The mission began as it should, with prayer. Members of our unit and our family and friends assembled at the drill hall on 17th Street in Paducah, Kentucky for a prayer service. It was a time to think about the mission that lay before us the hazards that would be endured. We prayed for the strength to carry out this important mission, as well as for a quick and safe return home.
The city of Paducah coordinated an impressive farewell, orchestrated by Mayor, Gerry Montgomery. Ironically, Mayor Montgomery's husband, COL. Wally Montgomery, M.D., was the brigade surgeon for our higher headquarters, the 332nd Medical Brigade.
What a farewell it was! The convoy route was lined with enthusiastic well-wishers from the drill hall, all the way to Interstate 24. American flags, yellow ribbons, personal signs and posters were held high. Our hearts were touched by this outpouring of love and support.
Family, friends and fellow workers from Western Baptist and Lourdes Hospitals made up much the crowd. Hundreds of citizens who didn't even know anyone waved to us as if we were part of their family. The lone bell of St. Paul's Lutheran Church rang out, as if to say Good-bye. Godspeed. Come home soon. Be safe.
As we moved our convoy towards Ft. Campbell, it seemed as though every overpass teemed with a proliferation of flags, banners, and people wanting to show their support. Young and old, men and women, all wanted us to know they cared. With a send off such as this, how could we not return successfully?
Our unit arrived at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division that morning. The "Screaming Eagles" were already in the Gulf, silent testimony to the seriousness of our mission. The 3397th United States Army Garrison, our host unit during our stay at Ft. Campbell, had met with our advance party.
Quarters were already assigned. We stayed in the barracks belonging to a deployed engineer unit of the 101st. Little did we know these would be the most luxurious accommodations we would live in for the entire seven month mobilization!
The 3397th USAG was responsible to get us in-processed and to provide necessary remedial training to prepare us for the desert. First, though, our unit had to be brought up to full strength.
To do this, other Army reservists were assigned to the 807th by the 125th Army Command, our higher headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee. These new members came from the 306th Field Hospital (Memphis, Tennessee), the 330th General Hospital (also in Memphis), the 5010th General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, the 934th General Hospital from Miami, Florida, and the 820th General Hospital from Puerto Rico.
Other critical personnel needs were filled by National Augmentation Detachment (NAD) personnel, drawn from as far away as Wyoming. Our unit was growing in numbers and diversity, as members began to arrive over the next five weeks from all over the United States, finally bringing our numbers to 245 with 239 authorized.
The greatest challenge was now about to begin: how to assemble 245 strangers from all over the United States and teach them to work as a life-saving team. Our individual skills were formidable and varied. The key would be in getting us to use those skills harmoniously. Just as an orchestra conductor would face a complex symphony, the command was faced with the challenge of getting everyone to play the same life-saving music.
We spent 23 days at Ft. Campbell, being readied for our deployment to Saudi Arabia. We received extensive training in the area of nuclear, biological and chemical warfare; how to recognize this type of warfare, and how to survive in this radically different environment. Self-protection, as well as the treatment of contaminated casualties, became the order of the day. Our training was tested repeatedly.
Chemical agent protection, primarily nerve agent, was our greatest concern. We received our Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear, chemically-treated shirt and trousers. When the gear was combined with mask, boots, and gloves, it was intended to save us from death or injury in the chemical environment.
We watched each other as individuals and as a unit whenever we put on the MOPP, took it off, wiped it down and cleaned it up. The gas mask had to be put on in just 9 seconds and the entire suit assembled in just 8 minutes.
In response to our question, "Why this time limit?" (Reservists seem to ask more than their regular army counterparts) we were informed that this was how much notice we would get of an approaching SCUD attack. That news was met with nervous chuckles and quiet concern.
The training was as tiring as it was important. Knowing this, we applied ourselves all the more diligently. As a result, the 807th passed the certification test on the first try. We were the first medical unit going through Ft. Campbell to accomplish this feat and were justifiably proud to do so. At the time, we had no idea that our training would soon be tested in a real life laboratory very far from the protective confines of Ft. Campbell.
The M17A1 protective mask (or "gas mask" as the rest of the world calls it) became as much a part of our uniform as our blouse and trousers. It was like a lumpy American Express Card you didn't leave home without it!
