Guard troops from Maine fight high temps, tedium in Kuwait
By DAVID JOSAR | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 22, 2003
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Soldiers of the 1136th Transportation Company from the Maine National Guard are out of their element.
Sitting on the makeshift bench outside the stifling warehouse that has become their temporary home, they spent Sunday passing around two Game Boy electronic games and shooting digital pictures to send home.
And the temperature, although it wasn’t yet noon, had hit 90 degrees.
“This surely isn’t Maine,” Spc. Aimme Michaud said as she took a break by playing Motocross Madness on her Game Boy. “We’re used to more moderate temps.”
Michaud and her fellow guardsmen had been waiting three days for their trucks and other vehicles to catch up with them at the 15,000-person logistics camp located between Kuwait City and the border of Saudi Arabia.
The unit had been activated Feb. 12 and sent to Fort Dix, N.J., where they waited nearly two months before flying to Kuwait.
Their equipment, coming by ship, should arrive within the week, said 1st Lt. Brad Kelso, a platoon leader for company. Then the guardsmen can start moving troops and supplies to wherever they have to go.
“We’re just ready to do our job,” he said. “And now we’re waiting.”
Waiting to go somewhere else is what most soldiers do at Camp Arifjan.
Most days are spent lounging near their bunks in any one of several enormous warehouses filled with about 1,000 beds. There is little privacy with cots only a foot apart. Some soldiers brought sleeping pads for extra comfort, while others brought teddy bears and pillows.
Poncho liners hang over a line strung across the open warehouse doors to block out dust, wind and sunlight. Small American flags sprout here and there in the massive bunkhouse.
“It’s a regular carnival here,” said Spc. Tony Ramsdell, only half-joking. “But without the rides.”
Ordinarily, Ramsdell is part of an artillery unit, but for this mission he was told his services would be needed with a transportation unit.
“I guess I’ll be driving trucks,” said the 31-year-old, whose civilian job in Maine is as a truck driver.
Ramsdell usually spends his nights wandering the base camp.
The gym looks inviting, he said, but he usually avoids the weights and aerobic exercise machines and heads for the midnight meal in the chow hall.
“I’ve put on 15 pounds [since February] so maybe I should work out instead,” he said.
There are good movies on base, too, he said; the other night he caught “Blade II.”
But the waiting game is an exercise in filling time.
Ramsdell writes home repeatedly. He proposed to his wife, got a marriage license and was married all on the day he received his activation order.
Sgt. Lenny Elefsoro, 36, spends part of each day in line at one of the free phones, waiting to call his wife and two small children in Maine. Troops can make one 15-minute call per day.
“You try to keep in touch, but it’s hard,” he said.
One trick troops have discovered is using a local cell phone. They ask someone leaving the base to buy a cell phone and prepaid calling cards.
“People end up passing the phones around,” Elefsoro said. “It’s a good idea.”
Despite the monotony of waiting to link up with their equipment, the Guard troops have found the experience less grueling than they expected.
Michaud, 21, a social work student, said she expected a more rapid pace, but was still satisfied with the experience.
“This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened in my life,” she said. “There aren’t many people my age who have done something like this.”
Staff Sgt. Robert Dorr, 41, was deployed during Desert Storm, part of an engineering unit that built roads. He doesn’t have Michaud’s awe, but he was still somewhat shocked.
“I expected a lot worse,” said Dorr, now also a truck driver with the 1136th.
He expected sandstorms, austere living conditions and long days on the job, not the mundane pace of waiting at a relatively comfortable base camp.
“There’s too much sitting around here,” he said. “I just want to start doing my job.”