Arabian Nights

            Faithful and conscientious readers of my tales will have by now no doubt been pummeled with the fact that Langley rotated personnel to Saudi Arabia every so often in support of Operation Southern Watch; an operation long since rendered useless by our invasion. Those of you who fail to observe the news or only watch Fox may have some idyllic picture of the Mid-East; a vision of grand palaces, absurdly clothed caliphs, emirs and wazirs, flying carpets, and talking parrots mimicking the dulcet tones of Gilbert Gottfried. Not at all my friends for in truth it is a tedious place of heat and desolation removed from Satan’s bunions and flopped upon the backside crevasse of Asia. The Air Force felt it wise we spend significant time there.

            Since I missed the first tour over there due to my arm operation, that was no getting out of the second and I resigned myself to doing the time. I had made arrangement with Bryan, who was my new roommate if you recall, that he take the first rotation and I the second that each of us could maximize time alone in the apartment pants less; a condition unappreciated in times of dual occupancy. Before leaving I felt it incumbent to both stock the fridge with beer (alcohol is not allowed in Saudi) and neglect to clean the bathroom as a little welcome back and fuck you at the same time. In addition I set an elaborate and obvious beer trap in the living room which well may have worked, was never admitted to. I flipped the lights and set forth.

            As I have used this forum to take shots at everyone and anything that has annoyed me since childhood, I see no reason to stop now and will take the opportunity to rail against anyone involved in Air Force logistics. The day we left it was absolutely required to show up at 6:00 AM sharp for an early departure. Despite the presence of the plane already on the Langley runway, and that all supplies were loaded, and we each only had one bag worth of stuff to haul over to be loaded, we waited around for 12 hours doing nothing while those in charge bumbled about for no good reason. The crowd grew restless as no food was forthcoming prompting the commander to order pizzas. To this day I am still livid. Despite the impossibly easy calculation of how many slices come in a pie and how many people were present (we had been counted at least 4 times), the painfully stupid moron failed to order even 1 slice per person to the outrage of those of us in the back of the line who went hungry that afternoon. Had I the stones I would have beaten him mercilessly with the sandstorm goggles we had just been issued.

            By 6:00 PM we had finally boarded and settled in for what promised to be an incredibly long flight. The decent part of this was that they booked an aircraft that was many times larger than the group going meaning we would be spared from the typical agony of long coach flights sitting cheek to cheek. I managed to snag a window row myself which gave me the opportunity to stretch out and get some sleep. This luxury, however, was short lived as I had Tiffany and Harley in the row behind me and she would send him up to sit with me when she wanted to nap, which was frequent and for long periods. I was comforted at least by the feeding schedule as the stewardess would come though about every 2 hours with either a meal or a snack. Harley proved his worth through his talent of stealing from the cart when she wasn’t looking, though had to be persuaded to share his ill gotten goods.

            The flight plan was to fly Langley to Paris, then after a layover, on to Prince Sultan Air Base (hereafter known as PSAB) in the heart of the Arabian Desert. Originally we were under the impression that we would be able to deplane in Paris, enjoy some fine French wine and stinky cheese before being on our merry way, and most importantly, smoke. Those of you who never experience the powerful allure of Queen Nicotine have no idea the horror of intercontinental flight and the depravation it can cause. By the time we began our descent into de Gaulle we were fingering our packs in giddy anticipation.

            After the fact it was theorized that our pilot had started work for Tower Air that very day after a long career of landing Tomcat’s on aircraft carriers. The landing was the worst I had experienced as the plane slammed onto the tarmac and came to a stop just a few dozen yards from where we touched down. The force of the impact was enough to throw us all forward and dislodge the oxygen equipment from the stow-a-ways above us. Well, everyone’s but mine, which failed to appear to my discomfort. The slam also managed to completely break all of the landing gear, which would have to be changed out before we could be on our way. Great hopes arose that this new development might mean a night in gay Paris before another plane could be obtained. The excitement rumbled though the masses.

            The plane was turned off and we slowly baked under the pale French sun making things significantly uncomfortable. Why were they not letting us off? Arranging hotel space was the most likely answer we all thought. The displeasurable sensation that we might be mistaken arose when we noted work crews approaching who began actually jacking up the plane. Panicked outrage followed as the plane was now on blocks, it probably meant that it would not be taxing to the concourse to let us off and that they intended to change out the landing gear right there. Those bastards! Word finally filtered back from the officers that the French government declined allowing us to deplane; disliking the idea of having American military members in uniform scattered about their little airport, and claiming it was “for our own safety”. Bastards! Oh how we cursed the fool pilot, the inept Saudis we were being sent to defend, and most of all the cowardly French, and well prior to that whole ‘Freedom Fry’ snub they didn’t give a shit about. We sat for a miserable 5 ½ hours before being on our way, nic-fitting and fantastically grumpy.