At Ft. Campbell we were also trained in such diverse subjects as desert survival, customs and religions of the Middle East and Persian Gulf area, field hygiene (another subject that became extremely important), packing equipment and, finally, the emotional and psychological implications of separation from friends and family. (We were already becoming too familiar with that subject.)
Finally, we became acquainted with the nuances of the M-16 rifle, although we hoped our talents would be used more for healing than for other purposes. These weapons were issued to half of the hospital personnel for self-defense of the unit.
Physical and dental examinations culminated with everyone's "favorite" immunizations. Each member of the unit received from 5 to 9 injections of exotic vaccines, ranging from plague to cholera to plain old tetanus. Sore arms and, shall we say, sore "other places."
13 January 1991
At 0900 we arrived at the Ft. Campbell airfield. Some thirty minutes earlier, we finished our tearful good-byes to family and friends. American Airlines sent a DC-10 to take us to another part of the world. All of us were wondering about the same unspoken concern: Were we ready? At 1000, the wheels left the runway and our adventures began. Our emotions were as high flying and turbulent as the air that raced around us.
Our first stop was Boston, Massachusetts for fuel and a fresh crew. An area in the terminal was cordoned off for our use.
Refreshments were waiting for us when we arrived. We walked hesitantly into the terminal and heard applause. A sign saying "Welcome 807th MASH" in red, white, and blue was being held by one of the stewardesses. The people in the airport were clapping for us!
One female soldier joked that this was a pretty good response for just flying from Kentucky to Boston, but we were all touched. This simple display went a long way in alleviating our anxiety.
Soon it was back into the plane and we wished a fond farewell to the United States of America. We prayed we would be back there soon. Racing through the darkness, our next stop was Rome. Everyone had visions of Italian food and hospitality, but our plane taxied to an obscure part of the field, where we were refueled and replenished with food and drink.
Terroristic concerns kept us from the main airport terminal, but the hospitality of the American Airlines crews more than made up for this. On each leg of the flight, successive crews seemed to be trying to outdo one another with kindness and courtesy.
From the tours of the cockpit with the flight crew, to the steak dinners, to the ready smiles, to the seeming inability of the flight attendants to say the word "no" to nearly any request, we were treated like visiting royalty. Movies were shown constantly and food was always being put in front of us.
We tried to sleep as we crossed the Mediterranean to Egypt and across the Red Sea and vast waste of the Saudi deserts. Finally we were there on the ground in Saudi Arabia.
14 January 1991
From King Fahd Airport ("The Largest Airport in Saudi Arabia" a boast made by nearly every airport in Saudi Arabia), we made a two hour bus trip to the King Abdul-Aziz port in the city of Dammam. Regrettably, this bus trip came after 6 hours on the tarmac through wind and, strangely, rain.
It was the last thing we expected to experience in the desert and it turned out to be the first weather we ran into. Living conditions came as a total shock. The "royal" treatment had come to a screeching halt and reality was setting in very quickly! Thousands of troops were sleeping on their cots in a dirty quay-side warehouse. When we arrived, we increased their number by some 250.
The food was substantial. We experienced the first phenomenon which would come to dominate our lives in this theater the long line. There were long lines everywhere and for everything. Want to eat? Stand in line. Want to use the latrine? Stand in line. Want to make a phone call? Stand in line.
16 January 1991
After one unforgettable night in this warehouse, we move to the MGM Grand Hotel, a euphemism describing unfurnished apartments by the VII Corps headquarters. The complex housed as many as 20,000 troops at any given time.
It was situated in the town of Al-Khobar, near the runways of the Saudi International Airport at Dharan. We had a number of amenities there, including phones to call back to the states, a small PX, and catered meals served in mess halls. Until just recently, these were underground parking garages. Now they served as phone booths, stores and chow halls.
Hot showers and flushing toilets completed our luxurious accommodations. Thirty of us stayed in each 6 room apartment. The five hours of sleep we'd had in the previous 48 hours was starting to show. We took out our cots and went to bed in this strange land.^
AIR-WAR! Operation Desert Storm
17 January 1991
At 2:00 am, the roar of jet engines dramatically increased from the airport at Dharan, about 1/2 mile away. Sleepy eyes and groggy fingers attempted to tune radios to Armed Forces network for the latest news. It was suddenly official: Operation Desert Shield had become Operation Desert Storm. Air Force and Navy jets roared north to pound Iraqi targets. The 807th MASH had entered the war. Suddenly loudspeakers began to blare, "SCUD alert MOPP level four SCUD alert MOPP level four." The lights were out now because we had been previously informed that the Saudis thought a SCUD could only penetrate the top two floors of our building.
