King Abdul Aziz Air Base, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
08.30pm (12.30 pm EST) 25th February 1991
As the air-raid siren sounded Junior Technician (J/T) Craig Knight lifted his head out of the 48 kW Houchin generators engine compartment. ‘Fucking typical!’ he thought, before his breathing stopped and his eyes slammed shut.
He reached around to the left side of his webbing belt with his right hand, located his haversack and ripped the Velcro top open. After yanking out his S10 respirator he held it with both hands and felt around for the head straps. Once he had located them he tucked his thumbs under the bottom two straps, raised it upwards and thrust his chin into the respirator. With one swift motion he stretched the neoprene straps over his head, ensuring the middle portion, where all the straps met, was in the centre of the back of his head. He felt around the edge of the respirator, where it met the skin on his face, ensuring there was a tight seal with no hair or obstructions, and finally blew out hard.
‘Gas! Gas! Gas!’ he shouted, as his lungs finally filled with the cold Saudi evening air.
He quickly gathered and checked his tools, as the ground crew hurried to complete pre-flight checks on the Tornado GR1 aircraft’s payload of sidewinder missiles and a fully laden ‘JP233′ low-altitude airfield attack system for its next offensive counter-air attack sortie.
‘We ready to go?’ The voice of the ground crew technician was muffled.
‘Hopefully!’ Craig turned the key to the start position and the engine chugged into life. He flicked the idle switch to the service position, pressed the ‘excite’ button and checked the voltage and frequency meters. He moved his head closer to the technician and bellowed, ‘You’re good to go!’
After speaking to the pilot through is headset the technician pressed the AC ‘on’ button and the ‘power on’ lights illuminated.
‘Thanks!’ the technician shouted.
Craig placed his toolbox into the back of his white GMC pickup truck, grabbed his rolled-up Nuclear, Biological & Chemical (NBC) suit and quickly put it on. He climbed into the drivers seat, started the truck, slipped the column drive into first and sped off across the aircraft pan back to the Ground Support Equipment (GSE) workshops.
As Craig approached the building Corporal (CPL) Mark ‘Sparky’ O’Connell came bundling through the door in full personal protective equipment (PPE), his chemical outer gloves grasped firmly around his self-loading rifle (SLR).
‘Where the fuck of ye been, Craigy boy?’ he asked.
‘Fixing a 48 on the pan, why?’
‘Cum on ta fuck, ya feckin ejit.’
Sparky moved closer until their eyepieces were almost touching. ‘The feckin shelter, are ye coming?’
‘Nah, what’s the point? If there’s a direct hit you’re dead anyway, so why bother, eh?’
‘Come on Craigy boy or ye’ll ‘ave shrapnel in ye ass. Oh wait, I forgot, ye love it in the ass, don’t ye?’ Sparky’s respirator primary speech module pulsed back and forth as he laughed.
‘Irish prick!’ Craig snapped as he climbed the steps to the crew-room. He turned and pointed to the metal storage containers (ISOs) to the side of the building. ‘I’m going in there; it’s just as safe in there, mun.’
‘Whatever!’ Sparky said before turning on his heels and legging it past the U.S. medic helicopters towards the sandbagged shelter.
Through the GSE crew-room’s open door Craig could see that only Senior Aircraftsman (SAC) ‘Mad’ Mike McCarthy was left and he was in the process of donning his NBC suit.
‘You going to the shelter?’ Craig asked.
As Craig’s eyes looked past the line of Kuwaiti Hawk fighter jets and out across the Saudi Arabian horizon something caught his eye just above the aircraft control tower’s flashing warning beacons. Something glowed at the rear of a long dark object descending from the sky like an enormous firework.
‘Mike! Mike! Come here, mun!’ he shouted, his hand beckoning him forward. ‘Look, butt’ he said, pointing towards the horizon.
‘Oh, fuck, that’s a Scud! Shit. Fucking shit!’ Mike shoved Craig in the back sending him tumbling down the steps. ‘Get in the ISO, quick!’ he said, disappearing into the container, but Craig couldn’t take his eyes off it. He wanted to watch the Patriot missile shoot it out of the sky but Mike grabbed him around the neck and tugged him from his trance.
The stores ISO container had shelving on either side and was severely lacking in floor space so they opted for the workshop container next door instead. They pulled the corrugated steel door behind them and propped it open with an oilcan – the only way to secure the doors was from the outside. Several electrical cables with prick-through lighing were cable-tied across the walls. The claustrophobic effect of the two large round respirator eyepieces seemed magnified in the enclosed container as Mike’s eyes adjusted to the low light. A vast array of cutting tools, spanners, hammers and the like, adorned the walls above the workbenches.
