Marines Patrol ‘Twilight Zone’ With PM-Gulf Rdp, Bjt
IN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ The U.S. Marines call their patch of the Saudi Arabian desert ″the twilight zone.″
The sector south of the border with occupied Kuwait is home to venomous scorpions, snakes like carpet vipers and heat that’s almost unbearable. The men never know the exact temperature, and perhaps that’s a blessing.
″We don’t know what day, what month, what time it is,″ said Lance Cpl. Eddie Zazueta, 21, of Los Angeles. ″I think maybe I was supposed to get out last year. This is the Twilight Zone.″
Under a pounding sun, Zazueta and his fellow Marines patrol the Martian landscape in their ″heavy gun″ - a transport vehicle with a 50-caliber machine gun on the roof - just across from a region that’s been bristling with Iraqi troops since the Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
The man on gun watch wakes the others up around 5 a.m.
″You usually just smack them in the legs,″ said Sgt. Thomas Hixson, 23, of Kingston, Tenn., the section leader for two vehicles in the platoon. Riding with him are Zazueta and Lance Cpl. John Doyle, 24, of Tulsa, Okla.
Alert for any attack, Hixson sets reveille an hour before the time ordered for the whole 2nd Battalion of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade.
Some men have suffered nasty scorpion stings early in the morning as they groped for their toilet kits. A day in the clinic and they are back on the line.
The morning ″bath″ is perfunctory but important; a nearby army unit that skipped it came down with body lice and dysentery, Hixson said.
Hot showers back at the base come about every 10 days.
Breakfast is a banana, apple, orange or an MRE - ″meal-ready-to-eat.″ Frankfurters are the favorite.
By 6 a.m., they’ve picked up their four gallons of water and are headed for the day’s practice battle positions and maneuvers until noon.
At 7 a.m. it’s 85 degrees. An hour later, it’s 97. By noon it’s approaching 120 degrees and the heavy guns crawl under camouflage tents until 5 p.m.
Sleep at midday is impossible because of the heat.
″We talk about John Wayne-kinda stuff. What to do if we’re attacked,″ said Hixson.
″We pray for war,″ said Zazueta.
They banter about getting rid of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
″We just want to go kick him, get him out and get home,″ said Hixson.
Mail is important.
″If we have somebody who doesn’t get mail, you can tell. They’re down, not motivated, don’t talk,″ said Hixson.
″I just got divorced, but I wish my ex would write me. I gotta get a girlfriend.″
While he talked the others whooped over a package he received from his sister, Pam Semezian in Jacksonville, Fla.
It included gum, starbursts, Ritz crackers, peanut butter, watermelon flavored Jolly Ranchers and pre-addressed envelopes.
Time not spent pouring over letters is spent writing them.
Week-old newspapers are devoured, and a major complaint is the lack of world news. Few men brought shortwave radios.
When the temperature slides downwards in late afternoon, the heavy gun trio sometimes get up a football game.
After 5 p.m. its time for more maneuvers, and then a stop for dinner sometime after the eagerly awaited sunset.
It’s MREs again - heavy sealed plastic bags with the menu stamped in black letters on the outside.
Hot meals are as rare as showers. The last one came with green eggs.
″If you want a hot meal you just have to put it on a rock and flip it over every 3 seconds,″ said 1st Lt. Ron Ainslie, the platoon commander.
″It gets pretty hot,″ said Ainslie, a 28-year-old from Haslett, Mich.
Leaving them in the sun too long can cause problems, though. About 20 men came down with food poisoning.
Darkness usually brings the few things the men enjoy: a breeze and the stars.
″But I wish we had a nightclub out here,″ said Hixson.
The night includes one hour of guard duty after every three of sleep.
Battalion Commander Col. Carl Fulford says he’d like to see everybody home by the Marine Corps’ birthday, Nov. 10.
Many think it will take longer before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait is rolled back.
″I don’t expect to be home for Christmas,″ said Hixson.