Operation Desert Storm
Persian Gulf 1991
9 Mar, 91
I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish this letter tonight because I’m getting pretty tired, and I have a lot to write. Am starting it on my new Desert Storm stationary but will have to finish on another piece.
You asked where we were. Now that’s a good question, the answer to which I am not exactly sure. I do know we’re in the middle of nowhere—no town, house, barn, etc., in sight. The main road running NORTH is within sight of our compound but is probably about a mile away. The desert here is not flat. If you saw Tatooine in the Star Wars movie, it could have been filmed here. The patches of grass when we first arrived were so isolated as to be lost in the sand if one didn’t look very closely. Now we have had several big rain storms, the grass is coming up in places, but for the most part, the desert is still tan. The sand here is only a couple inches deep before a sandstone rock shelf is encountered, so the ridges + hills of sand that are seen on the landscape do not change too much with the sandstorms. As a matter of fact, some Kuwaiti Bedouins were camped here just before we came to set up our hosp[ital.]. They got out of Dodge just before we showed up. The engineers came when we did and pushed a >6’ tall wall of sand around our compound for protection. This is called a berm. We have been confined to this area inside the berm since our arrival except when we went to make a phone call (guess you read Helen Stinson’s account of that in the paper—I was with her on that phone trip). UNTIL THIS WEEK. Two of my tentmates and I decided we would walk on the desert outside the berm. One of them had seen some Bedouins out on the desert on her phone run that morning and wanted to get a closer look. So the three trepid explorers that we are (we’re all quiet + shy), we took off into the wilds of the afternoon desert. Over the [page 2] first ridge, we found the sheep herd and took some pictures. As we approached, we saw a truck take off. We headed in that direction, and after ~1/2 mile, found a long tent in the distance. We were afraid to get too close – not knowing the sentiments of the group. Children bridged the gap, as they often do. One of the girls (nurses) said she felt like she had just stepped off a spaceship and was meeting Earth people (with our uniforms, hats, + protective masks -> at our sides). We figured we looked more odd to them than vise-versa [sic]. After all, we’d seen people like them in Nat’l Geographic. The children ran up + shook hands with us. There were 5 boys in the group – no [female symbol]. They let us take our picture with them. We slipped very easily into the shutterling[?] tourist mode! As we turned to leave, we heard shouting and saw several (~6) women heading for us. We [word crossed out, illegible] were afraid they might do something to us for touching their children, but they all just wanted to shake our hands + thank us for freeing Kuwait. One of them had a baby girl ~ 3 months old whose name in English was “Freedom”. A man drove out in a little truck + a cab full of kids and shook hands with us (usually Arab men only touch fingertips with a woman, but we forgot, and when the hand was proffered, we grabbed the whole thing and pumped it.) They invited us to tea, but we had to get back for a meeting. We promised we’d come back next day (one of [the] ladies spoke a little English—a little more than my Arabic).
[Lower part of this page is the front of the letter, with Maj. Nina B. Harmon’s return address, Mrs. Janet King’s address, an “Operation Desert Storm” seal on the stationary, a small drawing in the usual stamp area saying “Freebie Mail” with smiley face, and postal ink stamp]
We didn’t exactly know how to act or what to expect, so we consulted my favorite interpreter, SGT AYAD. His father owns a multinational investment firm—he goes (went) to school in Boston—plans to go back + finish his degrees in 2 yrs [years] + return to Kuwait to take over his father’s business. Very wealthy, though in his desert fatigues, it didn’t show. His first question was “Are you going alone?” Oops, we forgot it wasn’t proper for [female symbol] to go out alone. I asked if we needed an escort, he said “yes”. Since he wasn’t busy the next afternoon, he agreed to go with us. What a stroke of luck, an interpreter and an escort. The other two girls + I got some little candy bags for the children, and a few extras for the [word crossed out, illegible] ladies. SGT Ayad was ready to go, even though we were late because we had been inundated with patients that day (15 admissions). Our bubble was burst when we arrived, though, because SGT Ayad took off for the right room of the tent while the ladies went to the far left room. Quilted-like blankets formed the walls of this house- the 2 middle rooms were empty. The one side you can see in was open to the air [a simple drawing of a four-roomed tent is to the left and middle of the page]. The men were sitting or lying around a fire. The women were fixing a fire in their area, and some were cutting up a couple of sheep in big, curved[?] metal things that looked like the saucers we used to use for the snow. They had a goat skin in which they were making butter. They put some milk inside, blew it up, and bounced it hard on the floor while holding the ends. You’ve got to really want butter to do that! One girl about 10 sat beside me, and kept calling me Mama. I couldn’t however, understand what she was trying to tell me. By then, one of the other nurses had gone + asked SGT Ayad if he could translate for us. The young girl, however, would not talk to him, so I never knew what she was trying to say. They served a small amount of coffee in a tiny, handleless cup. The other two nurses drank theirs, but mine got spilled and I never asked for more. Didn’t know if their H2O was from an approved source. It’s terrible to be so cautious, but I didn’t want “Hussein’s Revenge”. The other 2 girls are fine today. When we got ready to leave, SGT AYAD held hands with the [male symbol] host as we were [page 4] walking away. Knowing this was perfectly acceptable in their culture, it still seemed strange! One of the things we gave the ladies as we left was a miniature American flag. She came running out as we walked away and wondered if we had more – she wanted one to put on her car! America now has 2 friends besides England: Australia + Kuwait, and both because they feel we helped save them from a dictator!
