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Spc. Rocco James, 29, of Gallup, N.M., left, and Spc. Jason Cole, 25, of Elizabeth City, N.C., hunker down against a strong sandstorm — one of the first of the season — Friday afternoon. The desert sandstorms, called shamals, began this week and typically continue all spring, with one every three or four days through April, Air Force meteorologists said.
Spc. Rocco James, 29, of Gallup, N.M., left, and Spc. Jason Cole, 25, of Elizabeth City, N.C., hunker down against a strong sandstorm — one of the first of the season — Friday afternoon. The desert sandstorms, called shamals, began this week and typically continue all spring, with one every three or four days through April, Air Force meteorologists said. (Steve Liewer / S&S)
Spc. Rocco James, 29, of Gallup, N.M., left, and Spc. Jason Cole, 25, of Elizabeth City, N.C., hunker down against a strong sandstorm — one of the first of the season — Friday afternoon. The desert sandstorms, called shamals, began this week and typically continue all spring, with one every three or four days through April, Air Force meteorologists said.
Spc. Rocco James, 29, of Gallup, N.M., left, and Spc. Jason Cole, 25, of Elizabeth City, N.C., hunker down against a strong sandstorm — one of the first of the season — Friday afternoon. The desert sandstorms, called shamals, began this week and typically continue all spring, with one every three or four days through April, Air Force meteorologists said. (Steve Liewer / S&S)
Winds in Friday's storm topped out at 40 mph, said Capt. Michael Krch, of Detachment 5 of the Air Force's 7th Weather Squadron, currently operating with 1st ID at Camp Udairi.
Winds in Friday's storm topped out at 40 mph, said Capt. Michael Krch, of Detachment 5 of the Air Force's 7th Weather Squadron, currently operating with 1st ID at Camp Udairi. (Steve Liewer / S&S)

CAMP UDAIRI, Kuwait — 1st Infantry Division troops fresh from the snows of Germany last week got a taste of something different: the sands of Kuwait.

The long season of the shamal — the Arabic name for desert sandstorms — began with two storms last week. The first, on Tuesday, and the second, on Friday, each blew with wind gusts of more than 35 mph, said Tech. Sgt. Thomas Prochaska, 32, a meteorologist with Detachment 5 of the Air Force’s 7th Weather Squadron, attached to 1st ID.

Many Big Red One soldiers, training in Kuwait for their drive north to Iraq in the next few weeks, donned face masks and their new Wiley-X sun goggles.

“I’ve never seen anything like that — not where I come from,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Shirlene Bee, 39, of Twin City, Ga., who serves in the unit’s Division Support Command.

“It was unique, kind of exciting. It was nice to experience it here, instead of Iraq.”

Soldiers rushed to the base’s crowded post exchange to buy brooms and dustpans for their tents. Many of the tents at Camp Udairi have been battered by a year’s use, their tattered tent flaps of little use against the onslaught of sand. It covered pillows, sleeping bags and gear, and dirtied weapons.

“I left my goggles in my tent. I learned to keep them close by,” said Sgt. John Shingles, 36, of Jacksonville, Fla., who also serves in DISCOM. “I would hate to see it worse.”

It does get worse, though — much worse. A rare desert fog Friday morning dampened the sand and kept it from blowing too much. Some storms roll unchecked across the dry desert, churning up giant dust clouds and cutting visibility to nil. That can severely hamper military operations.

“The Army has to maintain visibility with the ground, or they can’t fly,” said Capt. Michael Krch, also with the Air Force’s Detachment 5, 7th Weather Squadron. “You can’t see the enemy. But they can’t see us, either.”

Prochaska, 32, of Albuquerque, N.M., said the spring storms are associated with weather fronts and come every three or four days through April. Usually, he said, they die down at sunset. The summer, though, can produce giant storms lasting three to five days. So troops could be in for plenty of misery.

For now, though, most troops thought of the storms as a novelty.

“We had to tie down our tent. It was pretty wild,” said Spc. Eric Jordan, 20, of the Louisiana National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 244th Aviation Battery. “But it was pretty cool to see. A lot of people were taking pictures.”

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