Three days after war had been declared, Iraq launched scud missiles at us. Well, not at us specifically. More likely, it was the Patriot missile battery not far from us. I’d passed it a number of times, an ominous (word) aimed at the sky.
“Ten missiles were launched at Riyadh. Nine were shot down by Patriots, and the tenth went into the Gulf.”
The launch came in the middle of the night, and we got an alarm.
We scrambled for our masks, which seemed like it took me utterly forever. All I could think about was that there was poison gas outside the mask and if I breathed it in, I would die. The mask was instantly claustrophobic to me, not because I have a fear of closed in places, but because it was so little protection against something as deadly as nerve agent.
We evacuated into a foxhole out back. This was where the differences between men and women came into play in a major way. On the day where we took the PB Pills, I was so scared that I was physically ill. This time, I said two words, muffled by the mask, “I’m scared.”
Evidently that translated as something else to the men because the following day, my squad leader was hearing comments from other people in the foxhole that I had been yelling my head off. It was very strange, because frankly, I’d been too paralyzed to do anything remotely close to yelling.
Was that them projecting how they would like to have reacted on me? I was the only woman in that foxhole, and maybe their expectations were that women were going to be hysterical and yelling their head off. It went back to that double-standard where I was always perceived as never good enough because I wasn’t a man.
Just a few nights later, we had another scud attack:
January 22: “I awakened to a bright flash, followed by a whoosh! About 4 a.m. Missile came from Kuwait. I started to mask, but these morons acted like I was nuts, telling me I was panicking.”
These were the same people who launched entirely into a panic when a truck backfire, running around hysterically because they thought someone was shooting at us, but somehow I was panicking after a scud attack?
I look at some of the stuff I wrote during this time, and I was blaming myself for not being good enough:
January 26: “This morning — I guess I was dreaming, but I could’ve sworn I was awake. I heard the M8 alarm go off. It beeped a couple times, then cut off. That was when I waited a couple minutes because I did think I might be dreaming. But then I heard ‘Gas!’ just once … Am I panicking? I really don’t even know any more. I don’t even feel scared right now (or maybe I’m scared all the time)… I mean, I know what fear is like. I spent a long time being afraid. This is different. I feel different.
“I can tell it sometimes when I see flashes at night. I don’t think that was ‘lightning.’ I think ‘What was that?’ And I looked around and listen. I hear each sound and listen for more. I usually jump or startle when I see the lights go off.”
In hindsight twenty-five years later, it wasn’t me not being good enough; it was the craziness of war, and not one person was prepared for that.