‘You do realise if the missile, or chunks of it, land anywhere near us these tools are gonna rip us to bits in the blast,’ suggested Mike.
‘Oh, shit, yeah,’ sighed Craig. ‘Back to the stores ISO then, eh?’
‘Aaw, if we must.’ Mike rose to his feet and tripped over his laces. ‘Bollocks to these,’ he snapped, as he removed the unstrapped chemical over-boots.
As they began to exit the ISO tools fell from their retaining hooks as the ground beneath them shook. They stared at each other with wide eyes.
‘Where the fuck was the patriot?’ Mike screamed. ‘That bastard’s hit dirt!’
Craig shrugged his shoulders as his respirator swayed from side to side. He glanced at his watch; it was 08.40pm. In the distance, towards Dhahran, they could hear faint sirens and smaller explosions and, as they turned the corner, they could see plumes of black smoke on the skyline. As they stood and stared the rest of the night shift returned.
‘What the feck’s going on? Did ye see it, then?’ Sparky asked, in a clear voice.
‘Where’s your mask?’ Craig asked, tapping his canister.
‘It’s all clear. No chemical warhead according to NAIAD, but you’d ‘ave known that if ye had bothered going ta the shelter. It felt like that Scud has hit.’
‘It did, look,’ Craig said, removing his respirator and pointing towards Dhahran.
‘That’s our feckin barracks down there!’ Sparky pointed out as SGT Pete Rodgers stuck his head out of the crew-room door.
‘CNN have confirmed a Scud has hit the outskirts of Dhahran,’ he advised.
‘Scandal grabbing, propaganda loving, monkey fuckers!’ Mike muttered as he brushed past him, now naked but for his underpants, boots and respirator.
Craig burst out laughing. ‘He really is mad, isn’t he?’
‘Nah, he’s perfectly sane. He’s even got a letter of the doc to prove it,’ Pete explained.
‘Yeah, his last OC tried to have him committed, so they sent him for shit loads of psycho evaluation tests and he passed, hence the letter.’
‘He is a bit nuts though, don’t you think?’
‘Oh yeah, he’s a cornflake short of a packet.’
475th Quartermaster Group and 14th Quartermaster Detachment, U.S. Army Reserve, Makeshift Barracks, King Saud Road, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
08.40pm (12.40 pm EST) 25th February 1991
In a two-storey, steel girder warehouse converted into temporary barracks U.S. troops tucked into their evening meal in the ground floor mess area, despite the sound of sirens. On the first floor, in a large sleeping area with rows of cots and footlockers, which housed over a hundred troops, Specialist (Spec.) Victor Lautner flopped down onto his cot with his belly full of food. At midnight he was due to commence guard duty so he hoped to get some shuteye for a few hours. Staff Sergeant Winston Jackson was laid out on an adjacent cot watching Sergeant (SGT) Rob Rabenstein and Spec. David Cabrera playing cards.
‘How many of there are you in the 14th?’ Winston asked.
‘There’s sixty-nine of us now. We’ve got about thirty-five filler’s from other units, too,’ replied Victor. ‘Once the ROWPU systems arrive they’ll send us onto a new designated field support location. We’ve only been here six days but it feels like forever.’
‘Wait ‘til you’ve been here four months.’
‘Damn, that long?’ Victor said, raising his eyebrows. ‘Are these Scud alerts always this regular, then?’
‘Yeah, sometimes we watch ‘em go over before the Patriot whacks ‘em.’
Suddenly Victor’s attention had been drawn towards a couple of Spec’s who had caught a mouse and, as he turned his head back the other way, the room went dark. A bright blue flash shot down the wall into a fuse box before exploding sending Victor hurtling through the air. Winded but still conscious Victor crawled forward away from a small pile of rubble that was on fire and felt for his head as he had somehow thought it had been ripped off as he was thrown through the air. With no obvious signs of injury, just a hole in his T-shirt, Victor headed out of the building but not before he dragged several other soldiers to safety.
Rob Rabenstein never heard the blast, he just suddenly found himself sitting on the floor surrounded by burning fires. He was screaming but couldn’t hear much due to the ringing in his ears. To his right, lying a few feet away was Winston Jackson.
‘I can’t feel my left arm,’ Winston said, his voice wheezy. As he reached across his right hand sunk into the hole that the shrapnel had left behind and he felt the moist smoothness of the bloody socket give way to the sharpness of his shattered clavicle. ‘Fuck, man, my arms gone!’