In total darkness, punctuated only by the red-lensed flashlight beams, all 250 members of the 807th trooped down three flights of stairs. Since we occupied the empty apartments, each person sat on the floor, alone inside a gas mask, except for his or her thoughts and fears. For 2 long hours we breathed steamy air in hot chemical suits. At dawn we heard, "ALL CLEAR, MOPP level zero." We trudged up the stairs to try to sleep and prepare for the next night. No SCUDs tonight. We found out later that radar confused our own returning B-52's with SCUDs.
18 January 1991
As it grew dark around the MGM, the members of the 807th grew increasingly restless. People slept hoping that this would be a quieter night than the last one. We had no such luck though. At 0300 we heard a loud roar, like several jets taking off all at once. A deafening "boom" followed immediately upon the heels of a blaring announcement on the loudspeakers, "SCUD alert MOPP level 4 SCUD alert MOPP level 4."
A Patriot interceptor missile had done its job for the first time. Theoretically the scientists said it would work (so much for the 8 minute warning). We quickly grabbed our MOPP suits and followed the now familiar path down the three flights of stairs to the empty apartments.
It was even more quiet that night. People tried to absorb the fact that someone had fired a shot at US! We sat through the night in MOPP 4, as the leadership at MGM studied their equipment to determine if nerve agent had been released or not.
The sound of birds singing in the morning had never been more pleasing to hear. We knew that if birds were singing there was no gas in the area. Shortly after first light, the all clear signal was given. During a broadcast on Armed Forces Radio, CNN later described the SCUD as a weapon of terror.
We decided the description was accurate, even though the rocket wasn't. In the morning we saw pieces of the SCUD and Patriot interceptor scattered about the ground around the building in which we were living. That was too close for comfort.
From the balconies of our temporary billets, we saw coalition aircraft, heavily loaded with ordinance, leaving Dharan airfield and heading north. The war seemed very close to us. Being based so near to the airfield made us a particularly inviting target for SCUD attacks. That fact was brought home time after time in the nights to follow.
Our unit was becoming increasingly proficient in donning our MOPP gear. Soon, we felt undressed without it, especially after dark. Our gratitude to the Patriot crews soon resulted in notes being sent to them, expressing our thanks and confidence. Some people even wrote to Raytheon Corporation, the primary contractor, to thank them as well.
SCUD attacks became a nightly experience, with the effect of placing the entire unit on night shift; sleeping during the day, suiting up and waiting all night. It was a draining experience, but one not without its humorous side.
There was usually a four hour wait to use the telephone. After several days of SCUD alerts, people were no longer leaving the phone lines. They merely put on their MOPP gear and resumed their place in line, waiting both for the phone and for the "all clear."
There was only one daylight alert during the 7 day period we experienced the SCUDs. Saddam preferred to launch his missiles at night to prevent the further destruction of his launchers. Our lifestyles began to alter, as we taped windows to stop flying glass. We used duffel bags as built-in defenses again shrapnel.
During this time we experienced several alerts that terrorists may be in the area. Life had to go on. Rations needed to be collected. Water obtained. Meetings attended and reports filed. A sense of humor was maintained despite the irregular and often contradictory news reports.
One day the female officers volunteered to collect rations. They made everyone laugh as they trooped back to the compound, rations slung over their shoulders, singing, "Hi-ho, Hi-ho, it's off to work we go "
At the end of the war, a SCUD actually struck within two to three miles of our complex, killing 29 Americans and wounding over 100. It seemed the target area was high priority, after all.
23 January 1991
It was finally time for us to leave MGM and head for our first desert home. Hotel "Ground Zero" had a great deal of amenities going for it, but the location was something else. We began a 100-vehicle convoy in buses and trucks. After leaving 8 hours behind schedule, we were learning to wait, but it was never very much fun. We drove away from Al-Khobar and saw one last SCUD flying through the air towards Dharan Air base. We all felt safer going to the desert because its vastness seemed to swallow us up.
