Twenty-one years ago today I was deployed to Desert Shield/Desert Storm and what is now known as the First Persian Gulf War. Women soldiers then were more of an oddity. Though women had been nurses in Vietnam — China Beach starring Dana Delaney was airing in prime time– there was nothing like what the military was experiencing for Desert Shield. We would be truck drivers, supply sergeants, fuel handlers, clerks, and any other job the military could put us to work on.
From the day the news announced that Saddam Hussein had invaded Iraq, everyone in my company knew we were going — just not sure when. No one would tell us anything. There was this unspoken acceptance among all the soldiers that it was in our future, despite all the rumors that flew about so fast that it put Star Trek‘s warp speed to shame.
Getting deployed overnight is better than waiting for it to come. Newspapers and TV news shows sensationalized everything. Makes for great ratings, but hard on soldiers who are thinking about what might happen to us. We were treated to a non-stop parade of news about Iraq planning to gas the soldiers. One particularly memorable op-ed drawing in USA Today showed a soldier in a kevlar helmet and uniform with a skull where the face should be.
And we were going over to that?!!
The women soldiers were also given briefings by an Arab male soldier who told us what we would be facing once we landed in Saudi Arabia. Even showing our forearms was considered a big no-no, and the covers on romance novels — well, my best buddy lamented the future destruction of her book covers. Threaded through the instructor’s training was how much he disapproved of women going over there at all. He didn’t say it, but it came across in way he talked. We were all outraged by his attitude. It wasn’t that he wanted to protect women; he thought we weren’t capable of being on the battlefield at all because we were women.
On October 25, we all got up for our final formation in the United States and marched to a nearby gym. USO workers were standing by with lunches for us as we boarded a bus for a nearby Air Force base. We were a quiet bunch. Gone was the false bravado the guys had displayed while we waited for deployment news. We were going, and we didn’t know what would be there when we arrived.
It was a little like leaving home for the first time — that fear that the lines have been cut, and we’re on our own.
The only difference was that the unknown we were going into might kill us.
Have you ever been in a situation where you didn’t know what you were getting into until you got there? What did you experience? Tell us about in the comments.