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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Letter from Nina Harmon, 1991

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Object ID: wv0525.4.002

Description:

Creator: Nina Bryson Harmon

Biographical Info: Nina Harmon (b. 1952) served in the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) from 1970-1977 and the ANC Reserves from 1978-1998.

Collection: Nina Harmon Oral History

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

22 Jan, 91

Dear Janet,

Surprise of surprises! The 312th finally left Ft. Bragg. We were going to leave on the 18th, but our flight got cancelled- no crying here. It was the night they started bombing Israel. The next night, though, there was no turning back. We had 5 “cattle cars” (troop movement vehicles that fit on the back of a semi-cab. They are 2-level and have multiple benches inside on which to sit), but even so, it took two trips to take all of us over to Pope. We got there around 6:30 p.m., and shortly thereafter, they started taking us in groups of 50 in alphabetical order to weigh us with our carry-on baggage. I figured I was probably carrying 80-85 lbs extra on my person with my A-bag (carry-on bag like a big gym bag), my web belt (on which I had suspended 2 add-a-pouches containing a walkman + headphones, The Shell Seekers, some envelopes, and a travel pillow), a hip pouch with my camera and case and a running suit; 2 canteens full of water with cases + cups; my first aid pouch, and my poncho (which is pretty heavy); and my ammo pouch in which I had a pair of gloves, a pair of underwear, two tapes and some string. I carried like a shoulder bag a map case with a lot of cards to send home to the family- birthday, Valentine, + everyday cards- about 60 of them’ pens, scissors and my journal which I write in sporadically. We also had to carry a bag with our chemical protective gear that weighed about 15 lbs. In my group which weighted, we had a couple of very large sergeants- 250-350 lbs. I was so afraid my group [pg. 2] would be overweight, but they let the officers get off + kept the NCOs behind. Mom said it’s bad to go to war, but if you must go, it’s better to go as an officer. I agree. We had to walk 100-200 yds [yards] with our stuff to a hangar-like holding area. It was very heavy, but I made it. The holding area was nice in that they had coffee, noodle soup, benches + bathrooms. We thought we’d be sitting outside on the runway all that time. They called roll three different times for accountability. I got together with 3 other people, and we played a rubber of bridge – it took us about 2 hours because we kept going down at first until we’d got a little used to each other’s bidding. It was fun, but the cement floor was pretty hard—my cards will never be the same again –I took ones we don’t use much. About 1:20 a.m., they started calling us to go out to the runway, and we got on the plane about 2:15. It was pretty cold outside, but luckily, I was near the end of the list and only had to wait outside about 20 minutes. We flew on a commercial plane, but under-the-seat space was reduced due to personal flotation devices placed under each seat. Though the flight went smoothly with limited stops, we ended up being on the plane about 19 ½ hours. We flew via Bangor, MA, for refueling and Brussels, Belgium, for resupply while our commander had a briefing. We didn’t get off either place. We got to see London, Paris, and the Riviera by night. The left side of the plane got to see Rome, too. We sure hit a lot of capitols. We also flew over Riyadh, S.A. [Saudi Arabia]. The last couple of hours were pretty scary[?], flying in a big plane (747) near enemy airspace at times. Just before we got to our airport, they turned the lights out to the runway, and we had to circle a long time (with landing lighter[?]) until the lights came back on. The pilot could see firing in the distance- not a settling feeling. I was so thankful when we landed at 5:30 a.m. (Saudi time). Only slept about 4 hours on the plane, so was weary, but with all the adrenaline flowing, no one seemed sleepy at that time. We off-loaded all our own equipment (duffle bags and ruck sacks) and moved them a ways. I couldn’t believe when we got off the airplane- we were in the middle of no-where. No buses, no vehicles except for flat bed trucks for our equipment. I was wondering how far we would have to carry our stuff to get somewhere. We only had to carry it about 200 yards. It actually was smoggy that morning (sand + fog), and when it finally cleared about 10 a.m., I saw several buildings fairly nearby. We finally got a bus to bring us to our temporary quarters about 2 p.m.- thought it was very near, it was about a 1 ½ hr. [hour] trip because we [pg. 3] had to take a very circuitous, though interesting, route. They had there many transportation devices that you might expect to see at a facility like that, and they were loaded. As soon as we hit, we started drinking water to prevent heat problems. They had cases of it (bottled) over in a little covered area they had. We tried their version of an outhouse, and it was fairly primitive- a 4-holer. From the waist level down was plywood, and above that to a low roof was screen wire to improve ventilation. It was a rectangular building about 2’ X 4’. Someone had to hold the door from the outside because it kept falling open. Even with all the screen wire and the fact it wasn’t too hot, the smell was not great. I’m giving you a lot of details because you seemed interested in our goings-on. If it is too tedious for you to read, I can trim it down. The busses finally came, and about 2/3 of the way there, one girl’s bladder got so full she couldn’t stand it, so she cut off the top of a 1 ½ liter bottle and used that in the aisle of the bus. Right after that, one of the busses behind us passed us and pulled over. About 20 people, mostly men, jumped off the bus and ran behind the sand dunes. I had to go by then, but I didn’t want to get arrested [?] and shot at dawn. As soon as the bus stopped, I ran into the headquarters building. We’ve been here 2 days and two nights, now, and it’s been interesting. The days we spend relaxing, adjusting to the 8-hour time change, + unpacking (though we are here only temporarily). Our nights are pretty busy. [pg. 4] Two nights times the first night we ended up in our special, charcoal lined suits, etc., for 1 ½ to 2 hours each time, in our windowless area. We are so grateful for the Patriots [MIM-104 Patriot or "Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept on Target", surface-to-air missile system]. As one girl said, and we all feel, they are tax dollars well spent. One British announcer on the radio last night said we may be safer with Patriots + Scuds than we would be with the traffic in D.C. Don’t know if I would agree. They’re both nerve-wracking, but one I’m more familiar with than the other. With the charcoal of our suits, our hands and bodies are perpetually black. It’s worse than camping- the black under the fingernails, that is. Didn’t get much sleep that night, either. Last night was better. Though they started earlier, we only had to get up once, and that not for long. The tension is telling on some people- they are much more likely to lash out. I feel myself wanting to do it sometimes but am able to bite it back so far.

We have a breakfast + dinner served by Saudis, and our lunch is a pre-packaged meal. For breakfast, we had powdered, scrambled eggs and creamed mystery meat (which I didn’t eat), and French toast, French fries, corn flakes, a doughnut and a croissant. For dinner, we had a scrawny chicken, green beans, and mashed potatoes & gravy that had an interesting flavor. They served pita bread with dinner – it was about 10-12” wide. They had it halved and heaped in a big pile. I didn’t feel too great after dinner, but it didn’t last long. Missed breakfast today because of an alert. I may lose some of the weight I gained at Ft. Bragg if I haven’t already. Wish I could use a set of scales, though a broom or dust-buster would be more useful right now. Well, take care and write. Nina.

P.S. We can’t throw TP in toilet- it messes up plumbing. Had to retrieve it with hand once.

MAJ Nina B. Harmon

[Social Security Number redacted]

312th EVAC HOSP

Operation Desert Shield/Storm

APO, N.Y. 09698

[Front of envelope includes above contact information and mail-to address, recipient is Mrs. Janet M. King of Greensboro]