Life at Camp Camden Filled With Scud Alarms, Heavy Baggage

CAMP CAMDEN, Kuwait–Four more Scud alarms sounded Friday; one in the morning, the rest in the afternoon, and another on Saturday about 6:30 p.m. There were none on Sunday. I am told there were 15 altogether, but I lost track. The soldiers are grateful that there are fewer alarms. They are ready to get out of the hot, uncomfortable chemical protective suits, or what Cpl. Delon Lee from Tampa Bay, Fla. calls “Gumby” suits.

Since the first Scud attack, the soldiers have had to wear the suits all the time. Fortunately, they do not have to wear the boots, gloves or masks constantly. That would be impossible. They merely have to carry them, just as they carry their M-16s. The soldiers are issued a camouflage duffel bag that they sling over their shoulder case that holds the protective boots and gloves.

That is not all that they have to carry. The soldiers must also wear their helmet and flak jacket at all times. Walking around in a chemical suit, helmet and flak jacket while carrying a nuclear, biological and chemical bag, an M-16 and a protective mask on your hip is very tiring and makes going to the bathroom a seriously considered decision.

Many soldiers don’t wear pants or a shirt when they wear the chemical protective suit because of the heat.

One of the officers I am bunking with is Nathan “Herb” Hancock of Gulf Shores, Ala. A West Point football teammate gave him the nickname “Herb” after Herbie Hancock, the famous jazz musician.

One morning I saw Capt. Hancock put on his suit wearing only his underwear.

“If I’m going to get slimed by a chemical attack I don’t care if I have any clothes on,” he said.

Camp Camden, named after Camden Yards baseball stadium, is much smaller than Camp Arifjan. Often the camps are called ballparks because they are named after baseball stadiums. At Camp Camden there are no permanent cinder block buildings. It is made up entirely of tents, parked Humvees and trucks, cargo containers, and portable bathrooms. There are probably less than 100 tents here but more troops seem to arrive daily. In my tent last Thursday, for example, there were two or three others. Now at least six more have arrived.

I am embedded with the 36th Engineer Group. The 36th is an active Army unit normally stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. The unit’s job is to command different types of engineer units that are capable of designing and constructing everything from roads to camps with running water and electricity, including prisoner-of-war camps. The units that the 36th commands are known as combat heavy engineer battalions. They are the construction battalions of the army.

At the moment the 36th consists of the 46th Engineer Battalion, an active duty unit stationed at Fort Polk, La., and the 109th Engineer Battalion, a National Guard unit from South Dakota. Two firefighting units under the 95th Fire Fighting Headquarters and the 21st Facilities Engineer Team are also with the group. The 21st is made up of National Guard members from Massachusetts, Virginia and West Virginia. The soldiers in this unit are senior officers and non-commissioned officers who have expertise in repairing damaged water supply, electric distribution, and sanitation facilities.

Col. Michael Biering commands the 36th Engineer Group. Biering is an energetic man in his late 40s, born and raised in Charleston, S.C.

“One day I hope to go back,” he said. He started the junior ROTC unit at Goose Creek, a South Carolina high school, and has been wearing a military uniform ever since. He received an appointment to West Point in 1974 by former Sen. Strom Thurmond and graduated in 1978.

I think someone once said that rumors are the soldiers’ currency in trade. I was put in a tent that had two of three officers in it. When I woke up on Friday morning, one of them said that the 101st Airborne Division had dropped into Baghdad.

“The 3rd ID (Infantry Division) is lethal. I know, I was with them,” he said. He said that the reason we didn’t have any more Scud attacks was because the 3rd ID had moved so far north. We ended up having five more Scud alerts after he said this.

Since Friday, the sky to the north has a solid gray at the horizon, which turns a lighter gray as you look up. I was later told that the gray sky was caused by seven oil wells that were on fire.

On Saturday I was awakened by a major who said that the Army had bridged the Euphrates and that an entire Iraqi regiment had surrendered.

These types of rumors are common, even in the age of CNN. This is because the soldiers themselves generally do not have access to news.

Soldiers often ask other soldiers that have come in from the outside if they have heard any news.

Julie Campbell of Hendersonville, Tenn., said the enlisted personnel have a $20 pool on when they will go home. The last date is December.

Ronald Paul Larson is a graduate student at California State University, Fullerton, and a correspondent for the school’s newspaper, the Daily Titan. He is the only embedded journalist for a college paper. His stories from the Middle East will run occasionally on KRT Campus.

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