            We finally arrived mid-evening, well after sunset, after flying over miles and miles of desolation. Making my way to the exit I stepped into the Arabian night. My first thought was, “Man, that’s pretty fucking hot” People, notably people trying to market Arizona or those who had been suckered by said marketing, like to say that “dry” heat isn’t nearly so bad as humidity. “You hardly notice it!” What a complete line of crap. Point a blow dryer at your face and enjoy the ‘hardly noticeable’ effect of the breeze coming out of the deep desert. My sinuses immediately began to dry and would remain so, clogged with sand and dust for the next two months. Unable to wait until even reaching the foot of the stairs, I broke every rule and lit up adding sweet tar to the mix of pollutants that assailed me.

            The first night was bizarre. We were briefed in about the rules and culture of the place. No porn, no alcohol, no using your left hand in front of the Saudis, and overexposure to the sun to get out of work was direct disobedience. Finally, we were assigned dorm rooms. Our fortune in this area was considerable. Years ago when the rigmarole began with the elder Bush, airmen were quartered in the luxurious Khobar towers, which as you know, terrorists blew up. Deciding Riyadh was not safe, they coaxed the Saudi’s to build a brand new air base out in the middle of nowhere for the American, British and French forces supporting Southern Watch. The Saudi’s complied and contracted the illustrious Bin Laden family to do the work. Contractors being contractors wherever they are, they took a damn long time completing the work, and in the mean time, a vast tent city was utilized. The dorms were finally erected and we were the first group to enjoy them. Somehow, I pulled Bell as my roommate once again.

            After much politicking, dickering, and some obscure innuendo I managed to secure the mid shift as my own and also managed to get Tiffany assigned to work with me as my protégé; a situation we schemed a long time before. My motive was actually pure. She had been having a hard time coming up to speed working with substandard trainers from the time she arrived and showed motivation to join the ranks of the TISS gods, of which there were few and I was one. My philosophy on such things was that a smart monkey could do the job if properly instructed (a statement uttered often to the extreme annoyance of those very proud at having gained rudimentary troubleshooting skills), and since she could beat me at Scrabble every single time I felt confident she had considerably more brain power than our distant simian cousins.tiffany-saudi-shop-playing-scrabble

            Working mids had a number of considerable advantages. The first and foremost being that it was overnight and the sun wasn’t out. The Arabian Desert typically experienced temperatures approaching 130 F during the day in mid summer and cooled down to a comfortable 105 overnight. Working mids allowed us to be up and about in uniform in the “cool” part of the day and to sleep during the hottest. Even so, the amount of water pulled though the skin was tremendous and required copious amounts of fluid to replenish. Furthermore, this condition also presented a laundry challenge as uniforms after two days of wear would accumulate highly noticeable salt deposits that made their way to your outer garment and advertised to the world exactly how hygienic you really were.saudi-jens-knudson-manny-alcantara-jeff-lawinger-tiffany-fitzpatrick-tim-kyle-jay-bell-ken-brown

            Also advantageous about mids was midnight chow. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Saudi, so people took their eating pretty seriously. At any time, day or night, there was always a chow hall open somewhere with full service and were usually packed to the gills. On mids however, the one that was open also was pretty hard to get to and given there being no standard meal time between 11:00 PM and 4:00 AM, there was a good chance of there not being a line. On top of that, the food there was the best: omelets to order, fresh baked biscuits, eggs, all kinds of breakfast meat, pastries, sandwiches, usually a casserole or two, and best of all, a fully stocked serve yourself sundae bar.

            The shop had two vehicles assigned to it; a large bread van and a tiny Daewoo pickup. One some occasions a bunch of us would ride over in the bread van, in which case the driver would test how far he could take curves to upset those riding in back without tipping the piece of shit over. Most of the time, however, Tiffany and I would just ride the little Daewoo over and enjoy a sumptuous feast. Though it was universally acknowledged that the sundae bar was the one saving grace of Saudi, Tiffany being a woman refused to get one herself due to the notion that should the disinterested other diners see her getting one, they might perceive her as fat. Instead I was always tasked with both making one for myself and one for her and giving the aforementioned diners the notion that I was a greedy hog, which was true. me-in-the-daewoo-saudi

            Also at our disposal were huge crates full of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). As I understand it, these concoctions with decade’s long shelf life had improved immeasurably since the olden days with C-Rations, K-Rations and hard tack, whatever that was. I’m inclined to agree; they were pretty good for the most part and even included a chemical heating element so that we didn’t have to eat the atrocious ham and cheese omelet cold. I don’t know what they do to eggs to make them last for tens of years but I am sure it’s exceedingly unpleasant. Most of the other dishes were all right, but it was the sides we truly craved; luscious chocolate protein bars, candy, cheese whiz, cookies, peanut butter, and crackers of various consistencies. Naturally the packages were unlabeled, so we’d tear into them and make complex negotiations to trade what we hated for what we liked. Those poor bastards who drew the omelet or the ham steak were left tugging their ears in envy. Of course a single MRE is designed with enough fat and calories to keep a special forces troop fed for a full day in a combat situation, so those who partook too often left the desert with a bit of a weight problem.

