From the Stars and Stripes archives

24th Infantry unit last in line for comforts

Soldiers from the 24th Infantry Division (Mech.) march across the Saudi Arabian desert during Operation Desert Shield in October, 1990.


By VINCE CRAWLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 18, 1990

WITH THE 24th INF DIV, Saudi Arabia — If they gave out awards for the roughest desert duty, the soldiers of the 2nd Sq, 4th Cav Regt, would be finalists.

The 24th Inf Div (Mech) troopers spent 40 days and nights guarding a Saudi oil pipeline before being pulled back from their forward fighting positions late last week. They didn't have a base camp to go to. Instead, they've been told to build one.

Their newspapers arrive a week late, and a division postal tent recently burned up, destroying several sacks of mail. So GIs from the 24th Inf Div, based at Fort Stewart, Ga., are reading singed letters. Luckily, most of the larger packages survived, but the troops can't help joking, a little grimly, that it's not worth writing letters now that they get burned up anyway.

The cavalry troops lived inside their Bradley armored vehicles and ate only field rations for 30 days straight. They're now getting some T-rations, which are sort of Army-style TV dinners. But kitchen-cooked meals, or A-rations, are yet to come.

They don't get Armed Forces Radio broadcasts, and if you're one of the Desert Shield GIs with an air-conditioned tent or barracks, they don't even want to talk to you. One group of the cavalry men, oddly enough, did have an electric window fan.

Nowhere to plug it in, though, and someone said it was busted anyhow.

"No base camp. No PX. No females," said Sgt. Maurice Alexander, 29, of Atoka, Tenn. Others told the same story.

"With us living up here at the front, the units in the rear tend to get a few more creature comforts," said Sgt. Michael Acosta, 22, from Lumberton, Texas. "I've heard sometime in the future we'll get A-rations," Acosta said.

"The day before we leave," predicted Spec. Phillip Matthews, 23, of Wynnewood, Okla.

Pfc. Collier Cahee was resigned to life at the American front line. "As long as we're out here," said the 20-year-old scout from Lake Charles, La., "we won't have phones, our mail will always be slow, we'll have the last of everything. Anything we get, we got to get it ourselves, because they (those in the rear) ain't gonna give it up."

Unlike other Desert Shield soldiers, the troops of the 24th aren't talking about being home for the holidays. "I'll turn 30 out in the desert," said Staff Sgt. Evan Bush, a flight operations sergeant from Fayetteville, N.C. "That's in January. We all gave up going home by Christmas."

Many soldiers are assuming their desert tour will, in fact, last a year or more. "If we don't get back until '92, that'd be a lot of money in your pocket," one soldier pointed out.

They all agreed that they were saving money. Many are talking about buying new cars when they get back to the United States. But no one laughed at the idea about staying in Saudi Arabia until 1992.

Sgt. Wayne Moody started a short-timer's calendar on Aug. 26, the day he flew out of Hunter Army Airfield, Ga. It's one of those laminated wallet calendars that insurance companies give out, and Moody's been punching one hole in it for every day he's been here. "The way people are talking, I might need two or three more of these," Moody said after notching his 48th hole.

The 24-year-old from Kinston, N.C., has other souvenirs from his time in Saudi Arabia. So far the Army scout has collected five different water bottle labels, an empty pack of English cigarettes, an Arabic nacho cheese dip package and bag of peanut M&M candy, and an import sticker from a pack of Marlboro cigarettes. He keeps his little treasures sealed inside a sandproof freezer bag.

He also has three Arabic soda cans that he's cut with his Swiss Army knife so that they'll roll out flat onto the pages of a scrapbook he plans to put together.

Spec. James Lacey said he's surviving with radio and a pocket-size Nintendo Game Boy video toy that came in the mail. "I'm gonna turn 21 out here and won't get no beer," said Lacey, a flight ops soldier from Paris, Tenn.

"We're out here for how ever long it takes," he said.

The radio had survived the postal tent fire and had just arrived in the day's mail.

He listens to Voice of America broadcasts and is in range of Radio Baghdad and the veiled threats of Baghdad Betty, who talks about how Americans will be swallowed by the dunes and how their girlfriends are fooling around back home. Her theme music is from the old "Dating Game" television show.

"They don't scare us," Lacey said of Radio Baghdad's threats. But, he added, the music's pretty good. "As long as everybody's behind us hack home, we're OK here," Lacey said. "And we're still thinking of all the hostages still in Iraq."

Spec. Jason Ernst, a forward observer, said he understands why commanders are hesitant to tell GIs how long they'll be over here. "If you tell a bunch of troops they're going home in six months, and war breaks out in four ... you can't do that," Ernst said. "I'm confident they'll get us home as quick as possible."

Ernst is 24 and comes from Santa Barbara, Calif. Like the others, he'd been out at a fighting position for more than a month, guarding the flat, empty sand.

"The worst thing about it," he said, "is it looks like you're the only one out there."

Over in Troop A's 2nd platoon, the cavalry scouts had just spent their first night in a tent after more than a month in the desert. They'd heard about the possibility of USO shows and were wondering if veteran troop entertainer Bob Hope might show up at their desert base. They talked awhile longer, trying to remember the names of some of the women who travel in Bob Hope's entourage. Then, the verdict was reached that Hope's shows always seem to be aboard ships, not at the front.

Cahee finally decided that, like so many other things, the cavalry troop would probably never see the USO.