. Twice small groups from our base deployed and that made everyone else really nervous, though it was rarely expressed, that is not what military members are suppose to be, scared to die, but we are still human and that going to war is a real fear. The closer winter got to us, the more my gut told me that I was going to be deployed. When I expressed this to a close friend, she said, "... they don't send women to war! Don't be so silly!" I responded, "... what do you think we are trained to do? Our mission is to wage and win war using all means available to do so!"
At 8 o'clock on the morning of January 5th, 1991, I received a phone call from my commanding officer, apologizing profusely, that I had been chosen for deployment in support of Operation Desert Shield. With the deadline for the start of the war being the 15th, I felt for sure that I was being sent to the desert to die for something I really didn't understand outside of removing Iraq out of Kuwait. I didn't follow our countries foreign policy, knew nothing about economics or the fact that Iraq sat on the second largest oil supply in the world, Saudi Arabia being the first. I knew nothing of the Military Industrial Complex or the extremely lucrative business of selling weapons to everyone around the world; many whom American troops would face against in conflict after conflict.
I trusted the people in charge; both the military and the government and felt they always had the troops safety and mission first and foremost on their minds as they designed war strategies. I believed that they would certainly not wage war to sanction their own promotional and business interests.
My commander got the people at headquarters who cut my orders to give me an extra two days to train and get my life put into a box and into storage. I had to have my life packed, my will written and signed, shots, M-16 weapons training, chemical warfare training, and all my combat gear issued. When I left Phoenix, Arizona I took with me 3 duffel bags, an M-16 gun crated and 200 rounds of ammunition, (and with NO combat type of training). Remember I wasn't in the Army or Marines, I was in the Air Force. In the Air Force the planes are our missions priority and we are really all to support the missions of the planes, the bombers, the jet fighters, transports and refueling aircraft.
I am saying all of this so you can understand that not all military persons are trained in a black and white manner or mission. We become the property of the United States government and must do what we are told, period. I also tell you all of this so you can understand where fear comes into play and how deep it creeps into our being afterwards. And let me add to that that I was 34 at the time and I am a woman with experiences of sexual assault, harassment and other experiences around murder, rape and domestic violence within the military. My knowledge included seeing the inner belly of the institutional beast as it prepared to wage death and destruction against the planet and the inhabitants in its cross hairs. I knew that I could disappear and never be heard from again and that was a real possibility and not cowardice playing head games with me. I was a woman traveling alone to the war zone, which I understood, made some folks a bit crazy. It made others just plain mean.
My trip took several days and was loaded full of the fearful anticipation, stories from previous wars and the fact that they called up an order of over 85,000 body bags. We knew we were bound for a serious battle plus the fact that Saddam Hussein used chemicals against the Kurds and Iranians during his 8-year war, which would now include us and we knew it was bound to get really ugly.
Nearly three of the four days of my trip to Saudi Arabia, I spent living in the airplane hanger at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. I learned quickly what it must feel like to be homeless with newspaper for blankets and cardboard for bedding. The large Civil Engineering group I invited myself to hang and travel with, decided after one very short night in billeting (military equivalent to a hotel) was not worth the time spent checking in our weapons into the Armory and lugging of our things and decided to just stay put in the airplane hanger. The hardest parts were: the bathrooms -- just vile and gross; the cold wind that whipped around the hanger every 15 to 20 minutes with each new group (100 to 200) of troops that arrived and packed up and left; no blankets or other comforts; boredom; idle minds that played games on our hearts and souls; and chain smoking.
Just from the time I was there I must have seen over 2,000 troops process through the station. Dominos Pizza made a mint while I was there and could only imagine the money they made for the entire deployment build up. Remember, there were over 696,000 troops that were deployed to the Persian Gulf.
In the wee hours before the group I was with finally got called up for real (after 5 false starts) and left on the C-141 towards Saudi Arabia, I was playing cards with two young Marines. I sat next to them on the floor when a red headed staff sergeant asked if he could join us. My eyes were so red and dry from the lack of sleep and the cold winds that whipped around us every 15 minutes or so that I just wanted to close them and get the moisture back. So when the red head joined the group I excused myself for some shuteye.
Unfortunately, my cardboard sleeping area was about 10 paces away and I didn't want to lug my M-16 any more than I had to, all I wanted to do was get some shut eye. I asked one of the Marines whom I was sitting next to if he would keep an eye on my gun, and he nodded in affirmation. I trusted their integrity and training which was why I asked them to keep an eye on my weapon.
I walked those 10 paces (equivalent to 5 blocks for me) to a vacant spot, sat down and no sooner pulled my hat down over my eyes when, I heard the same Marine looking after my weapon, "What the fuck are you doing, man? ... "You'd better not let HER know that ..."
I threw off my hat and glanced over towards the men playing cards and saw my M-16 in pieces and in the hands of the red head. I flew over there so fast and had him in my clutches with his face up and into mine, my right hand was cocked back and ready to just let him have everything I could ever muster in my entire life. I knew in my soul that I could have killed him right there with one blow to his nose, jamming his cartilage into his brain and I was frightened enough over the whole situation to do just that ... he was fucking with my weapon and my capability to defend myself should I be in a combat situation and I wasn't going to let anyone put me into any disadvantage.
The two young Marines kicked back their cardboard stools and gave me room. Their eyes were as large as softballs and they waited for me to kick the ever loving shit out of the staff sergeant's ass right then and there. The red head looked at me like a deer caught in the headlight of an approaching train. I pulled the red head closer to me and whispered, "You may not believe that we are going to war, but I do! This is the real deal! Your fucking with my weapon could cause my death should I need it and it fucking jams! And if you touch another soldiers weapon in the field it will get you a bullet between your eyes you stupid son-of-a-bitch!"
