Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Doc Chief and the Djinn of the Desert: The MFO

So when I said I wanted to tell some stories, what I meant was I wanted to tell some “war stories”.

What’s the difference, I heard some of you ask.

Well, the smartass answer is a story begins “Once upon a time” and a war story begins either “This is no shit,” or “I swear, this really happened.”

The real difference is that a story usually has a beginning, a middle and an end. It has a plot, or even a moral, and is expected to take you from here to there and leave you a little wiser or happier or something. A war story often just picks up in the middle of something, meanders around peeking under rocks or stops to stare off into space before just stopping. If it has a moral the moral is usually pretty twisted, and if you expect it to take you anywhere but a barstool you’ll probably be disappointed.

What I want to do is tell you about some of the people and places I met over 22 years as a soldier. Some are funny…many are funny, because soldiers, like most of us, usually enjoy telling and hearing funny stories. Some are a little sad, or a little grim. Some are just odd, because of all the places I’ve been and all the people I’ve met, few are as downright odd as GIs and the people who hang around GIs. We're just oddballs. Or we just attract oddballs. And some of the oddest stories are the best to tell.

The first series of stories takes place in the Sinai peninsula during the winter and spring of 1984. At the time I was an enlisted medic assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC) of the 1st Battalion, (Airborne) (Light) 325th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. My battalion was tasked, as one battalion of the 82nd was every other six months, to serve as the “USBATT”, one of the three infantry battalions with the Multinational Force & Observers (or “MFO”) then performing the job of enforcing the 1978 Camp David treaty between Israel and Egypt. We spent several months doing some pretty notional “training” for the mission, which everyone pretty much admitted (if pressed) amounted to six months loafing in the desert, flew from Pope Air Force Base to Ras Nasrani airfield in January, spent five months and change in sector and then back to Pope and our Ft. Bragg home in June. So one cold morning in January, all dressed in our “chocolate chip suits”, the old five-color desert camoflage uniform you now see only on raggedy-assed Iraqi jundis, and sportin’ our sexy orange MFO beret, we climbed the ramp to the charter jet, stowed our rifles (or pistol, in my case) in the overhead compartments and ensured our seat backs and tray tables were in the fully upright and locked positions. We were on the way to the Sinai.My first impression of the recently re-Egyptianized landscape was “Who the fuck would fight over this” before realizing that people had been wandering through and fighting over these deserts, wadis and mountains for millenia. That was a sobering thought, even for a dumb GI. The overwhelming sensation was heat, aridity and wind. Distances had no reference: that thing might be a rocky hill a klick away or a monstrous jebel dozens of miles in the interior. The lack of human scales, no trees, no houses, just desert and the mountains beyond, made the Sinai seem endless and a little intimidating. The ride to South Base Camp in the familiar-yet-odd white painted deuce-and-a-half trucks was pretty silent.But American soldiers are pretty irrepressible. After a couple of days hanging around SBC doing PT and generally “acclimating” to the iron cold nights and hot, windy days we were more than ready to get out into sector and start working.

First let me explain how the job worked. There were three “sectors”: North, Center and South. Each had a major fixed base consisting of a huddle of prefab trailers and buildings inside a zariba of barbed wire that constituted the “command and control” of the sector. There was one of these “Sector Control Centers” for each; SC North, Center and South.

In the sectors were individual outposts called Observation Posts or “OP”s; a couple of trailers inside a wire ring. Each had a sector number and an OP number, for example: OP3-2 was the #2 OP in North Sector (sector 3). Several OPs way out in the boonies were appropriately called “Remote Sites”, and OPs located along the major road that ran the length of the southeast shore of the peninsula were called checkpoints, or CPs

That’s the picture. Got it? Okay. Let’s turn to the first Tale...


Big Scrib said...

Hello Chief,

Spc Harvey Scribner (11C) here on MFO 51 (104th Cavalry). It is much the same now as then, except for the major resort town next to us. Stop by my blog occasionally to see how things are going here on South Camp,

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