This is Memorial Day weekend and I have been happily incorporated into the large extended family of a very fine Army officer. Our front doors face each other across a small park and we’ve only just met though he moved in two years ago. He shipped out for two tours in Afghanistan and I kept taking off for my own exotic destinations. But now that I’m unexpectedly at home for a few months I have finally gotten to know my neighbor and fellow world traveler.
Mentioned in my last post is Major Ron Beadenkopf, whose retirement ceremony I attended this week at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa. Today, there was a happy Beadenkopf family reunion cookout at Honeymoon Island State Park right on the Dunedin, Florida Gulf beach with Ron’s parents, brothers, sisters and many nieces and nephews. It was a very rare glimpse for me into military life. Ron is writing a book about his very interesting life. Here’s an entry about his service career during a trip to Kuwait…a country which most of us will never see.
“Camp Beurhing, Kuwait, is a flat, featureless place broken up by long, low tents and buildings, the color of sand, that surround them. The night we arrived a sandstorm was blowing, so all we saw was twin headlights coming at us through a cloud of swirling sand. Wind blew unchecked across hundreds of miles of flat desert; sand scoured the metal of our Dodge Durango as if it were a cleaning pad. I’ve heard of people dying in these storms, so I was hoping that we’d make it safely to our destination.
After bumping over a rutted path between dunes, we found a floodlit scene out of Dante’s Inferno. In utter darkness, gleamingl satellite dishes, surrounded by barbed wire, and round, dun-colored tents cast weird, swirling shadows. Anything not tied down flapped convulsively in the shrieking wind. My breath caught as a blast of sand tugged at my uniform and flung grit into my eyes. It was like breathing a sand dune. Keeping our heads down, we trudged to an angrily-flapping tent which resisted our attempts to enter. When the zipper finally gave way, a blast of light and cool, relatively-dust-free, air greeted us. The shriek of wind subsided to a roar when someone hurridly zipped the entrance closed behind us, but not before the invading dust had changed every white thing inside to a splotchy brown. All was thick with dirt.
I cringed at the sight of vital electronic equipment and dozens of computers seemingly submerged in the Gobi Desert. There would surely be a heavy price to pay for putting our machines through this! Miraculously, screens were lit with activity and LED lights flickered as life-giving electricity flowed from roaring generators just outside. Overhead, flourescent lights blinked and swayed in the wind-shaken tent, but remained strong and bright.
It was 3:00 a.m. when soldiers on duty briefed us about the site. Then, we headed back into the wind to find our sleeping quarters. My eyes felt gritty from much more than sand. I’d just spent 24-hours, and 8000 miles, sitting bolt upright in a troop plane and all I could think about was a comfortable cot somewhere with my name on it. Attaining it, however, was not to be easy. Luckily, the camp was fenced, preventing us from wandering off-base. It was impossible to see which direction we needed to go for the tent village. Our truck was once forced to stop for a full fifteen minutes until the wind dropped enough to see just a few feet ahead.
At that time of the morning, the long, low sleeping tent was pitch black and smelled the way any enclosed space inhabited by fifty men, twenty-four hours a day smells: like stale body odor, dirty laundry and flatulence. Through the light of our red lenses, we made it to spare cots beside a loudly-creaking front door. Naturally, constant stomping of boots, entering and exiting, made sleeping in that location a real callenge. So, we came up with a plan for clearing a space near the back of the tent. Two of us picked up the cot of a sleeping Lieutenant; hoisted itto in the air and, unceremoniously, hauled it to the noisy front entrance. Mike raised his head in confusion but quickly fell back asleep and we took his quiet spot in the rear. After a quick shower, I fell into a dreamless sleep under my poncho’s liner.
Later that morning, I emerged from the dark tent-cave expecting six-foot sand dunes to have buried the camp but very little sand had accumulated, despite the wild weather. A brilliant desert sun had me staggering back inside for my sunglasses. I’d forgotten how unforgiving the Middle Eastern light can be, even at 8 a.m. After breakfast, we returned to the communications site to set up the electronics which we’d brought in. Soldiers hustled a dizzying array of colored wires and black boxes full of delicate electronics as the place was transformed into a high-tech intelligence command center. A few senior Non-commissioned Officers and the senior Lieutenant Colonel directed the setup and worried about things which weren’t going according to plan.
The problem was that some of the most critical pieces had not yet made it into Kuwait but were still aboard a ship, somewhere in the middle of the ocean. This fact was messing with the setup timeline; but as good soldiers always do, we had to adapt, overcome, and borrow, borrow, borrow the needed equipment until ours arrived.
By afternoon, the daily sandstorm again had the tents in its teeth, like a giant beast. I wondered just how much these delicate instruments could take if this sort of weather went on for weeks at a time.