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Carl Dinnen: desert storms

By Carl Dinnen

Updated on 14 March 2008

Blog: Carl Dinnen remembers six weeks in the desert with the US army.

Every time we arrived somewhere new it felt like the most inhospitable place on earth.

Even the first huge holding camp in Kuwait felt vaguely menacing, when Stuart Webb and I were deposited in a marquee filled with row upon row of cots of US soldiers. The captain looking after us left with a cheery "And let me know if anyone gives you any hassle."

They weren't too high tech for the most powerful nation on earth either. When the two guys from the unit we were embedded with, Mike and Geoff, arrived days later the first thing they did was pinch some sandbags for the floor of the Humvee "in case we hit a landmine".

We had those wretched sandbags under our feet for six weeks. They were, from an ergonomic point of view, most unsound.

When we arrived with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Field Artillery they were in the middle of a sandstorm in the middle of the desert. It was cold and you could barely see one vehicle from the next.

The only tents were the command posts. It was miserable. I thought what the heck are we going to do here until the war starts? You couldn't test equipment or film or anything. Then the CO said 'Hi' and gave us both commemorative coins. It was a little surreal.

And then we waited. And waited. For days. But at least the sun shone and we were able to test all the kit and even send some reports back.

2-4 Artillery fired the first ground shots of the war, although the missiles they launched didn't seem like ground shots, more like mini space shots into the night.

They had to get airspace clearance to fire almost anything. The men firing the weapons could scarcely be further removed from the destruction at the other end. And these things were often carrying cluster munitions.

And then we invaded Iraq.

We didn't see an Iraqi of any description for a couple of days and even then they were just a few bemused looking Bedouin. We drove day and night.

We arrived in the middle of the night, half our column, hundreds of vehicles long, having taken a wrong turn.

When we finally were able to get out our cots for a proper sleep I was so tired I slept through the missiles being launched through the rain outside my makeshift bivvy, on the side of the Humvee.

And so it continued. Driving. Stopping. Digging foxholes. Leaving next morning. Driving. Stopping. Digging. Sometimes staying for a day or two.

In one place there was the strangest sandstorm. Hardly any wind, just dust hanging in the air. At dusk the whole atmosphere turned deep red for a couple of hours. The artillerymen called it Firebase Mars.

Baghdad Airport was the worst. We arrived in the middle of the night, half our column, hundreds of vehicles long, having taken a wrong turn. We felt very vulnerable, the airport had only been in US hands for 24 hours-or-so. We were sent to an area of scrub to camp. I heard a snake hissing at someone as we arrived. I hate snakes.

It was one am. We dug foxholes for an hour-or-so. For security there was almost no light. A dangerous enough operation with pick axes swinging in the dark.

Then we slept until about five when we were all scared out of our wits by a salvo from a battery of self propelled guns we had parked beside. We didn't know they were there. We thought we were taking incoming fire.

Our final location was an old Fedayeen camp in north Baghdad. It was the only place where we were shot at directly. A US Special Forces patrol had made a mistake and opened up on us. No one was seriously hurt.

The night we left and found ourselves in a Kuwaiti hotel Stuart and I struggled to order dinner. It was too surreal having a choice of food after six weeks on ration packs. It felt very odd to be out.

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