We weren’t long at Camel Race Track before we had to move again. Apparently, the Saudis were getting ready to race the camels, so we were outta there! Our next stop put us within 70 kilometers of the border of Kuwait, which translates out as 43 miles. I’m very glad I didn’t translate that number while I was there! Seventy sounded a lot better.
We were staying inside the King Khalid Wildlife Research Center in Thumamah. Everyone was there, including the Marines, who stole one of our latrines with a forklift. The border of our camp was a water tower that was used to gravity feed three giant concrete pools, each one lower than the last one. The pools were empty this time of the year, so we set up a defensive position in the corner of the one closest to the water tower. We put sandbags on the concrete railing and topped it with a corrugated tin roof, making a nice, shady spot.
It gave us a clear view of the flat expanse of desert horizon, broken up only by a rock formation. It must have been quite large, because it looked big even far away. It was rectangular-shaped, poking out right in the middle of nowhere. It still seemed like we couldn’t see enough, so our sergeants decided to put a guard post on a platform under the water tower.
I was put on a work detail to help build the position with sand bags. The moment I heard where I would be doing the work, I was terrified. I’m afraid of heights.
When I was in 7th grade, our class cycled into gymnastics. Yeah, me with flat feet trying to do gymnastics. It consisted of a balance beam and unparallel bars. The teacher required each of the students to try each piece of equipment out and decide which one we were going to be tested on. I looked at how high the balance beam was and then at how really high the bars were.
I got stuck up on high bar and had to be talked down. Though I had a spotter, I did not trust that person to keep me from falling. The balance beam was the lesser of the two evils, and I didn’t do well on it. I was terrified of falling off that narrow beam.
I repeated the same problem in Basic Training with a cargo net. Those are evil things. We were supposed to climb all the way to the top and touch the beam, then climb down. I got stuck halfway up, with drill sergeants screaming at me. I finally got moving, managed to touch the beam, and got down safely.
Here, I had to climb a fifteen foot ladder. The first ladder that came with the water tower, made everyone nervous. It was made of pipe and quite flexible, so it moved when the soldiers stepped on it. Some industrious soldier build a new, more steady one out of rebar welded together.
One small problem.
The soldiers didn’t measure out the rungs, so some rungs were pretty close together and others were awfully big steps. Especially for someone short like me.
I was okay going up the ladder and managing on the platform. Going down was the problem. It’s hard making that transition over the ladder, and I had the added weight of my flak vest, helmet, and rifle. The first time I did it, I was a mess. One of the men had to climb down behind me and help me get my feet on the rungs.
I was on the detail for about a week, so I had to go up and down each day. I got better at it the more I did it — I wasn’t freezing up — but it was still a nerve-racking experience. On the last day, I gratefully started to climb down for the last time.
Third run from the top, my legs decided they’d had enough of all the weight I was carrying, and they gave out.
Instantly, I gripped that ladder in a bear hug until, trying to not imagine being splattered all over the ground as I waited for my legs to cooperate again. At least, they were working, and I descended until my feet hit the ground.
January 26: “I was shaking when I got off, and I shook for quite a while afterwards [sic]. It took me a long time to go to sleep, and even then, I didn’t sleep well.”
To this day, I still don’t like heights. I went to the Paris Casino, which towers above Las Vegas. I wanted to do it anyway. I don’t think I entirely thought it out, actually. I got on the elevator, which was glass so you could see everything, and all I could do was stare up at the ceiling and pretend hard that I wasn’t in the middle of the air. We got out in the tower and I walked around it for a while, telling myself I was in a solid, enclosed space. I wasn’t going to fall, and I was able to look down without any difficulty. I still had to look up when I got back on the elevator. Heights are scary.