Rabenstein grabbed an M-16 and slid over to Winston. He could see that Winston’s left arm was dislocated and tucked under his back. Only his biceps tendon and ligaments were holding it in place. ‘Don’t worry, it’s still attached,’ he said, as some dusty boots appeared near his head. He looked up to see his Uncle Tommy, also a SGT, leaning over him. The left side of Tommy’s face had been sliced open and his jaw and teeth were visible through the largest laceration.
‘You OK, Rob?’ Tommy asked.
‘Yeah, bit deaf and my shirts wet,’ he shouted back.
Tommy bent down and pulled back Rob’s T-shirt to reveal a long, deep laceration across his back. ‘You’ll be fine, Rob. Let’s get him out quick, there’s girders falling everywhere.’ He took hold of Winston’s head and shoulders. Suddenly there was a distinct whine and snap of bullets passing overhead. ‘Who the hell’s that?’ he asked.
‘No one,’ shouted Rob. ‘That’s just ammo cooking off in the fire.’
Outside the warehouse U.S. troops from the concrete billet next door rushed to help as their building had only suffered shattered windows.
‘Watch where you walk, damn you!’ a SGT, his face blackened and bloodied, ordered the advancing troops. ‘We must try to pick up the body parts.’
Euro Village, off Prince Sultan Road, Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia
08.45pm (12.45 pm EST) 25th February 1991
SAC Gerry Rowland whipped off his respirator as soon as the sirens stopped and returned it to his haversack. ‘D’ya reckon it’s hit anything, then?’ he asked.
CPL Tim Lewis, who had been sat at the table losing miserably to J/T Dave Cummins at Pontoon, shook his head. ‘Nah, I doubt it but let’s check it out, maybe someone needs a hand. If not, we can take some pics of the crater and go shopping.’
‘Good, I’m starving now, I need some scran,’ Gerry said, throwing the Land Rover keys to Tim. ‘You drive, I’ll be photographer.’
‘I’m coming too,’ said Dave. ‘I’m not staying on my tod.’
Tim drove through the guard checkpoint, left the confines of the village, and turned right onto Prince Sultan Road. As they turned left onto the King Saud highway they could see traffic building up in the distance. As they grew closer to the scene they could see minor RTAs had occurred in both directions. Debris from the wrecked building and chunks of missile littered the highway. Up ahead, just before the Toy World store, the area was streaming with people, emergency crews and Humvees. Their way forward now barred, Tim swung the Landy onto the sidewalk. As they exited the vehicle the stench of propellant stung their sinuses. They forced their way through the rubberneckers until they reached an American soldier who was struggling to keep the swelling crowd of press and public at bay.
‘We’re RAF, can we help?’ asked Gerry.
The tall American opened his mouth, revealing slimy black teeth, before spitting a large black globule of tobacco and saliva on the floor. ‘That way, there’s bodies everywhere,’ he replied, turning sideways and pointing down the dark stretch of road behind him.
The airmen sprinted off, still unsure what had happened and, as they turned the corner, they froze. Their eyes struggled to take in the enormity of the devastation laid out before them. The non-descript warehouse behind Toy World that they had passed everyday, to and from work, was now a smouldering wreck. Dark twisted girders rose skywards from where the roof had once been. Bent and crushed aluminium sheets, that were once wall panels, were scattered everywhere like shredded paper. Near the centre of the structure the first floor had completely collapsed with burning rubble almost head height. Duffel bags, weapons, crumpled aluminium cots and various items of clothing littered the floor and the air was ripe with the smell of burnt flesh and the horrifying sounds of torment.
Gerry felt his stomach wretch but he forced his legs to start moving again. As he stepped forward three soldiers came hurtling towards him out of the shadows carrying a casualty on a stretcher and, as they drew parallel with him, he could see that the soldier at the back struggled to carry his end of the stretcher on his own. Gerry immediately grabbed one side and ran with them to an awaiting ambulance before doubling back. Tim and Dave were now nowhere to be seen so he pushed through the melee of wounded and rescuers aiming for ground zero.
As he approached the front of the structure he watched two soldiers carry a colleague out and lay him on the ground. They handed him a M-16, reassured him and dashed back inside. Suddenly the huge Afro-American soldier, naked apart from underpants, stood up and stumbled towards Gerry. His left arm swung unnaturally by his side and, as he came closer, Gerry saw that his arm was hanging by the merest of bloody sinews.
‘He’s gonna pay for this, he’s gonna fucking pay!’ screamed Winston, as he hobbled past.
