Desert Storm: Our Living Conditions
Tents sprouted up rapidly on the shore of the Gulf. When we arrived, we were the only ones there, and by the time we left six weeks later, it would be packed with hundreds of tents. Our tents were grouped by platoon, and each tent could hold about twelve people. They were called “GP Mediums,” which mean General Purpose Medium Tents. Everything in the army has a rather lengthy name, even a piece of rope.
The tents were olive drab green and made of canvas, which was extremely flammable. We had to be careful with all flames around the tent. To assemble them, we laid out the proper number of poles and stakes and then pulled out the wrapped up tent. It took at least six soldiers to carry the tent because it weighed so much. Our sergeants debated for a time and decided to add the winter lining, so we brought that out. Since that would go inside the tent, we unrolled it on the ground, and then the tent over it, making sure all the tent holes lines up. Then we started hooking up the poles
Finally, one of the soldiers would burrow under the tent like a cat under a blanket until he got to the center. Then he’d hook up the tent pole to the center hole. The next part was a team effort because it took a soldier at every pole, and more at the stakes. The soldier under the tent stood up the center pole, lifting the center point of the tent. At the same time, those manning the side poles and door poles pulled those up and back. Then a soldier with a mallet ran from tent pole to tent pole, stretching the ropes taut and pounding them in. The ground was a challenge here because it was all hard sand, and the sergeant had to pound the tent pegs in pretty deep — so deep that we would end up leaving some behind because we couldn’t get them out!
The tents smelled of being closed up for a long time. When we put them up, I wondered why they put the winter lining in the tent. It turned out that it helped keep some of the heat out.
Surprising fact: We also had a kerosene heater for the nights. Heater! In the desert! But it did get quite cold, especially when we were acclimated to much hotter days.
During those first six weeks, me and the only other woman in my platoon stayed in the platoon tent with the guys. Because of our squad’s particular mission, we ended up with a lot of older, married sergeants, so they were pretty cool. We also shared the tent with the supplies, so everyone came to our tent one way or another.
The supply sergeant set up this little store, such as you can have in a tent. It had personal items like shaving cream, razors, toothpaste, etc. In case, you haven’t guessed, there wasn’t anything for the women soldiers. When I broke my hairbrush later on, I had to use the broken piece until my grandparents could send one from the United States.
We did our best to have privacy. Each of us — guys included — hung up curtains we improvised with green string and shelter halves and ponchos. Our squad leader’s wife also sent sheets for us, so we used those as well. Our “rooms” consisted of a cot, the footlocker, and the two duffel bags. The cot looked like the ones on MASH, except that the frame was aluminum instead of wood. They could be very ornery to set up. I had many times where I managed to pinch myself and get a blood blister. They were vicious!
Everyone also added the foam sleeping bad we’d been issued. It wasn’t actually for comfort on the cots, since it didn’t really help much in that area, but rather, to keep the cold from the ground from rising up at night.
The footlocker served as a table, or in my case, a place for books. There was a supply of those in the White House that we could raid, and then return when we were done. As the weeks progressed, letters to “Any Soldier” appeared in the same place so we could read letters from home and write back. It was really nice to see that people, perfect strangers, cared about us enough to write to us.