Aircraft continued to fly over us and the traffic on the east-west Tapline (Trans Arabia Pipeline) Road was incredible. Cars, trucks, humm-vee's (the Army's new jeep), blazers, busses, seemingly everything with an internal combustion engine and wheels was on that road. It reminded all of us again what a tremendous logistics effort was involved in this whole operation.
24 January 1991
Our arrival at the 332nd Medical Brigade headquarters was not an auspicious one, as we spent a night crowded in tents. We were cold and hungry. The sky in the desert night was the blackest black one can imagine. The darkness was almost a physical presence, overpowering. Dawn found us striking our tents and preparing to move some 6 miles to our first of many homes.
There is nothing to identify Tactical Assembly Area Thompson, except that the spot on which we stood matched the grid coordinates we had been given. The rest of the scenery had nothing to distinguish it from any other spot in this lifeless terrain. It took 2 hours to move this 6 mile distance. Churchill's analogy of the desert being like the sea was certainly not lost on any of us.
Each tiny compound that sprung up was like an island in an ocean of sand. In the distance was a large, white, tent the biggest tent most of us had ever seen. It began to gain an importance all of its own when we discovered that AT&T had set up phones there: 100 of them, each a link back to civilization.
Our first task was to set up camp. For many of us not previously assigned to a MASH or field unit, this was our initial association with big tents (even though the Army clearly stated these were mediums). It seemed to be a good thing that everyone had retained his or her sense of humor.
Big spikes, sledgehammers, long poles, ridgepoles, ropes and knots, all of these, soon became a part of us, until setting up tents was something that required no special thought. Once surrounded by canvas walls, we knew that we now had our new homes in place.
The next step was to become acclimatized to the Saudi weather. This proved to be no easy task, with temperatures that reached the mid-eighties by day, and then fell to mid-forties by night. Cold rains, followed by hot winds, followed by cold winds again were not uncommon. Dust storms blew with an unmatched ferocity, practically sand-blasting vehicles, isohuts, and the unfortunate staff members who ventured into its teeth.
The best course of action seemed to be to button up the tent and sit tight. We would wait for the storm to blow over. With berms (a pile of dirt) around the edges of our tent and the liners in place, we were moderately comfortable. Kerosene heaters, bought on the local economy, raised the temperature in the tents at night, but sleeping bags and blankets were still important items when the sun went down.
The Saudi desert sunsets were some of the most beautiful we had ever seen. Each day around 1730 small groups gathered at the western part of the compound to watch nature's show. Darkness and the vastness of the desert engulfed us soon.
The desert nights were among the darkest any of us had ever seen. On moonless nights we really could not see our hands in front of our faces. Under blackout conditions, we were relegated to using flashlights with red lenses to make our way cautiously about the compound.
Despite our caution, tent pegs and wash lines constituted local hazards that were not easily avoided. Muttered curses and other obscure noises filled the night air as people stumbled and fell. In the clear of the Saudi night, star-gazing again became a popular hobby, as constellations were identified and argued over. The stars glistened in the night sky, and the milky way was spread across the heavens like a sprinkling of diamonds tossed by the hand of God.
Driving across the desert at night with only cat's-eyes, blackout lights was its own adventure. We would take a compass bearing on where we wanted to go and then try to drive in a straight line. The person in the passenger's seat would mutter helpful comments like "left" and "right."
The driver still had to dodge holes, rocks, and track vehicle trails. Hitting any of these at a speed of over 5 miles per hour was guaranteed to loosen the teeth of all the occupants of the vehicle. It could also aggravate the portions of the anatomy that were so recently immunized.
During the day we were honing our skills in the nuances of desert living. We kept trying to figure out some way we could be moderately comfortable in the absence of nearly every amenity we had become accustomed to in the United States.
The sand was ubiquitous in our food, in our clothes, in our shoes, even in our hair and under our nails. No amount of scrubbing ever seemed to get rid of it. We learned that our entertainment was going to have to come from our imaginations. Our only outside sources of fun were Armed Forces Radio and occasional short wave radio broadcasts from the British Broadcasting Corporation.
A talent show and an MRE cook off provided two evenings of relief from the usual routine. MRE's (meals-ready-to-eat) were our rations. They came in 12 varieties. People soon experimented in various ways of combining and mixing them to break up the monotony. The 1st Armored Division sponsored a recreational afternoon with steaks on the grill, hamburgers, and "near beer" (non-alcoholic beer).