I was trembling so with fright, lack of sleep, anger and yet restrained from killing him. I knew that if I threw one punch, I would not have stopped until he was gone from the planet. Fact. The voice in my head kept telling me, "Don't you do it, he is just a stupid fuck, don't you do it!" So after what felt like 5 minutes, I pushed him back and away from me. He fell backwards, stumbled to get up then ran away. I never saw him again.
The young Marine whom I had asked to watch my weapon, approached me with great hesitation, "I ... I can put together your weapon Ma'am." He said as he pulled his box stool back into the imaginary card-playing circle, "I thought you were going to kill that stupid son-of-a-bitch! Fucker deserved to get his brains reassembled for combat, stupid fuck! What stopped you?" he asked.
"I think he got the message and I didn't want his blood on my hands, war will be enough without killing off soldiers from my own side." I replied.
When I finally landed at my Top Secret destination in Saudi Arabia I was so bone tired after 4 days without a shower and scared to death because it was a day and a half before the war started. As I waited on the tarmac in the growing darkness for a ride to begin my in-processing at my new home and duty squadron, a storm was leaving the area. Once my ride arrived and I was loading the truck bed with my luggage and weapon, I noticed the strangest lightning I have ever seen in my life, (and I have seen a lot being from Florida). It was purplish and blue fingering out towards Iraq. To me it seemed as if it was death stretching its reach for the impending battle between two great nations. It gave me the shivers and I felt a hallow pang in the pit of my stomach. It was the feeling that I really didn't want to be there and certainly didn't want to die fighting a war (since all I have ever wanted to do in my life was to be a photographer, not killing people). But, that was where I was at and I wasn't going to whine or cry about it, I was just going to do the best I could to stay alive.
January 17th was the night war started for us because we were 12 hours a head of the United States. It was midnight when the wailing alarms filled our tent and outdoors as we awoke in a scramble to get our chemical suits on, certain for our imminent demise just outside our tent door. The light inside the tent kept flickering off and on and the youngest of our group, Tina, kept running to the door and back yelling, "Oh, my God, oh, my God, we're at war, we're at war!"
As I sat on my cot listening to her run back and forth and yelling, I realized that I had made a potentially fatal mistake; with my gas mask jiggling in my cold white hands, it was suppose to be the first thing on, not the last. Try as I did I couldn't get the damn thing on my face and I was beginning to panic until two of my tent mates put their hands on my shoulders and helped me get the thing on my face and air checked for sealing. I took a deep breath and got up to help the others who were lagging behind. By that time a runner outside was making his way through the camp yelling, "Hit the deck! Hit the deck! Hit the deck!" We all stopped what we were doing and looked at each other, then grabbed our flack vests, helmets and flashlights and ran outside, diving into the desert sand of our bunkers.
It was so surreal to sit there, breathing like Darth Vadar and looking skyward for incoming jets to bomb us. I knew that everyone was thinking of their loved ones back home and would rather be there than where we were. I felt like I was going to throw up and really wanted a cigarette. I also promised myself at that moment that for the rest of life I would absolutely do what ever in the world I wanted to and that included being as far away as possible from any desert and the military.
Not too long after our huddle in the sand bunker became really uncomfortable the local Captain walked up to us and told us it was all clear, we could take off our gas masks. And we did and lit up our cigarettes before the masks were put back into their containers. Then the thunderous rumble of our F-16's shook the ground beneath our feet and in the distance all you could see was their bluish, orange flame of their afterburners tear through the darkened sky heading towards Baghdad. You could hear the cheering from over 1,500 other troops at our camp as each one lifted off, it gave me chill bumps and upon impulse I added in my own cheer.
For the next 42 days, 24-hours a day, 7-days a week we bombed Iraq, the equivalent of seven Nagasaki and Hiroshima's. We destroyed what military Iraq had left after its eight-year war with Iran, and as the war raged on we discovered that they were not of the strength that many were led to believe, it was a Turkey-shoot.
I made it home, obviously. But that began another journey of discovery, healing and re-educating myself about such things as war, who starts them, why, who profits and in what ways all of us, including the planet, pays. I left the military on my birthday in 1992 and went back to Florida to attend college. For the last 17 years, I have read about war, U.S. foreign policy, and the sustainability of peaceful negotiations. I have also dealt with my own trauma afterwards and learned about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It has not been easy, and for a large chunk of that time I remained in a dark place of depression, nightmares, attempted suicide, alcohol abuse, anxiety and panic attacks.
I share this because it is the stories and historical accounts that moves forward the growth of the human experience. It should be used in that manner and not for the myth and justification of continued war and destruction for profit and ego. I share this because myself and other war veterans believe that war was to stop with ours and that our sacrifice would keep the next generation safe from harm. But that seems to not be the case, because people ignore veterans who come home and no longer support either that war they were in or all wars in general. We were ignored about the cluster fuck of Afghanistan and the lies about Iraq and the consequences that will come home. We were laughed at and ridiculed for our warnings of troops being stretched too thin and misused for non-valid missions by the talk show hosts who never put on a uniform or actually went to college and learned any history at all. Yet, 'Support the Troops' became the catch all phrase for the passing on untold hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars and lucrative contracts for the privatization of war and securing the oil of Iraq (soon to include Iran and Saudi Arabia).
If you walk away with anything, you can always test the truth by telling yourself to 'follow the money' and question everything!
"War is a racket: the few profit and the many pay" -- Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, USMC, Ret. (deceased).
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