            When morning came, we faced the dreaded bus ride back to the dorms. When the Bin Laden’s built the base, they somehow felt it incumbent to locate the living quarters many miles away from where people worked. They apparently enjoyed malevolent planning which was also evidenced by the tunnels discovered that opened well outside the base perimeter. The bus ran about every half hour or so and was guaranteed to be packed. By the time we departed after turnover, the sun was already coming up and the temperatures climbing into the one teens or one twenties. Due to this and the packed conditions of the bus, the meager air conditioner was quickly overwhelmed and stopped working all together leaving us pressed together in a sweaty me-at-the-saudi-bus-stopsalty mess. On bad days I would be stuck on the inner seat on the left side facing the sun. The busses were bare bones and didn’t include padding on the side, thus ensuring one’s arm was pressed against hot metal of the side panel which with sleeves rolled up meant second degree burns. Being chivalrous, I was always stuck in this position.

            Aside from work, the vast majority of my time was spent hanging out with Tiffany; eating, working out, going to the pool, the BX, taking walks and watching movies (there were free ‘rentals’ that could be borrowed and watched in the dorm dayrooms). Although her boyfriend, Harley, was also there with us, he worked a different shift and was not available much. As nature dictates these damnable situations to occur as often as possible, I came to the sudden and powerful realization one morning seeing her so happy to see me coming down the hall, that I was completely smitten and knew full well that nothing good could come of it.

            This is obviously a two-parter as I have not even touched yet on the camel spiders and other wildlife, not to mention a real air raid, the shift wars, and of course the subject of the last paragraph.

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4 Responses

  1. What stage of your military career where you at when Desert Storm started? Where you done with basic? Done with tech school?

    Did Bryan similarly leave a thank you and fuck you upon leaving for his rotation?

    I KNOW YOU ARE A GREEDY HOG!

    Even though history contradict this, you would think that the military would want very healthy food for their soldiers seeing as how they train them so well. Of course the moral hit may be a big reason why they serve you the equivalent of greasy fat in an appealing container.

    How long where the rotations?

    You working out? I need details on that? Did you actually accomplish something, or were you one of those annoying fucks that just use it as a social hour.

    You surely mentioned this previously, but what does BX stand for?

  2. What are you babbling about – Desert Storm was from 1990 to 1991. We were in college!
    As for why they serve you “greasy fat” (your name for ham) in an appealing container, did it occur to you how much non-fattening food you would need to eat to consume 5,000 calories in a day? Or how many dumps you would need to take if you consumed 5,000 calories of pasta?

  3. Whatever it was! One of the many gulf wars broke out while Mike was in the Air Force.

    I agree, but they do not need ALL the calories to be “greasy fat”. God, instead of serving 10 Ho-Ho’s, hoe about 9 Ho-Ho’s and 1 carrot!

  4. OK, for those who eschew the paper, the first Gulf War broke out in 1990 and was effectively over in 1991. In 1993, Saddam attempted a beat down on the Kurds in the North and the Shiites in the South. As a result, the US, Brittain and France established the ‘No Fly Zones’ in the North and South of Iraq and code named the operations to enforce this Northern Watch and Southern Watch. The operation I was there to support was Southern Watch. During the time of these operations we had a few occasions to bomb Iraq proper for things like the assasination attempt on Big Daddy Bush, throwing out the weapons inspectors for the umpteeth time, firing on our planes, etc. These operations continued until we invaded Iraq in 2003. I was there in 1999, well distanced from both Gulf wars.

    Bryan didn’t have the opportunity as he went on the rotation before me, although upon returning home he did stock the fridge with my favorite beer and announced that he as well didn’t clean the bathroom the whole time making it a truely disgusting mess.

    The military considers things like ham to be ‘healthy’. If you are in a situation where the bullets and bombs are flying, the AF is far more interested in making sure you have enough calories to continue on. Worries of cholesterol and triglycerides somehow become distant worries when people are actively trying their best to kill you. Unfortunately, they declined to produce both combat MREs and ‘Sit On Your Ass and Test Electonics’ MREs. Also, it is difficult to find fresh produce that keeps for 10 years in a plastic bag.

    The rotations were 2 to 3 months.

    Actually, I did work out almost every day. I did the treadmill for 40 minutes, the last 10 of which were on the highest setting for a full out run. I also worked out with weights and one of those ab rollers. While I had more muscle and endurance by the time I left, I had not lost any weight on account of the MREs and the 3 sundaes each day.

    BX stands for ‘Base Exchange’. I have no idea why it wasn’t called the BE since the military is fanatic about clearly naming things, usually by whatever name happens to be on it. For example in my shop one of the tool kits was called the ‘Kennedy Kit’ simply because the comany who made the box was Kennedy and the label on the bottom said this. Same with the Grainger table, the Leonard shed, and SK wrench.

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