The First brought their band with them from Germany. Up to now, they had been used as couriers and guards, but today their jazz and rock ensemble was in its glory. We listened as they pounded out hard driving rhythms, interspersed with soulful ballads.
Soon, people were dancing, a BDU ball. Units arrived from all around, driving to the large white tent as ships sailed to a central port from docks all over the vast desert sea. Morale soared. We took advantage of our first real break in many days. But, soon it was time to take out our compasses, pile into our five ton trucks, and begin our trip back across the desert to our compound.
In our immediate compound, there were three units. The 123rd Clearing Company (elements of Foxtrot Company and the 146th Air Ambulance), the 912th MASH, and the 807th MASH were all located in the same area, but our day to day operations were largely independent. All around us, we saw small enclaves of units from the 1st Armored Division a tank company here, a mechanized infantry company there, and the ever-present Patriot missiles just a few miles away.
It helped us sleep a little better at night just knowing the Patriot was close by. Nearly every day armored vehicles stopped by our camp to visit and chat. The awful truth that these fine young men could soon be our patients was a sobering thought which nagged us constantly.
TAA Thompson was located near the towns of Al Qaysumah and Hafr Al Batin. Both towns were located along Tapline Road. Traffic was incessant. Supplies moved as though in a pipeline along this vital route.
Two British Field Hospitals, the 32nd and 22nd were set up nearby. Some of our medical and nursing personnel dropped in for a visit to exchange ideas. Their hospitality was wonderful. We were fed a hot lunch with steaming mugs of creamed and sugared tea.
Fast friendships developed and soon visits became more frequent, culminating with the British medical officers showing up one afternoon with a case of "near beer." MRE's were broken out and a delightful time of swapping stories and laughs were enjoyed by all. Sunset brought the party to a close. No one liked to drive after dark.
Things were not all visits and relaxation far from it. We took inventory and stocked our "milvans" (the big boxes that look like they've been purloined from the back of a tractor trailer truck). Then we checked the various pieces of equipment that enabled us to complete our life-saving mission.
The central material supply and operating room sections broke out the instruments and sterilizer. They began to sterilize and pack functional surgical sets in the midst of a sand storm and with minimal water supplies. It proved to be the first of many challenges. We determined what equipment we needed, obtained it if possible (no small feat), and if not, learned to do without it.
18 February 1991
Today we made our sixth move of the deployment. The date for the ground offensive, we were told, was growing close. The air campaign seemed to be accelerating according to the BBC and the number of flights we heard passing over our compound increased. Tapline Road was packed even more full of traffic than we thought was possible. The 1st Armored Division tank and mechanized infantry companies had moved on 14 February 1991. That was the same day a SCUD struck Hafr Al Batin. We all wondered where the Patriot interceptors were then!
Our destination was Tactical Assembly Area Garcia, the final staging area before we crossed into Iraq. We found that getting lost in the desert was a relatively common experience. Because of this, orders came down that no vehicle was to leave without five days supply of food and water on board.
The advance party was unable to find TAA Garcia. After passing randomly through a number of areas, we ended up arriving at Garcia after midnight. We had to travel the last 5 miles in pitch blackness with only blackout lighting to guide us. We spent the night in the backs of our 5-ton trucks, with l4 to 16 people , trying to catch some shut- eye.
Our support groups accompanied us. They consisted of the 928th Ambulance Company, the 146th Air Ambulance Company, the 328th Medical Battalion, and the 123rd Clearing Company. The next morning, 246 ragged, cranky, foul-smelling, and red-eyed individuals tumbled from the back of 5 ton trucks to the most beautiful morning we had seen so far.
Above us we watched a returning bomber refuel from a KC-10 tanker aircraft. We found ourselves surrounded by 1st Armored Division, bristling with tanks and armored personnel carriers.
The realities of the upcoming war and dangers of mines were now uppermost in our minds. The command split the various professionals into different vehicles, so if one was "hit" an entire section would not be lost. This was quite a sobering reality for us.
Then, we lost the ability to hear Armed Forces Radio. Our sense of isolation increased. We found that our only news source was the BBC on shortwave.
