Tent fire in desert storm
Scary thing #2 that happened to me while I was in the army happened during Desert Storm. Our battalion had gotten this major handed off to them right before they deployed. Evidently no one else wanted him, so they stuck him with us. The major was all about military precision and everything dress right dress, no matter what.
One of the things he ordered was that the battalion line the tents up in neat, orderly rows. It was kind of bad because even the lowest private was thinking, “An aircraft doing a strafing run could take the entire battalion in a couple of passes.” We’d just made it really easy for them by following rules the should have been bypassed by common sense.
The battalion’s headquarters was the first row of tents. The first tent was for the guard relief, and the second tent was the battalion commander’s quarters.
Then our company was the next row, and behind us another row. We also were interspersed with some foxholes, which are holes for the soldiers to hide in during gunfire and mortar round attacks. The tents were about four feet apart, and tied together.
I’m inside the supply tent and I hear a commotion coming from outside. I peep out to see what’s going on, and soldiers are running everywhere. The guard tent is on fire, orange flames whipping in the wind. Those canvas GP mediums burn very quickly.
The winds were so bad that it wouldn’t have been hard for a spark to leap over to our tents and take out the entire battalion. I raced one tent over to the women’s tent to make sure no one was in there (no one was). As I came out, the fire had spread across the ropes to the next tent. Now the battalion commander’s tent is burning down.
And it’s taking less than five minutes.
Then we hear a sound no one wants hear: Pop! Pop! Pop!
Ammunition is cooking off.
A cry goes out, and everyone runs for the foxholes. The male soldiers were diving — literally — into the holes. I ran back and jumped behind a berm. My squad leader later joked about how fast I ran (I was a rotten runner because of my flat feet).
Yup, adrenalin will do that.
One of the cooks, who was a former Marine, grabbed the water truck used to fill the showers and used that on the fire. A couple of other soldiers got knives and dropped the next text, effecting a fire break. They got the fire out. We lost only the two tents.
But I also lost my footlocker. The battalion commander had lost all his equipment, so he replaced it with spare supplies and from soldiers like me.
Being a private is definitely not fair.
Next up will be “Air war: Unknown in the distance” so tune in, same military channel, same military time tomorrow.