Phillip Thompson

Crime Fiction writer

“Where’s that from?” the flight attendant asked as I stood in line to board my aircraft recently, trying to be patient as the members of Zone 1, 2 and 3 shuffled aboard of me. The rigmarole of air flight used to bother me a lot more (and it still gets on my nerves), but, hey, I wasn’t going anywhere until we were all aboard anyway?

I didn’t realize he was talking to me at first, until I saw that he was looking at my jacket lapel. I glanced down. “Gulf War,” I said. His eyebrows raised in question, and I added, “Combat Action Ribbon.”

He smiled, nodded, and said, “My best friend was with the 175th Rangers over there.” I returned his smile, then said — as it occurred to me — “That was a long time ago now.” He nodded, and I moved on to my seat.

It was a long time ago, now, and I still haven’t gotten used to the fact that it’s been 20 years  — years — since the war. Yet, I can recall specifics with absolute clarity. Twenty years ago this month, I was, quite literally, in the middle of the Saudi desert with the 1st Marine Division, about six weeks into what would become an 8-month deployment. When I think  back on the time span between the day we got there (an indescribably hot August afternoon) and the middle of October, that seems like 20 years. By then, we’d already gotten in-country, unloaded our gear, reclaimed the gear that was stolen from us, fixed the broken gear and gotten out to the field. “The field” in this case being a godforsaken patch of sand somewhere south of Kuwait. Then we dug in. And waited. And waited. We were living off rumors, caffeine and nicotine. Mail was more valuable than platinum — this was an era before cell phones, Skype and e-mail. The chow was awful, the boredom dangerous and the morale held steady (depending on who you asked).

By this time, the worst of the heat had passed, so we were actually able to sleep at night (when we weren’t on watch or responding to the latest rumor about Scuds being fired, artillery being fired, tanks coming at us, gas attacks or goatskin-covered infiltrators — the usual stuff). I’d been “on loan” to 11th Marine Regiment (from my home battalion, based in Hawaii) for about a month and had become an acquaintance of the Regiment’s intel officer, Capt. Rich Haddad. As the weather cooled, we started scrounging around for better “quarters” — ours consisted of a pile of sandbags, two cots and mosquito netting. We figured that if we’re going to be stationary for a while, we might as well be comfortable.

Read more about the war here.

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