We boarded the plane and stowed most of our gear, then we realized that there is no good place to put a rifle on an airplane. I can’t recall exactly what we did with them. I just remember that M16s don’t fit in the overhead bin or under the seat. I had never been in a DC-9 before or since. We were informed by the flight crew that whatever had caused all those DC-9s to break in half and fall out of the sky had been corrected in this one. That was somewhat reassuring and I hadn’t heard of one crashing in quite a while. The flight crew consisted of middle-aged men with military haircuts. It turns out that they were retired Naval Reservists who’d been recalled to active duty. The crappy airline food was the only familiar thing about that flight.

    When we landed at the King Khalid Military City Airport we went to a regular airport terminal. The place appeared deserted. The bus wasn’t ready or it wasn’t there. We waited what seemed like a long time in some sort of lounge area. It was long enough that most of us shed our Load Bearing Equipment and gas masks. Finally, it was time to move on. We all put on our LBE and all but one of us strapped our masks back on our hips. We were ordered to get in line and go down the hall. I was at the front but not at the head of the line. When we came to the deserted security checkpoint the first soldier in line stopped in front of the metal detector, perplexed. Everyone stopped. Our mildly frustrated Platoon Sergeant said “Just go.” We went. I cannot fully describe the mildly perverse thrill of strolling through an airport metal detector carrying an M16 and seven thirty round magazines full of ammo.

    It is not supposed to be that hot in February! I didn’t expect to see snow on the ground like there was when we boarded the plane in Germany but I didn’t expect summer like in Texas, either. Being in the un-air-conditioned school bus was worse than being outside. A few familiar military tents were scattered but the giant white, metal reinforced tents caught my attention the most. They were the biggest tents I’ve seen to this day. They dwarfed German beer hall tents of similar design at carnivals. Instead of picnic tables and a stage, they were filled with a sea of green army cots. Our assigned tent was about three quarters full. We grabbed our cots in an orderly military fashion. That means we knew to start at the end of the taken cots and left no empties. Other than that, it was a free for all.

    Boredom was the enemy after we’d chosen cots and laid out our sleeping bags. We sharpened bayonets and cleaned rifles. We told stories and discussed our biggest fears. I drew a Slayer pentagram on the back of my helmet cover. A Slayer pentagram is missing a line in the star. Their songs aren’t any more evil than a Stephen King story, so their symbol is just short of evil. Under this incomplete inverted pentagram, I wrote the name of their most relevant song. I spelled out our greatest fear in capital letters: “CHEMICAL WARFARE”. The lyrics ran continually through my mind.

Frantic minds are terrified
Life lies in a grave
Silent death rides high above
On the wings of revelation
Multi death from chemicals
Arrogance has won
Annihilation must be swift
Destroy without destruction
Gods on the throne must be watching from hell
Awaiting the mass genocide
Soldiers defeated by death from a smell
Bodies lie dormant no life
Rising new souls on the lands where they fell
Demons not ready to die
Nothing to see where the sleeping souls lie
Chemical warfare

    The song I used to bang my head to with abandon, was far too real now. Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons, Scud missiles to deliver them to us, and was not afraid to use them. Gas masks and the missile defense system, known as Patriot Missiles, were our only defenses. It was truly sinking in that I was in Desert Storm. This was war.

    At some unknown point that night the lights suddenly came on. We heard “GAS! GAS! GAS!” This is where the training kicks in. No one was counting the nine seconds to clear and seal a gas mask. Everyone was clearing and sealing their masks. Everyone but Specialist Albright, that is. Albright had left his mask at the airport. If this was real, Albright was going to die convulsing and choking. After properly fitting his mask, Private First Class Montgomery joined Albright on the other end of his cot with the bayonet that Albright had helped sharpen. Albright asked “Are you sure you can do this?” Montgomery replied “I won’t be able not to.” They were locked in an empathetic staring contest with no possible winner. Montgomery was poised to stab Albright in the heart, should he start convulsing. Albright trusted that Montgomery would save him from a torturous death. Montgomery was prepared to provide final mercy to his brother in arms and face the possible consequences of stabbing his fellow soldier to death. This is what soldiers will do for each other.

    All eyes were on Albright, as he stoically maintained his composure. Only the tears, slowly streaming from his eyes, gave away his terror. There was a distant explosion. Another eternity passed, as the staring contest persisted.

    “ALL CLEAR!” was what we’d been waiting for. We were told that the Patriot Missile had perfectly performed its duty and the Scud didn’t carry a chemical warhead. We put our masks back in their covers. We put our covered masks back on the appropriate corner of our cots. We eventually went back to sleep. Then, the lights came on again. Panic ruled the moment. Before I could put on my mask, I realized that it was only the wake up call. I was not alone. Nervous laughter filled the gigantic tent. What a relief! Where is Montgomery? He’s not here. He appeared, shortly. He told us the story of why he was gone.

    “I hadta piss, real bad, so I found the nearest place. I saw a pile of concrete blocks that looked good. So there I was letting it go, when a Platoon Sergeant caught me. He said, ‘Well, you fucked up.’ I said, ‘What’r’ya’gonna do, send me to war?’ He said ‘Worse, shit burning detail!'”




Works Cited

Slayer. Haunting the Chapel. Metal Blade, 1984. EP.

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