Assignment #59

Interview someone who has experienced war.

Interview someone who has experienced war from any perspective — soldier, aid worker, civilian, protester, etc. Ask them to tell one war story — one experience that has stayed with them. For example, the story could describe the details of a typical night living in a city that is being bombed, or something surprising that happened while on duty. Ask them everything you really want to know about this story. Write the story down verbatim, including your questions.

This is part of a larger challenge I am doing, which you can see here:

This interview is available in two formats. You can either listen to it or read the transcript below.

Me: “Alright dude, tell me some interesting war stories.” 
Chris: “Well my war was short and clean. Desert Shield and Desert Storm both were only — I think we deployed over there in August-September, we were home by January-February. It was pretty quick. But to get the squadron over there they had to load all the Cobra Helicopters, the Huey Helicopters, all our spare parts, all our tools, all our publications, all our supplies, all the Marines onto these big Air Force transport planes. I think it took four of them to take the squadron over there.

We took off from El Toro, California, we flew across the country to Goose Bay, up in Labrador. Then we flew across the ocean. We landed in Germany to get gas at an airbase there. Then took off from there on the final leg down to the Persian Gulf. Well when we landed at the airbase in Germany, the transport plane that I was on developed a hydraulic leak. So we were stuck there for three days and the rest of squadron continued on down to the Gulf to continue getting set up.

So it was basically, I think there were 8 officers and 50 or 60 Marines with absolutely nothing to do. So we just had to wake up in the morning and count heads to make sure everyone was still alive, then we dismissed them until the next day, and the Air Force — it was an Air Force base — they have this thing called an ‘All Ranks Club’ where officers and enlisted alike can go and hang out together and drink and party, which was unheard of in the Marines. We never hung out with the enlisted, but you had all of these Reserve Air Force guys and gals who were, you know, finishing up their little reserve stint in the war, and they were all ready to party hard and go home.

So it was essentially a three day bender, I think I was drunk for three days straight, and we got to be really good friends with the air crew on our airplane — because they were stuck there with us — waiting on the parts to fix it. So we were hanging out with these guys, we were going out in the town, just having a great time. And just hammered for three days. So when we finally took off to go down to the Gulf everyone was seriously hurting. So they gave us these sleeping pills, and everyone sorta just passed out in their chairs, and slept for 10 hours going down there.

But on the way down, one of the air crew called me aside and said, ‘Hey I think you guys probably need this worse than we do, cause they don’t let you guys bring any booze into the country’. And out of his seabag he pulls this little keg of beer it’s uh — over in Germany they have these vending machines where you can get these little gallon size kegs of beer. So he gave that to me. I shoved it into the bottom of my seabag, and then he gave a buddy of mine — who I’d been partying with — a couple bottles of tequila and he shoved them in his bag. We said thanks and we went back to pass out.

So we got there, it was hot, it was miserable, and our C.O. [Commanding Officer] he was, he was a real dick. He was not a good Marine Officer, I had no respect for the guy. Real by the book, hardline kind of guy who was no fun to be around. Anyway, he made it very clear that there was no alcohol, you know, we gotta, you know, respect our Saudi hosts. Who we were there to protect.

So we were in these tents that were just in the sand, and so to hide the stuff we dug a hole about 3 or 4 feet deep down into the sand and buried them under where our cots were. Thinking that would be ok. You know, it wouldn’t stay too bloody hot.

We were there for a couple of weeks and one day we’re over at the squadron area and my buddy comes up and he’s like ‘Holy Shit! Come on, they’re bulldozing the tents’. I’m like, ‘What?!’ So we’re about a mile away, and go sprinting as fast as we can back through the sand. Cause what they had starting doing was improving the campsites. So they were bulldozing and compacting the sand and building these frames and then they would move the tents onto the frame and pick up all of your stuff and move it into the new tent. Then they would bulldoze that area, so they were kind of leap frogging through the camp.

Well, by the time we got just around the corner from where our tent was, *sniff* *sniff* *sniff*, we started smelling the smell of stale beer and tequila. And we knew we were screwed. Sure enough, we come around the corner and there is our Executive Officer and he is kicking this piece of flattened aluminum. So I guess these bulldozers had actually scraped down 3 or 4 feet to find firmer sand as they were bulldozing. And they popped that keg, and it geysered into the air like a, like a little volcano. Spewed beer all over the place and then they crunched the tequila bottles. And so everybody knew what tent had been there, so it was only down to 8 officers who it could possibly be. And who shows up at a full tilt run, sweating and panting, but me and Mark. So the X.O. looks at us and he picks up the flattened keg and he’s like, ‘You guys know whose these are?’. ‘No sir’. We both lied as good as we could right through our teeth. He said, ‘Well if I don’t find out, the entire tent is going to get in trouble’. So we did the right thing. We fessed up and we took our punishment.

We had to sit out there and wait all day for the Skipper to show up and he yelled at us, and dressed us up one side and down the other. And he restricted us to tents, meaning if we weren’t on the flight schedule or doing our job we couldn’t go to the mess tent, we couldn’t go out to exercise, couldn’t go to the shower truck, nothing. We were stuck in the tents. Which you know, it kinda sucked, but we took the time, we spent the time playing cards and improving the tents. We had some of the guys bring us saws and 2x4s and nails, so we built shelves and stuff like that in the tent. It was actually pretty nice.

But the best part of the whole story is — while we were stuck in the tents they opened the new mess tent. And they brought in all of this hot food and these vegetables, and everyone was so happy because we had been eating rations for like 3 weeks and everyone was really sick of the rations. So everyone was like, ‘Oh, this is great’, you know, and everyone was heading over to the mess tent. They’re like, ‘Hey guys sorry you’re stuck in the tent, ha-ha-ha’. And we were kinda pissed off cause we’re still eating these rations.

Well come to find out — the vegetables that they had brought in were from some country where they had used human waste as fertilizer, which in some parts of the world is fine, but your system has to be adapted to that. And what happened was this massive wave of dysentery swept through the camp. Dysentery basically means you can’t keep anything down, and you can’t keep anything in. So you’re puking and you have horrible diarrhea.

So Mark and I, here we are in the tent. We’re smoking cigars, playing cards, eating our rations, we’re fine. Everyone else is like dying, and they’re walking through this nasty heat, to go over to these nasty, fly ridden latrines, and they’re just crapping water for days and days until they get everything straightened out. And uh, Mark and I are just sitting like kings on the throne, just smoking our cigars, waving at the guys as they go by about every 15 minutes to go back to the latrine. So, you know, no good deed goes unpunished. So that’s my story.”

Originally posted here:

This is part of a larger challenge I am doing, which you can see here:

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