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The Night War Began

Mar 31, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Reporter, WPTV, West Palm Beach, Fla.; embedded with the 416th Engineering Battalion
In a month of poignant and sometimes frightening moments the most vivid is the night war began.
We were in the northernmost Kuwaiti camp, called Udairi. We drove in across the desert, having left paved roads 40 miles behind us. Looming up were huge, dark silhouettes: M1A1 tanks weighing 70 tons and Bradley armored vehicles, lined up, poised to rush forward.
After a midnight “look live” at the camp, and settling in to the tent, we tried to rest. Then the thunder of the artillery began-sustained pounding as hundreds of pieces of armor pummeled positions to the north. What was amazing was the drumbeat quality of the firing. It went on for hours.
Then the missile alarms started going off. Soldiers ran from tent to tent, shouting, “Gas, gas, gas.” They were shooting back and we were the closest target. Scuds and al-Samouds are not very accurate and it’s a big desert, but the mind races with possibilities.
In full MOP suit with gas mask on, the sweltering claustrophobia makes breathing difficult. There were young soldiers who were clearly upset, and the alarms kept coming, 10 to 12 through the long night. Masks back on. Get to the shelter. Always listening for a distant roar coming your way. Is all the Velcro airtight on my chem-bio suit? Is my mask as snug as the instructor told me it must be? Could I really jam a 1-inch needle into my thigh if I needed atropine in the event of gas exposure? Yes I could.
Dawn comes and the armored divisions have moved north. I’d long been told about the “thousand-mile stare,” the expressionless mask young soldiers get after the trauma of a battle. In some, I see it. I think of my father jammed into the nose bubble of a B-24 dropping bombs in the Pacific and how nerve-wracking it must have been to have your life on the line for months. Do you get used to it? There is no way.
My embedding is with Engineers, the 416th Engineering command from Darien, Ill. They are smart people with degrees and families back home. They are here with M-16s and play a critical role in fighting the war. They are building POW camps and pipelines and roads. And people will shoot at them while they are doing it.