Desert Storm: The War Begins

One of the things I never liked about the Army is that they don’t tell you what’s going on. Sometimes the unknown is worse than knowing what’s happening. On January 17, 1990, our sergeants came through the tent and woke us up around midnight. We were directed to take “PB Pills,” or pyridostigmine bromide. They came in blister packets of 21 tablets, sort of like what you get when you buy a 24 pack of allergy medicine today.

The pills were were a pre-treatment to be given out before a chemical attack, and our sergeants had to watch us to make sure we swallowed the pill. Somewhere in the back of my head, I was probably thinking that we were were about to be gassed. In the absence of information — especially with our sergeants making it clear we were to take the pills — it was awfully easy for my imagine to get to work finding the worst things to picture:

January 17, 1990: “KKMC went into [full chemical gear] last night. We were put on alert last night, around midnight … was terrified when they first called it. I didn’t know what was going on. I was coughing and sick.”

I wasn’t the only one filling the absence of information with something else. By the next morning, rumors about the PB pills were spreading, and spreading fast. One rumor said that the pills had never been tested and that we were the guinea pigs. The military had a past history of doing this to soldiers, so it wasn’t a big reach in imagining this. Another rumor was that it would cause sterility, which, of course, horrified all the men.

The one thing that wasn’t a rumor was a side effect of the pill: It made people fall asleep. That was a problem for our drivers, who were still delivering artillery rounds to the Log Base Alpha at KKMC. After one driver fell completely asleep at the wheel, we were directed to stop taking the pills. We’d had only two doses.

That same day, “we learned that the U.S. bombed Baghdad and Kuwait. A black cloud is supposed to be over Iraq.”

In 2014, I met a fellow veteran at a science fiction convention. He was assigned under 101st Airborne. He said that day, he watched as jets took off one after another on the runway and he knew something had happened. I watched those jets flying over my company, headed into Iraq. Their flight path must have circled away from us because it was eerie watching them go into the horizon and not come back.

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