Sometimes when I write about Desert Storm, which was, for me, about five months and change, it seems like an entire lifetime went past. So many things happened, and so much of it all at the same time, and all we could do was take it one minute at a time. It was nearing mid-December, and history shows now that we were about thirty days from going to war with Iraq.
But we knew.
The shadow of war cast a pall all around us, and it was relentless. The worst part of this is that Army tends to treat people as tools, rather than human beings, and then you add women into the mix and how men view women. It just doesn’t work very well. The Army thinks that you should function without any problems and if you have any, you’re trying to get out of work. The men sneer at the women and think they’re being weak when they react to anything. Most of the definition of being not man enough refers to what women are.
I was angry a lot of the times now, and this was the start of the strange, unfocused anger that I would have when I returned from the war. Normal anger has a specific source like a friend you’re mad at or a boss who is a micromanager. This anger was simply there, and I couldn’t escape from it. My only refuge seemed to be disappear into writing it out, and even that didn’t help much. How do you be a normal human being in an environment that practically declares that if you have a reaction outside of a very narrow line there’s something wrong with you?
At the time, I thought it was just me, and that something was wrong with me and that I needed to be better. I felt like I was doing everything wrong, internalizing the anger because the men would have belittled it as women whining about nothing. But years later, after I read Philip Klay’s Redeployment, which is a series of short stories about the war that followed, I realized that we all had that anger because his book was filled with it, too.
We stayed at Cabin Village for only a few days, and then we were off to Eskan Village, which was a large complex of apartments for the “poor people” of Saudi Arabia. It had been built for the bedouins, but they hadn’t wanted to live there because they couldn’t bring their camels. Like everything else, it was comprised of bland, neutral colors. Plain construction, sand color walls outside, and white floors inside. I was amazed when I walked into the apartment — this was for poor people? It emphasized how wealthy the Saudis were from selling oil. The one the women got was huge! It had two balconies and at least three bedrooms. Everything was dirty though. They’d sat unused for about seven years, and dust and grime was all over the floor. We did a normal thing for once and cleaned.
My company would stay at Eskan Village about two weeks, and then they would be forced to move again. From what I understood, Eskan Village was controlled by the Air Force. An Army officer got into a hissing match with an Air Force officer, and the Army was told to leave. I spent one night in the apartment, and then I was gone, off for a week to a trailer transfer point at Log Base Alpha. I was rotating for a week with another fuel handler. We were to pump fuel for our convoys as they arrived to deliver artillery rounds to the front line.
How could I not react to all this with it right in my face? Yet the Army wanted us to be tools with one focus: Accomplish the mission. Those didn’t work together at all, and it would only get worse as we got nearer to war.