My trip out to Log Base Alpha signaled a change in the progress of Desert Shield, hammering in the seriousness of what was happening. Log Base Alpha was a transfer point for all the ammunition, located in King Khalid Military City (KKMC), northeastern Saudi Arabia. Our company had been running huge convoys of trailers loaded with artillery out here. It was nearly a ten hour trip one way, so the drivers would have to stop, sleep for a while, and then head back with empty trailers. It was also the closest I would get to what would be the front line.
On the drive over December 10, 1990:
“Mostly, everything was flat. In the beginning, we saw camel farms. Men herded them in long lines. Black camels, brown camels, white camels. Even baby camels, still sucking Mom’s teats.
“When we got to our location, the sand in the air looked just like fog. That’s where might be living. Cough, gasp. My lips chapped so badly …Oh, the night sky was filled with stars — so many more than I’ve ever seen. It was incredibly beautiful.”
I would be running the fuel point for the incoming convoys for the next week. Then my relief would come up on one of the convoys, and I would return to my company. Members of our maintenance platoon were also there to do any repairs on trucks, as needed. I came in after dark with one of the convoys — no idea what time it was. Tents were set up for the drivers, but I was the only one who stayed in it. The drivers stayed with their trucks for a few hours sleep before making the ten hour trip back.
It was cold when I arrived. We were headed into winter in the desert, and the nights turned cold. Probably not cold by the standards of Virginia, where it is forty degrees as I write this. But all I know was that I was so cold, and I slept in an empty tent, huddled up in my sleeping bag on a cot.
In the morning, I found that Log Base Alpha was spartan. Pretty much, the Army had tossed up tents and added showers and latrines, and that was it. We didn’t even have a mess hall. That was some distance away, on a very bumpy road. We were so out of the way that the Air Force was the one providing the food, since they had the means to fly it in. Before they gave it to the mess hall, they raided it for the best stuff.
The result was that my first dinner meal was chicken and rice, which meant it had a lot of rice and few splinter-sized pieces of chicken because the cooks had to make what little they had stretch. Between the bumpy ride and the lack of food available, we decided (with disgust) that MREs would be better. So, my week there, I ate MREs three times a day.
The Army was cleaning out its stock of MREs, which meant we got an earlier version of the MREs. Most of meals were the same as the ones we’d gotten at Riyadh, but there were some noticeable differences. I still remembered the pork patty that I got in Basic Training less than a year before. It looked like a hockey puck, and my first thought when I saw it was, “What do I do with this?”
Eaten straight out of the package, as I did then, it wasn’t all that good. Now, in this barren, isolated place, I had a surprising item available: MRE Bread. It was a soft, and surprisingly delicious bread that came in a plastic pouch. Somehow, maintenance platoon had gotten hold of several boxes. Heat the pork patty, or its companion, the beef patty, in some water to rehydrate it, put it between the bread, and suddenly I had a burger.
We also had MRE heaters, which I hadn’t seen before either. Where were all these things coming from? Why hadn’t anyone thought to give it to us before? Having hot MREs helped make them taste better, a whole lot better. The flameless heaters used a chemical reaction to generate it. Each packet had a heater pad, along with iron, magnesium, and salt. All we had to do was add water and insert the entrée pouch. Then prop it up so it didn’t spill and wait about ten minutes. I just had to be careful opening it for my food pouch, because it got pretty hot!
One of the guys was also able to get hold of B-rations, which was dehydrated food in cans. They’d gotten steak — not a t-bone, but a cheaper cut of meat. The guys added water and cooked them up on the kerosene heaters. We were actually eating pretty good, considering the conditions, and it was a break from the normal food we were eating.
Then my week was up, and I was on my way back to rejoin my company, now at Camel Race Track where we’d also finally met up with our war battalion.