We set up our tents again and settled in early, trying to make up for a very short night. Our camp was now set, but we had no idea for how long. In the early morning hours of 20 February, we experienced yet another aspect of the ever-changing desert weather. A severe thunderstorm with gale force winds hit the camp.
Hail, rain, blowing sand came down on us with incredible ferocity. The tent belonging to the female officers blew down and many other tents were ripped by the force of this desert blast. Fortunately, no one was injured, but the next morning the camp was filled with the debris left in the wake of the storm.
We arose early and put everything back in order, reinforced the tents, tightened the ropes and prepared for the next move. We had only brought enough gear with us for a three-to-four day stay. Our showers and latrines were at a logistics base south of us, some 25 miles away. We didn't receive these comforts until 21 February 91. When the latrines did arrive in camp, a major cry of excitement and joy went up. Our spare time was occupied by visiting other troops in the area, digging bunkers and foxholes, walking for exercise, writing letters, and picking up rocks.
There were many rocks in this area, in all colors, shapes, and sizes. At the top of a sandy, rocky pile north of our encampment there was a Chaparral missile battery. The Chaparral was designed as an anti-aircraft missile, but the young men of the crew seem confident that it would also stop a SCUD, should the Patriots miss or malfunction.
22 February 1991
This was our last day to send mail home. Mail continued to be a morale problem. It seemed to take forever to get here and was nearly always late. It arrived sporadically. We never knew if today would be a mail call day or not. From our telephone conversations, we knew that our loved ones were trying to reach us, but somewhere along the way this vital, morale-boosting link broke down. Our isolation increased even more.
Two new surgeons joined our staff, and we were now fully manned for our mission.^
GROUND-WAR! Operation Desert Storm. The Move into Iraq with the 1st Armor Division
24 February 1991
At 1030 hours we received the final order. It was time to move out and take our place among those who would prosecute the ground war. The trucks were already loaded. We piled into the back of our pre-assigned and sandbagged five-ton trucks to join a massive northbound convoy. That convoy left in the midst of a raging dust storm and traveled approximately 20 miles before stopping for the night 1.3 miles from the border.
We are all in MOPP level 2 (suits and boots on, masks and gloves carried). The charcoal from the inside of our newly issued suits rubbed off, giving us the look of displaced coal miners. We spent the night in the trucks, again. The cold wind blew all evening long.
During the night we saw artillery fire to the North, heard the roar and felt the ground tremble under its impact. The MOPP suits helped keep out the cold, regardless everyone was still pretty well frozen sore, and stiff as dawn broke.
25 February 1991
At dawn the convoy roared to life, and we moved Northeast. At 0735 we crossed the double berm and entered Iraq. We saw the first of what was to be many burned out Iraqi tanks and armored personnel carriers.
Our convoy was composed of 3 columns approximately five miles in length. Fuel, rations, and ammunition reloads were also in our convoy. Some columns moved quite a bit faster than ours.
We were following approximately 300 tanks of the 1st Armored Division as they cleared the path ahead of us. At 1345 we stopped for several hours to allow the soldiers of the division to clear our path of obnoxious strangers. Approximately 48 hours (and 2 more rain soaked, bitter cold nights in our 5 ton trucks) later we arrived at Objective Python near Phase Line Smash.
We were 110 miles north of Garcia and only 70 miles south-southeast of the Iraqi city of Basra. We found out later that we were the northernmost MASH in the VIIth Corps!
As we got off our trucks, we found ourselves black as coal from the charcoal that leeched out of our chemical suits and onto our skin. Fortunately, it kept the stink of our body odor in, as well as the nasty chemicals out.
Suddenly, we heard the voice of the first sergeant. He called,"Dig in. Iraqi tanks are on the way!" We were all concerned about this unexpected development. Dirt began to fly as holes were dug between the trucks. Then, as quickly as this started, it stopped. Again, a rumor had placed us all on edge.
Our work began shortly. The engineers had to grade seven acres of desert flat to erect the hospital. This meant the ground had to be staked out first before we could set up our temper tents and isohuts. As we waited for this to occur, the first helicopters fell from the sky with their cargoes of broken soldiers. We were not officially open yet, but the wounds would not wait.
Our MASH unit began to take care of the wounded on the stretchers and pulled out large boxes of dressings and intravenous fluids from the supply trucks. We moved the patients across the compound to the 123rd Clearing Company, accompanied by several physicians and nurses to assist with their care.
