In Kuwait we disembarked, walked about a quarter mile, to buses lined up and waiting for us. It seemed a long ride to our first stop, Camp Wolf. We were exhausted even though we had slept on the plane. The emotional toll and intermittent excitement had us all soon laying atop our gear and sleeping on the floor.
We did not exactly know what to expect, what awaited us or exactly where we were going. We received news that the war was going well: moving quickly through to objectives and “clean up operations.” After hoping so long that we weren’t going to deploy, we now hoped that we would end up staying in Kuwait or being sent home. However the 47th Combat Support Hospital Commander was working to find us a mission, and a place to go.
Our vehicles and equipment had been shipped to the Middle East; first it was headed to Turkey, then rerouted to Kuwait. We headed to a port there to pick up our gear. It took hours to find all of the vehicles and containers (called CONEXs) in the hot Middle Eastern sun.
As we drove I looked at the sun setting; same sun, just a different world, one that was incredibly unknown to me and those around me. Hot, dusty and sandy. Local people looked at us curiously as we traveled. We headed down a dirt road following the vehicles in front of us and turned onto a paved highway.
It was dusk when we were well underway. Visibility was further reduced by the sand being kicked up by the numerous vehicles in front of us. We skirted along the border with Iraq and now moved through open desert in the dark with sand flying.
For minutes we drove blindly, only picking up a taillight at the last second, narrowly avoiding a collision. Hitting the brakes, we froze, fearing being rammed in the rear by the vehicle behind us.
This game of blind mans bluff grew significantly more dangerous minutes later. We were hours into the convoy when we heard the distinct clanking of tracked vehicles nearby. We saw ghostly figures of Abrams tanks from the 4 ID running parallel to us, seemingly only yards away. Minutes later the tanks on our left joined the HEMMITs, long large vehicles hauling ammunition, to our right.
Driving with no visibility, in the desert, in the dust and with tanks driving along side was clear insanity to this psychiatrist.
We were hot, wearing Kevlar flak vests with seatbelts that barely fit around our equipment. The HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) was crammed with equipment, radio, chemical gear, M16 weapons, ammunition rounds, camel packs, food, MREs, my harmonica, notepads, maps, and water bottles, plus a bottle to piss in for the long ride.
The Humvees we rode in had cloth doors. There were cracks in the plastic windows that barely zipped open and shut. Someone had left my name and rank stenciled in the front window as if we were still in garrison. LTC Peterson. Nice target.
We would radio periodically. “Psycho 6, Psycho Sierra we’ve lost visibility with Psycho Charlie, over,” or “Lost sight of convoy, over.” The reply was “If you’re in the dust cloud, you’re going the right way, keep coming.” Or “See those red lights, just follow those.” Our response: “If we could see the lights we wouldn’t be using the radio right now.”
Our convoy slowed, the tanks disappeared and the dust began to settle. We saw signs of an encampment. Concertina wire, cement blocks, and floodlights illuminated a fortress in the desert. We moved forward between sand bunkers and turned into a concrete maze.
Guards were manning .50 CAL machine guns. More soldiers directed the floodlights onto our vehicles, as we were each individually checked and cleared to proceed. With more radio traffic it became clear that we were entering into Camp New York, just miles from the Iraq border.
Giant cranes lifted milvans, moving to and fro. Haze from dust and sand kicked up. Fire from burning trash pits cast a hellish glow behind the floodlights. The floodlights and flames cast a shine on the concertina wire.
We pulled to a stop. CSM Yobut, our senior non commissioned officer, was out of his vehicle checking on the soldiers. “How was that for a combat patch ride?” was his comment through the unzipped windows of the HMMWVs as he walked past. Miraculously no one was hurt or lost.