19 June 2009

The Highway of Death

A Kuwaiti sandstorm blots out the sun and envelopes the compound

We were only supposed to be at the Udari Range for 3 days.......3 days of sleeping on hard floors in a quonset hut, 3 days of no showers or running water, 3 days of hot-box latrines that smelled like a petting zoo. We were there for 5. Training ran us well into day 4, and the plan was to pack up our trucks and make the 4 hour return trip back to Arifjan. No such luck. A vicious sand storm blew into Udari, completely blotting out the sun for nearly two days and rendering the roads impassable! Kuwaiti sand storms are nothing like the summer monsoon season dust storms I remember from my youth in Arizona. Kuwaiti sand storms laugh at Arizona in mocking disgust! The sand blown by the hot, fierce winds is more like abrasive talcum powder than sand. If one is unfortunate enough to get caught in one, as we were, walking back from chow, ones best defense is to bury your face in your arms as best as you can, and press forward to the nearest shelter, squinty-eyed. The sand blasts at any exposed skin, gets in your mouth and nose, and burns your eyes like pepper spray. As if that weren't bad enough, the swirling, blasting sand particles collide with each ohter in such a way that they create their own static electricity and resulting lightning. The lighting is totally unlike any thunderstorm lightning that you might expect to see, but rather resembles a lightning storm on the dark side of Mars. It doesn't end when the winds die. The remaining silt hangs motionless in the air until it settles to the ground. This particular settling took two full days. In the mean time, we waited for the word that the roads were clear enough to drive. No such luck on day 4. Day 5 broke with little hope that we would be leaving. Although a bit clearer, the sand still hung in the air like a thick fog, blocking out the morning sun. So we sat on our trucks, parked in their order of march, and waited.

6:30 AM. Word is passed that the roads have been declared clear enough to drive, but with no guarantee for how long. Soldiers lept from their trucks, started engines, and completed radio checks with lightning efficiency seldom seen. We wanted to get the hell out of Udari! I had personally run out of clean socks and underwear 2 days ago and was quickly growing tired of my own stench.Our convoy made it's way to the front gate, and past the private security contractors who manned it. The Kuwaiti highway spread out ahead of us, fading into the dusty morning. We drove south, deeper into Kuwait and away from Iraq...if only for a few days. The farther south we drove, the clearer the air became until we left the dust behind. It was then that I realized where we were. This stretch of highway we were traveling was the very same roadway that thousands of Iraqi troops had used as they tried to flee Kuwait and the American forces after Iraq invaded Kuwait during the first Gulf War in 1991. I had read about and seen photos of the Highway of Death. The United States Air Force had caught the Iraqi's in the open as they fled on foot, in buses, cars, and carts, in trucks, and in tanks, anything that would carry them. The Air Force annihilated them. The resulting carnage was apocalyptic. Vehicles and human bodies turned inside out by bombs, and rockets. Untold numbers of Iraqi soldiers never got out of their vehicles and burned to death in the wreckage. Ahead in the distance, grotesque shapes started to emerge in the sand and grew larger and thicker as we got closer, until we were upon it. The convoy slowed as we passed. The wreckage was still there. Simply bulldozed off to the side of the road and into the sand, left as a mute testament to the carnage and hell of war. Vehicles of every shape and size poked from the sand in mutilated shapes. The Iraqi's stole from the Kuwaiti's whatever they could to get away in. Buses, construction vehicles, military trucks, Soviet era tanks, even luxury cars. The pilots of the Air Force A-10 Warthogs must have had a field day as they made pass after pass over the Iraqi forces, stalled on the highway in a miles long traffic jam. Rockets and 37mm depleted uranium shells tore into the Iraqi column, literally shredding them from one end to the other and turning vehicles inside out. I saw a full size bus that had been torn open length wise and looked like a canoe. Hunks of metal and engine blocks with a single steering wheel protruding that were unrecognizable as the vehicle it used to be. I wondered how many human remains were still out there. I doubted that the Iraqi's were in any shape in the months following the Gulf War to recover many of their dead.

We continued south and back to Arifjan, leaving behind a part of history. Tired, hot, sweaty and dirty, we turned in our trucks to the motorpool and our weapons to the arms room and shuffled back to the barracks. Training was over. A year of preparation and planning had come to an end. Ahead lay nearly another year of putting all of that training to the test. In just a few short days we would pull our first mission and cross the Iraqi border. We were finally ready.


  1. I do not know if you get these or not, but I have read with great iterest and tepedation your blogg. When you pull your first mission, I wish you good luck , God speed. I know you are a professional and will do yourself proud.


  2. Sounds like a gruesome, albeit fascinating, scene Dad. Can't say I wish I could have been there to see it with you, but I do hope you can get some pictures of it.

  3. Hey Buddy....I got a few pictures, but it was as we were driving past. It doesnt do the scene justice, I'm afraid.