January 1991 somewhere in central Saudi Arabia. From right to left: Glenn 'Jimmy' Hendricks, Edgar 'Curtie-Wertie' Curtis and me. Photographer unidentified. A nation is only as strong as its trees-MJM
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's interior did not seem to have any at all from the 360 degree view out of our third three person fighting hole north of Riyad where we had landed on the peninsula in December. I know that it is a mistake to get caught up in the past, however this regurgitation of the events that took place in late 1990 and early 1991 are directly connected to our now.
In all directions there appeared to be nothing but sand. Occasionally it was rolling in undulating dunes but primarily the soft tan sand surface lay flat all the way to the endless horizon. At this point of Operation Desert Shield about to become Storm I shared my hole in the ground with two other Golf Company 2/4 Marines. They were none other than Glenn 'Jimmy' Hendricks from Savannah Georgia and Edgar 'Curtie-Wertie' Curtis from Fort Smith Arkansas. We were an infantry machine gun team and at the same time friends stuck in a hole in the desert.
Collectively we knew nothing about why we were where we were other than what we had been told by our command. The daily repeated story line from the top went down the chain something like this: It was going to be our job as part of the 2nd Marine Division to help liberate the Kuwaiti people from the Iraqi occupation that started in August when Saddam invaded with his third largest army in the world. Somehow the darkness of the unknown kept us ignorant to the truth at that time. We were counting on what they were telling us because we needed to know or at least it seemed as if we did.
While we sat in our subterranean hole at this particular spot the tactical destructive sorties continued over Iraq and Kuwait around the clock. These air run bombing missions controlled by the USA started in January and continued through the start of the ground war on February 24, 1991. During those few short weeks the coalition flew over 100,000 sorties, dropping 88,500 tons of bombs and widely destroying military and civilian infrastructure in Iraq as well as specific military targets in Kuwait. The air campaign was superior and relentless. Think about that amount of ordinance in that time span over that specific area in the world.
At night the desert was softly lit by the infinite number of stars expanding outward into the blackness of space. Our home the Milky Way was completely visible as it snaked through the middle of the night sky. Most nights the three of us would stay up late smoking cigarettes, talking and wishing that we were somewhere else. We had been in the field for a month and it had been that long since a real shower and real food. Even though folks from ours and other 2nd Mar/Div units were occupying similar holes to our left and right roughly every 15-20 meters, at night our little gun team seemed completely alone in the quiet shadowy desert landscape.
Looking up from this spot into the night we started to notice the lights on the planes headed north on their bombing runs. Sometimes there was only one or two planes flying away from us but we often were able to count over twenty at a time. As they made their way north one right after the other in line their small lights blinked red, green or white. At some point in front of us without warning the lights would be shut off for tactical reasons and the planes would just disappear like they had evaporated into the infinite universe. Jimmy and I would talk about what it must be like to be up that high and travelling so fast with bombs on board. It was unimaginable but we were kids wide awake and needing something to talk about. Time would pass. We would concentrate on the sky and every time at some point the plane's lights would be apparent again. This time the jets without their payloads were headed south on the return flight to air bases in the center of the Kingdom.
I will never forget what happened one particular night while we were sitting in our sand hole watching the star filled sky for aircraft. It was late and once again we were wide awake so the noise approaching from our right seemed to warn us of the unexpected visitor that we were about to have.