Gerry grabbed a nearby medic by the arm. ‘Excuse me, what about him?’ he said, pointing at Winston.
The medic made a cursory glance at Winston before replying. ‘No arterial bleeding, he’s walking wounded. There’s far worse still inside.’
King Abdul Aziz Air Base, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
08.51pm (12.51 pm EST) 25th February 1991
In the crew-room Craig paced up and down watching the news on CNN. He lit another Embassy Number One; his third since the reporter had announced that a military barracks had been hit by a Scud.
‘How many are dead, now?’ he asked.
‘They reckon there’s twelve dead and over thirty seriously wounded,’ SGT Pete Rodgers replied, but no sooner as he said it than the TV reporter confirmed the total dead was now fourteen and rising.
‘Do you think the day shift are OK? Has anyone heard from them, yet?’
‘Nothing yet Craig, we’re still waiting for a reply from the OC. Fingers crossed they’ll all be fine.’
‘Yeah, I know it’s horrible to say but I hope it’s someone else.’
475th Quartermaster Group and 14th Quartermaster Detachment, U.S. Army Reserve, Makeshift Barracks, King Saud Road, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
08.53pm (12.53 pm EST) 25th February 1991
A floodlight erected on the back of a nearby pickup truck suddenly lit up the area to Gerry’s right revealing several rows of cadavers and wounded. Gerry wiped his clammy hands on his DPM trousers and blew out hard. ‘C’mon,’ he mumbled, before pressing forward.
As Gerry ran into the ruins of the building a soldier shouted at him from the remains of the first floor above, but he couldn’t hear what he had said. He made his way through some burning rubble to what was left of the steps to the first floor.
‘We need to evacuate her,’ the soldier said, as Gerry approached. In front of him on the floor was a woman lying on chunks of shiny white material in a pool of blood, her naked body severely lacerated. ‘Get a stretcher!’ he snapped, as tears carved a trail through the soot on his face.
Gerry turned and disappeared back down the steps and out of the building, and searched desperately for a stretcher as the ‘Whap! Whap! Whap!’ sound heralded a Hueys arrival and they began to evacuate the seriously wounded as other Hueys hovered in wait. Gerry shielded his eyes as the downdraft hurtled sandy grit into his face. A few minutes later he returned with a stretcher only to discover that the medics had already set up lights and had begun operating on the woman.
‘Thanks, man,’ the soldier said, as Gerry laid the stretcher down and left them to it.
Back on the ground floor Gerry, along with others, continued to trawl through the wreckage for casualties despite falling debris and the occasional crack of bullets. An American officer approached and thanked him for helping. ‘I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,’ Gerry blurted out.
Once they were confident there were no more casualties or dead inside, the search party dispersed and Gerry began pacing up and down the rows of wounded trying to help and reassure them in any way. As he knelt by one soldier he noticed several civilians paying particular attention to the weapons lying around so he gathered up as many M-16s and Colt 45 pistols that he could hold and, with his arms outstretched, he carried the bundle of weapons out of the rubble.
‘Where shall I put these?’ he asked, when he came across a soldier stood by a Humvee.
The soldier opened the Humvee’s rear door and pointed at the floor. After he lowered the weapons he noticed several pairs of boots poking out from under foil sheets and blood dripping out the doorway onto the dusty floor below.
After nearly two hours at the scene Gerry finally met up with Tim and Dave who both looked as exhausted as he felt. Tim asked some soldiers if there was anything else they could do to help and one of them asked them to help guard the entrance road, as the press and camera crews were desperately trying to get to the scene. Several news photographers had already been escorted out of the compound and had their film confiscated after they put on military fatigues to sneak in. As the airmen helped to push them back Gerry was yanked back from the road. The mayor of Dhahran and his entourage had turned up and they were stopping for no one.
When the U.S. military police finally took control of the road there was little else for them to do so they headed back to the Euro Village. Saudi rubberneckers were blocking every road and Gerry wound the Landy window down.
‘Fuckin’ ragheads. Get out of the way! For fucks sake, move!’ he vented. The other two remained silent, their faces devoid of emotion as Gerry ranted all the way to the village compound.
Back in his bunk, his mind a whirl of images, Gerry cried himself to sleep.
