By Day 2 of our arrival in Saudi Arabia, we were working. In particular, our military mission was needed immediately, and desperately. I was part of what’s called a “Medium Truck” company. To the Army, that meant 18-wheelers, or line-haul trucks. If you want the techy parts, the trucks were M915A1s. They consisted of a 14 ton truck and a 22 ton trailer. The trailer was a flatbed, but sideboards could be put up. The Army made everything so it could be used many different ways.
For Desert Shield, as soldiers arrived in this hot environment, we started hauling potable water. The Army didn’t have that many water tankers, and most of what was brought were 500 gallon water buffalos — hardly enough to support all the soldiers coming in. Enter water blivets. They kind of looked like those body pillows, and they easily fit on our flat bed trailers. The blivets held 5,000 gallons of water and had to be either empty or full. There was no halfway with liquid because that gives it room to slosh around. Not good if you have to brake suddenly.
So if one started to leak — and they all did eventually — I’d see a driver taking the truck around in circles in the motorpool to letting it drain out so it could be removed from the trailer and replaced.
Soon mail runs were added to the water runs, and then we started hauling the real stuff: Artillery rounds. Some of the rounds were really old, with the pallets falling apart. We talked about how the Army must be pulling from the old Cold War storage. One of the drivers had a car cut in front of him and had to swerve. The truck went one way and the pallets went the other, and he lost his load. After that, both he and his shotgun passenger had to get out and empty their bladders (it was a lot more crude how they phrased it).
My job became fuel handler, the Army term for pumping fuel. When I first arrived in the company, the sergeants discovered that I could type, so I was assigned to the training room. I never got my truck license, so I pumped the fuel for the trucks coming in. During the early days of the build up, the military had not set up trailer transfer points, which were places where drivers stopped to drop off a full trailer and took away an empty. These would form a chain to the front line so the drivers didn’t have to go quite as far. That kept both driver exhaustion and fuel from being an issue.
Without the trailer transfer points, we had massive convoys going out every day, traveling ten hours one way. The drivers were reach the other end, sleep for a while, then head back. The artillery shipments could be quite heavy, and sometimes we had drivers coming in on fumes. As soon as a convoy was sighted, I went outside and set up the pump. If you’ve guessed, the hours were irregular, and I sometimes went out in the middle of the night.
Every drop needed to be accounted for. Fuel is a very accountable item. Just think IRS and tracking your expenses. We had to write down driver’s name, truck number, and how much fuel they got. Then it had to be reconciled with what was on the tank and what showed up on the gauge. When the tanker ran dry, one of the drivers and a fuel handler would take it out to a Saudi Arabian refinery to get it topped off. I was an alternate fuel handler, so I only made a fuel run once. We had to take a male driver because once we arrived at the refinery, the Saudis wouldn’t let me into the complex because I was a woman. So I waited outside the gate while the tanker was filled.
I also had to check the inventory for the P.O.L. trailer, which stood for Petroleum, Oil, and Lubricants. It was where drivers picked up oil if they needed it. In our case, instead of a little container of oil like you buy for your car, we had 55-gallon drums. We just filled a oil container for the driver from the drums. If I was on fuel shift during the day, I generally had to stay out there at the trailer in case drivers came by. It was a whole lot of “Hurry up and wait.”