It’s 2300, or 11 pm, so must go to bed. 0530 comes early! Will write more later.
13 Mar 91
Jonathan’s birthday is in 8 days—he’ll be 13. In 6 days, Henry adds on another year. This birthday group has always been an exciting time for me. I’ve made a lot of fancy birthday cakes for Jonathan. I’ll probably go into a mild decline soon for missing their birthdays. I’m working those days, so doubt I can even call!
You’ve asked me my opinion about the article on Mothers. My Mother + I didn’t have many disagreements. We got along pretty well, and I always felt lucky to have her for a mother. Friends on occasion would tell me how nice she was, and I agreed— so guess it never came to me as a great revelation how much she knew or had to offer—I always felt it (except as a really little girl when I would get spanked, but I don’t remember much about those days—mostly from stories I’ve heard). I was always a busy, feisty little girl.
Believe it or not, I got my teeth cleaned by an oral surgeon. We had several of his patients on our ward; he is a very congenial man, and we all enjoyed having him come to the ward. Anyway, his patient [load bed?], so he took to cleaning some teeth. He was very gentle and also gave me some professional advice about a toot that has been sensitive for years.
Someone here put up one of those multi-mileage signs on a post. You know, the “Greensboro: 10,498; Winston Salem: 10,528; New York City: ~~~” and so on? Unfortunately, it hasn’t weathered the sandstorms very well. The pole still stands, stark on the corner of 2 major roads, but the cardboard mileage markers have fallen. It’s kind of like the symbolism in movies where the deterioration of things symbolizes the passage of time. Usually it’s longer than 6 weeks, though! That’s about how long we’ve been here.
The flies here are very sluggish. Don’t know if it’s from ingestion of sand, sand on the fly hairs or what, but it’s wonderful for the self esteem of the fly swatter. It gives one confidence in their own fly swatting ability.
When I wrote started this letter, I wanted to tell you that I never thought I would miss exercising, but I really do! I haven’t been able to do much—Henry sent me an exercise tape that I did [illegible] in the rec tent last week. Well, this week, aerobics classes started in the rec tent. I showed up with high expectations Monday night at the appointed time, only to find the class had been cancelled. There were several other participants there, so I got my Whitney Houston tape and led about an hour class. SFC M Carrages[?]said all the people who came to watch the movies were turned backwards on their cots watching the aerobics. I had my back to them most of the time. I brought one aerobics suit & tights, the other girls were in sweats. Tomorrow night is high impact night. It will be good to see how much if any, of my stamina I have lost. I was exercising by putting up the hosp[ital.], filling sandbags, carraging[?] carrying heaters + kerosene, etc., but it wasn’t sustained exercising, except for maybe sandbagging!
We had purchased a refrigerator which sat in our tent for a month because it had an odd plug- like a small one that a washer [?] uses. I finally found someone to change the plug, and we got an adapter, so now we can have cold drinks. It’s only a small one, but bigger than dorm ones.
My alarm clock had to be replaced- luckily our small PX had some. It’s the one that Jonathan and Megan Johnson threw in the bottom of the toilet 12 years [page 6] ago. I found it some time later. When it dried out, it was fine. It had lots its case over the years, but it still worked fine. UNTIL last week. I set it to go off at 0530 and put it under my pillow (to muffle the ring)—it went off! I took it out and fiddled with it a little. As I put it back, it went off again. The fourth time I got it under without its ringing, but I decided this was no place for an alarm with a hair trigger. I gave it to a girl who works nights because there is really no one to disturb when she awakes.
Now a very sad note. A few days ago, we got in a 19 year old boy with the diagnosis of “Adjustment Reaction”. It appears he had been on guard duty and came into his tent. Though he thought his weapon was empty, when he threw it on his bunk, it discharged and shot his best friend who arrived at our hospital dead. At 19, one’s whole life is supposed to be before them. What a burden this young man will carry for the rest of his life. 19 year olds think they are invulnerable; what a stark and shocking way to be disillusioned of that fact! Psych is my least favorite area, so all I could do for this young man was to pat him and treat him respectfully to reinforce his sense of his own worth.
Well, I guess I’ll now close this week old letter and get it off before the news is too stale.