Yucca-Man's Travel to the Desert
On Aug 2, 1990 seven divisions of the Iraqi Army invaded neighboring Kuwait. American response under President George Bush was swift, and Marines were among the first troops in Saudi Arabia and neighboing countries to defend against a feared attack into Saudi Arabia. I was still farmed out to MCAS El Toro's Station Ordnance facility, and we became a hive of activity in the first few weeks of the buildup that became known as Operation Desert Shield.
In the first week of Desert Shield El Toro shipped 89.6 tons of ordnance in a four-day period. Considering most of our peacetime load involved moving only a few thousand pounds a week at most, this was a significant jump. For that surge week of emptying the magazines, we received a Certificate of Commendation from the MCAS El Toro Commanding General.
Back Row: GySgt Carl E Buckland, LCpl Chris Capotrio, LCpl Vince Costanzo, LCpl Mike Covert, MGySgt Bomberg-Meritorious Service Medal at retirement, LCpl Christina Dean, LCpl James Frank, LCpl 'Me', LCpl Reynoldo Rodriquez.
Front: SSgt Ron Merillo, SSgt Harold Wilson, Sgt Tim Lohberger, Cpl Larry Beyette, Cpl Jim Elliott, Cpl John Satterfield, Sgt Darryl Cisneros, LCpl Scott S. Bennett.
8 Oct 1990
The months that followed involved more emptying of the magazines as well as temporary storage of ordnance moving through our area. Near the end of November, I received word that I was being sent back to AWTU-3 and would have further orders to join up with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 11 (Fwd) en route to Desert Shield.
As I said earlier, I was headed to "the Gulf" with a dozen or so of my fellow Marines from AWTU-3 as well as some other personnel from 3d MAW Headquarters; for further attachment to MALS-11 Forward. After hastily getting married in late December, my group finally got moving January 6, flying on an Air Force C-5 Galaxy headed to Europe. Before we got there of course, we had to make a 20+ hour stop in Westover, Massachusetts while the USAF shipped a new light bulb in to replace a burnt-out one. They are meticulous about the maintenance on those old birds, I'll give 'em that.
While grounded at Westover, we got a chance to stretch our legs as we headed to the Chow Hall after a few hours in the big frozen hangar they initially deposited 'those crazy Marines' in. I had already experienced the luxury of Air Force life as a Reservist at MACS-23 when we ate at Lowry AFB, but when we walked into the "Enlisted Dining Facility" at Westover I thought for sure that we were in the wrong place. All that was missing was a maitre'd with linen over his arm offering us a bottle of Dom Perignon...
Anyway, after what seemed like an eternity grounded in Massachusetts we were off again, this time headed to Torrejon Spain. Another delay there made many of us wonder whether we'd ever get to the war or not, but after walking to mainside and sampling some very interesting Spanish pizza for lunch we came back to learn that the bird was ready to roll...next stop would be Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia.
Once we arrived in Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia in the wee hours of January 9, 1991 our group was split up. Before getting into that however, I have to mention that by the time we landed, everyone was pretty much used to flying in the big first-class sized seats on hte upper dack of the C-5. They might even have been comfortable if we weren't sardined in with our 782 gear, gas mask and weapon. It wasn't until we landed that we realized just how BIG our plane was - the truck drivers were told to go start their vehicles while the rest of us waited on the upper deck. That's a big ol' plane...
Once everyone deplaned and our gear was removed, we were driven north to the soccer stadium at ___ where half our group left. There were AV-8B Harriers with MAG-13 at the soccer field, but that wasn't our destiny. I noticed after sunrise that there really wasn't anything of interest in the Saudi desert, so it was time to curl up on the mound of bags and gear for a nap. I was awake enough to watch one of the Marines lose a helmet before she even reported to our duty station though; one of the Sergeants had her helmet sitting on the bench seat of the 5-ton as we roared down the deserted highways...until one bounce sent the helmet off the seat, onto the highway where we watched it roll along for a few yards while chasing us.