Al Hussein An Iraqi ballistic missile – the result of upgrading the Soviet made Scud to achieve a longer range
Al Khobar A city located in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia
Billet A civilian building temporarily lodging soldiers
Dhahran A city located in Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia
DPM Disruptive Pattern Material, i.e. camouflage uniform
GMC General Motors Company
Ground Zero The point on the Earth’s surface closest to a detonation
GSE Ground Support Equipment – any equipment that’s painted green and isn’t an aircraft or a vehicle
Houchin 48kW Diesel Aircraft Generator made by the company ‘Houchin’ also generically referred to as a Ground power Unit or ‘GPU’
Huey Nickname for a U.S. ‘UH-1A’ Helicopter made by Bell
ISO ‘International Standards Organization’ shipping container
J/T RAF junior rank of ‘Junior Technician’
JP233 A British low-altitude airfield attack system consisting of a large dispenser pod carrying hundreds of submunitions; 30 ‘SG-357’ runway cratering munitions & 215 ‘HB-876’ anti-personnel mines
Landy Nickname for a British Forces Land Rover
M-16 5.56mm calibre assault rifle used by the U.S. Army
Mess An area where military personnel socialise and eat
NAIAD Nerve Agent Immobilizer Enzyme Alarm and Detector used to detect and monitor levels of chemical warfare agents
NBC Nuclear, Biological & Chemical
OC Officer Commanding
Pan (Aircraft) Alternative name for an airfield ramp or apron where pre-flight activities are done or where aircraft are parked and maintained
PPE Personal Protective Equipment namely, respirator, NBC suit, chemical over-boots and inner & outer chemical gloves
RAF Royal Air Force (British)
Respirator (S10) Military NBC gas mask
ROWPU Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit
RTA Road Traffic Accidents
SAC RAF junior rank of ‘Senior Aircraftsman’
Scran Traditional military slang for food
Scud A Soviet made ballistic missile with a 500kg payload warhead with Nuclear, Biological and Chemical capabilities. See also ‘Al Hussein’
Sidewinder AIM-9M short-range air-to-air missile
SLR (or L1A1) 7.62mm self-loading rifle used by the British Forces
Sortie Deployment of an aircraft on a specific mission
Spec. (or SPC) U.S. Army junior enlisted rank of ‘Specialist’
Tornado GR1 The Tornado IDS (Interdictor/Strike) fighter bomber. A twin-engine, sweep-wing combat aircraft made by Panavia Aircraft GmbH
In Memory of:
14th Quartermaster Detachment
Specialist Steven E. Atherton, age 26, Nurmine, Pennsylvania
Specialist John A. Boliver, Jr., age 27, Monon Gahela, Pennsylvania
Sergeant Joseph P. Bongiorni III, age 20, Hickory, Pennsylvania
Sergeant John T. Boxler, age 44, Johnstown, Pennsylvania
Specialist Beverly S. Clark, age 23, Armagh, Pennsylvania
Sergeant Allen B. Craver, age 32, Penn Hills, Pennsylvania
Specialist Frank S. Keough, age 22, North Huntington, Pennsylvania
Specialist Anthony E. Madison, age 27, Monessen, Pennsylvania
Specialist Christine L. Mayes, age 22, Rochester Mills, Pennsylvania
Specialist Steven J. Siko, age 24, Latrobe, Pennsylvania
Specialist Thomas G. Stone, age 20, Falconer, New York
Sergeant Frank J. Walls, age 20, Hawthorne, Pennsylvania
Specialist Richard V. Wolverton, 22, Latrobe, Pennsylvania
Corporal Stanley Bartusiak, age 34, HHC, 475th QM Group, USAR
Corporal Rolando A. Delagneau, 30, 477th Trans Co.,USAR
Specialist Steven P. Farnen, age 22, 477th Trans Co.,USAR
Specialist Glen D. Jones, age 21, Grand Rapids, Minn., 477th Trans Co.,USAR
Specialist Duane W. Hollen, Jr., age 24, 477th Trans Co.,USAR
Specialist Steven G. Mason, 23, 477th Trans Co.,USAR
Specialist Michael W. Mills, age 23, Jefferson, Iowa, 477th Trans Co.,USAR
Specialist Adrienne L. Mitchell, age 20, Moreno Valley, Calif., HHC, 475th QM Group, USAR
Specialist Ronald D. Rennison, age 21, Dubuque, Iowa, 477th Trans Co.,USAR
Private First Class Timothy A. Shaw, age 21, Suitland, Md., HHC, 475th QM Group, USAR
Corporal Brian K. Simpson, age 22, HHC, 475th QM Group, USAR
Specialist James D. Tatum, age 22, HHC, 475th QM Group, USAR
Private First Class Robert C. Wade, age 31, HHC, 475th QM Group, USAR
Corporal Jonathan M. Williams, age 23, HHC, 475th QM Group, USAR
Specialist James E. Worthy, age 22, 477th Trans Co.,USAR