A female reporter recalls Gulf War

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

On a chilly morning in January 1991 I climbed into the back of a Marine Corps humvee and set off into the Saudi Arabian desert with six other journalists. The military had told us it would be a two-day “trial run” to work out the “kinks” in the already much-maligned pool reporting system, should there actually be a war. On our second night in the desert, we were awakened by the thunderous rumbling of American fighter jets overhead. They had bombed Baghdad. We were now an official U.S. military combat pool. I had packed for 48 hours, but I would not return from the desert for 61/2 weeks.
We had no vehicle of our own, no tent and no satellite phone. I did, however, have a jar of instant coffee, a manual typewriter purchased at a Dahran office supply store, two pairs of underwear and a case of ABC News cigarette lighters intended as gifts for soldiers in the field. (Over the next five weeks I bartered those lighters for everything from T-shirts to a Swiss Army knife that I carry everywhere to this day.)
In 1991 there were no international cellphones and no videophones. The large satellite phones owned by the television networks required even larger generators, and journalists were forbidden to bring either with them to cover the troops. Without generators there could be no computers. There was, however, the Marine Corps Pony Express.
Access to action was never our problem. We covered the first Marine artillery skirmish and one of the first friendly fire incidents of the war. The commanding general personally briefed us on ground war plans. After each day of reporting I would take the script typed on my manual Olivetti, wrap it with a rubber band around the videotape the ABC crew had shot and hand it off to a young Marine in a humvee. He would relay it to another Marine in a humvee who would relay it to another, and so on.
Yet as the ground war grew closer, technology was a minor challenge compared with gender. Women Marines were not allowed in combat. As the troops moved forward the women remained at rear staging areas. Finally, two days before the ground war, I was the only woman left with a regiment of 6,000 Marines. It took a day to convince the division commander that I too should not be left behind.
The morning the ground war began, as we breached the minefields with Iraqi artillery pounding ahead, the humvee in front of us struck a mine. In the middle of this harrowing scene a young Marine jumped up out of his foxhole and pointed at me. “Sh*t, it’s a chick!” he yelled to his fellow Marines, who quickly pulled him back into the foxhole.
If we’d had a videophone during the five-day ground war in 1991, American viewers would have seen, live, the first dramatic image of lines of Iraqi soldiers on the horizon, their hands held high in surrender, and the first scenes of the infamous “Highway of Death” outside Kuwait City where U.S. fighter planes destroyed the fleeing Iraqi Army.
It was that dramatic footage, and that we had no way to get it to the network, that led us back through the minefields the day the ground war ended, in an eight-hour crazy dash to get the story on the air. That night, I was interviewed on 20/20.
In my earpiece I heard the familiar ABC opening notes and the announcer’s voice, pumped with drama: “Tonight on 20/20 … one woman alone with the U.S. Marines.” I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. One of the first questions I was asked: “Where did you shower?” I had survived five days of ground war encased in a chemical warfare suit, half a million Iraqi land mines and more than 300 Iraqi artillery rounds and brought home the lead story on the evening news-and I was talking about baby wipes.
Incredulous, I almost didn’t hear the most memorable question of the night. “I see you have a wedding ring. Does that mean there were no `love romances’ in the desert?”