Once we'd driven through enough sand for awhile, we were treated to a Customs inspection before crossing the causeway between Saudi Arabia and the island nation of Bahrain. I ended up living and working in the MALS-11 Bomb Dump, where there were only twelve of us (ten Ordies and two Motor T drivers for the heavy equipment) along with SSgt Mike Campbell as our boss. The Bomb Dump was a good three miles north of the main base, which had been informally renamed MCAS Sheikh Isa. That put us under the flightpath of every one of the several thousand sorties flown by the Marines and Air Force recon Phantoms, and we loved every minute of it! Since I worked nights (1800-0600) there were more than a few days where my buddies and I sat out in the sun watching the planes roar out overhead, wishing we had a cold beer to toast them with...
As I first wrote this page 13 years later, it was easy to say "there was no threat" from Saddam Hussein, his chemical weapons, or irregular (fedayeen) forces. However, we didn't know that at the time and took many precautions, including innoculations of whatever we were told to and constantly remaiing alert for gas attacks. That's not to say we didn't have a little fun whenever we could though:
One thing we did for entertainment when time allowed was tire rolling. We scrounged a couple of old tires from one of the 10-ton forklifts and took turns rolling each other down the hill for entertainment. Here, LCpl Dan 'Buggy' Cullett demonstrates the proper way to brace ones body inside the tire before Cpl Clay Bailey gives him a hearty shove down the hill.
Our tents are in the background; SSgt Campbell's shed is behind the guys, to the right.
The Lizard and the SCUD
Although we'd had several SCUD alerts throughout the duration of the Air War, sometime around Feb 14 a few of us watched a SCUD hit the desert not far outside our front gate. Being young, we decided the only solution to that problem was to go find the SCUD. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure the SCUD was quite content wherever it hit the ground. Cpl Bailey and I began our trek to the west after getting off work the next morning, intent on finding a big, smoking hole in the ground.
After a half-hour or so of wandering aimlessly, Clay stopped about 50 yards to my left to take a leak. I kept scanning the horizon, looking for our salvage when I heard a blood-curdling scream from Clay. As I spun around to look, I saw him coming to ground from at least five feet up. As I ran over to see what happened, he kept pointing at something on the ground. Expecting to see a skeleton, or a landmine or something similarly hideous, I wasn't prepared to see a big desert lizard looking back at me. Apparently Clay had accidentally stepped on the lizard when he stopped; most of the body was uder the instep of his boot but after a few seconds it started beating on his foot with a huge, lumpy tail.
We never found that SCUD, but we did find another one later on that came down over the HAWK Battery in the hills a few miles northwest of us. We watched that one succesfully intercept a Patriot missile before the shower of hot metal landed right on top of the HAWKs.
A Fine Mess Kit
Another odd tale that comes up from time to time also involves Clay. You see, at some point a few weeks after the Air War started, we were getting constant deliveries direct from the flightline. Cargo carriers were coming in from all over the globe, and their deliveries were coming straight to us to be removed from the large aluminum 'Air Force' pallets. Typically, this meant dozens of AF pallets daily, usually loaded with three pallets of three Mk83 1000-poung GP bombs. They had netting over the top to keep the entire load in place, but all that was left in place so they could be trucked out to us. Since this was wartime and we needed those weapons, they were given the highest shipping priority. Somewhere, an enterprising staff weenie decided to take advantage of this priority, and included two small cargo boxes on one of the pallets. When they arrived in-country, the entire pallet was sent as-is to the Bomb Dump, and LCpl Dave Roof and I pulled the boxes off and threw them to the side as we were pulling cargo nets off.
After our shift, we took the boxes up to our tent area, where they sat for a few more days. Eventually, curiosity got the better of us, and we opened the boxes, only to find they contained an entire kitchen - not a mess, but a real-deal kitchen! Can openers, dual-burner hot plates, cookware, utensils, spices and real plates! Of course, it was intended to run on 110V AC, while our only power source was a three-phase (440V?) generator. Fortunately, we had some enterprising Jarheads among our group and the hotplate got wired up. Unfortunately, they didn't quite solve the grounding problem, so everyone was warned not to touch the metal body of the hotplate while cooking.
This is where Clay comes back into the story - you see he always had a habit of not wearing a t-shirt if possible. He wore his dogtags though, and while reaching for the spicerack behind the hotplate he managed to brush them into it. Yup, another blood-curdling scream and we all ran out to see what happened. He was fine except for a long row of evenly-spaced burns all around his neck...