I Felt Like I'd Stepped
Into a Time Machine

I kept expecting to see Jesus followed by twelve disciples as we rounded each corner in Riyadh. I'm not making light of this beautifully ancient city in Saudi Arabia--I was truly in awe.

This all started in June 1991, three months after the Gulf "War" was over. The area was still considered to be volatile, so the Air Force was on full standy-by. By June our forces had dwindled to 15,000, as compared to the approximately 100,000 Air Forc e personnel assigned to a handful of Saudi air bases during the conflict. This period of Operation Desert Storm was called "Reconstitution"--tearing down, cleaning up, disposing of weapons and armament, and preparing for future contingencies by building permanent structures.

It was Lackland's turn to send a Personnel Team and that's what we did. Seven of us boarded a military-chartered 747 and we were unloading our bags at Riyadh Air Base by July 1. As we got off the plane, a gust of hot air whoosed into our face. It felt lik e we'd just stepped into a very dry, very hot sauna.

Our Personnel Team, called PERSCO (Personnel in Support of Contingency Operations) was responsible for servicing the personnel needs of the 3,000 Air Force personnel assigned to Riyadh Air Base, a Saudi Air Base smack in the middle of Riyadh. We also supp orted the larger mission through strength accounting to higher headquarters--we knew how many airmen arrived and departed daily and could tell you their middle names, birth dates, and mothers' maiden names. So much for the job, it wasn't anything to get e xcited over.

What I found interesting was the living accomodations, local area, and the general feeling of camraderie and pride among the American service members.

America hadn't been to war since 1973. Even most of our senior leaders hadn't experienced a war zone. This was an exciting time for those airmen who volunteered to come to Saudi, even if the war was over. The military is premised on war, but most of our d aily reality consisted of training, training, training. Imagine being in the service for an entire career and never seeing war. You can imagine how excited some of the airmen felt--they would finally get to perform the job they'd been training to do for y ears. I sensed an air of pride, enthusiasm, cockiness, and cooperation that I felt didn't normally exist on a peace-time stateside base. This was a war zone.

A buddy and I were invited on a tanker flight to refuel F-15s--what a thrill. KC-135s are refueling jets and two of them, including the one I was on, flew over Kuwait (the oil fields were still burning) on a 2-hour mission. Here 's a picture I got from the window of the tanker. I got a few other pictures from an Army friend who did some duty in Kuwait, including a Stealth Fighter, and a Patriot Missle Battery. He saw quite a few Iraqui soldiers as they hightailed across the desert, including the tank squad that left this Iraqui tank behind.

Sometime during the 1980s, the Saudi government built a housing project in the desert, 30 klicks south of Riyadh. It was 12 square blocks of bungalo-style housing built for the Bedoin Tribes, the nomadic tribespeople of Saudi Arabia. Rumor had it that the Bedoins rejected it, preferring to sleep under the stars. Regardless why, the Saudis handed it to the Americans within a month of Operation Desert Shield in September 1990. By the time we got there 9 months later, it was a thriving American "town" in the middle of the desert. Our bungalo consisted of five large bedrooms, each with its own bath; a common kitchen and living room (with color TV/VCR); and a large flat roof that would have housed the Bedoin animals, but made an excellent sunbathing area for u s. Can't say we had it hard. "Eskan Village", as it was called, also contained a large (very popular) pool, and a cluster of makeshift shops, including a hamburger joint and Baskin Robins parlor. Not the Mall of Americas but not bad for the desert. You can see Eskan Village in the background of our volleyball game.

We would get down to Riyadh at least once a week to buy gold, copper items, rugs, music tapes, and fast food. All of these items (except the fast food) were incredibly inexpensive in Riyadh and we soon became experts in the going price of gold by the gra m. I bought over $1000 worth of gold for less than $500 during those three months. The women in our families had a very good Christmas that year. As we walked through the streets of Riyadh, I was constantly in awe. I felt like I was in one of those Saturd ay afternoon Hercules movies and expected Jesus and his twelve disciples as we turned each corner. Instead, we saw Mercedes after Mercedes, and a bustling cosmopolitan city set amongst the ancient streets of Riyadh. We were sad that we weren't in the U.S. on the 4th of July to celebrate, and we weren't surprised that the Saudi's didn't have a fireworks display, but we did have fun on the 4th, included in the fun were camel rides.

Fridays at noon were set aside for public executions at the main mosque in Riyadh. Here, drug dealers, rapists, and murderers were given no mercy when their heads rolled before the cheers of local citizens. We made the pilgrimage to "Chop Chop Square" 2-3 times on various Fridays but never saw a thing. Probably a good thing for me. I'm against the death penalty in any country.

What an experience. Since this time, the Americans have pretty much pulled out of all urban areas in Saudi Arabia due to terrorist acts like the Kohbal Towers bombing in 1996 and several other bombings during the mid-1990s. I knew we'd wear out our welcom e sooner or later. The Saudis weren't too happy about us being there even during the war. Two vastly different cultures, forced together to defeat a common enemy. Let's hope that doesn't happen again for a long long time, if ever again. 2007 Update: We're still bogged down in the middle east . . . when will this stupidity end? Perhaps in 2008 after the next presidential election when we can all sing, "Ding Dong, the Moron's Gone."

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