At 1900 hours we opened our doors and the patients began to arrive in mass. Some of the staff went to bed cold, hungry, dirty, and wet, hoping to get some sleep after a scant amount of rest these past three days. There was little time for personal needs because casualties, both Iraqi and American, continued to arrive by air throughout the night. The "thump-thumping" of the rotors of the "huey's" and Blackhawks became an unspoken message, "time to go to work."
We found out quickly that ingenuity would be very important in this environment. We had blood warming bags, but no blood warmers. In the EMT, they compensated by pouring coffee into a plastic bin, and placing the blood warmer in that. It was "good to the last drop."
One of our British colleagues, LTC Malcolm Jowitt of the 5th Field Ambulance, 1st Armored Division (U.K.), recommended the use of a baked bean tin with warm water. We didn't have one, but found a mixed vegetable can (emptied, washed, and filled with warm water) as an appropriate substitute.
Coat hangers suspended from the ties of temper tents and from nooks and crannies in the operating room found double duty as IV poles, always in short supply. Blood pressure cuffs doubled as pressure infusion bags. If it worked, it was used.
27 February 1991
0800: The cease fire was announced by COL Mutchler. We cheered thinking that our work was completed. By 0900 the dust-off birds were flying again, this time arriving with land mine, cluster bombs, and shrapnel injuries.
During our 100 hour ground war, the 807th MASH was in operation for 120 hours, treated 76 casualties (42 Americans and 34 Iraqis). Two Americans died. Both came from the 1st Armor Division and both were the victims of land mines after the cease-fire.
These young men were terribly injured by cluster bombs. After hours in the operating room and multiple units of blood, both expired. This was quite frustrating to the entire staff, but a grim reminder of the horrible cost of war.
1 March 1991
We received orders to close the hospital at 1800 hours, pack up and prepare to move again. Patients continued to arrive though, as we were the only hospital in this part of Iraq and the distance to both Kuwait City and Saudi precluded flight operations. Try as we might, we simply could not close our doors while the sick and injured were still arriving. Apparently the word had not been passed to medevac units, for the thumping of rotor blades continued throughout the night.
2 March 1991
By 1300, we evacuated our last patients, and had finally begun to close up the store. That afternoon, we had a memorial service led by our Chaplain for the two young Americans who died in our operating room. The service also helped those of us who took care of them as we endeavored to deal with the realities of horror, dismemberment, and death in war. Lights were on in camp that night. Our blackout conditions had ended.
3 March 1991
SPC Donald Meyers was dead. We found his body in a five-ton truck this morning as we were taking down our tents and preparing to move out. A member of the self-proclaimed "Motor Hell" bunch [from the motor pool,] SPC Meyers was remembered as a competent, quiet, giving person whom we would sorely miss. Death seemed even more pronounced to us all when experienced on this personal level.
In numbed shock, we convoyed to our next site at the 1st Armored Division Support Command area. Here we were just 45 miles from Basra. The journey there was remarkable, with burned out tanks, trucks, personnel carriers and bunkers everywhere. The level of destruction was epic in scope. We saw very few craters or shell marks that were not firmly planted on their intended targets. The battle here must have been enormous.
That night, we saw a glow in the eastern sky, and suddenly realized that we were watching the country of Kuwait burn. The oil well fires spewed forth their black evidence of Iraqi sabotage. Truckloads of EPW's (enemy prisoners of war) passed us on the way to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. This was perhaps the first war where enemy prisoners looked forward to better treatment in an EPW camp than they would receive at the hands of their own officers and leaders. Our Iraqi EPW patients were very grateful for the care they received from us, and appeared to be quite relieved (even overjoyed) to have left the war behind them.
We spent the next several days resting and enjoying the sunshine. Gym shorts and T-shirts prevailed as we tried to catch our breath after our dash across the desert. With no showers, our amenities were minimal, but everyone seemed to enjoy our period of forced inactivity. We were told that we would remain here only a day or two, but this stretched to four. Many people, who planned to rough it without tents were wishing they had set them up, especially after one particularly rainy night. In the meantime we mistakenly began to believe that our mission had been completed. Higher headquarters, however, had other ideas.
Note: by Brian Ginn