uring the Persian Gulf War, I served with 1st Battalion 8th Marines. Just prior to the war, I attended an amphibious training school known as Coxswain School, where I learned how to conduct "over the horizon" and river raids from the sea. While in school, President Bush made the decision to go to Saudi Arabia with the intention of liberating Kuwait. My classmates and I were wondering when it would be our turn to deploy, as other units from Camp Lejeune were already enroute. After graduation, Boat Platoon was temporarily disbanded, since there was no need for boats in the desert. A "no brainer" to everyone, except Saddam Hussein, who was awaiting the arrival of Marines "from the sea." Our platoon was broken up, and dispatched to different Marine companies. A real morale buster.
My story really begins in the middle of my tour in the desert, just before the ground war started. There I was (as any other day in the sun) finishing my chow. I was a young Lance Corporal, and as such, was available for any working party.
"Oz, Brown," the First Sergeant called, "Get some fuel and burn the s___ pile." The entire battalion put their trash in a pre-dug hole to be burned so the wildlife would not stray into our area of operations. Brown and I went to the fuel depot and picked out two cans. We poured the 10 gallons of fuel onto the trash heap and tried to light it. Nothing happened. "That's funny!" we thought, "The fuel doesn't seem to want to burn." So, being the Boy Scouts we were, we twisted some paper, like you do when you try to start a campfire, and got a good flame started. Then, tossed it onto the trash heap. The trash started to catch in the dry areas. Satisfied that the trash was going to catch on fire, we started to walk away.
We found ourselves about 10 feet further on our backs, flipped by the tremendous force of the explosion! Brown and I got up, brushed ourselves off, and pondered what had just happened. A couple Corpsmen came rushing over to see if we were still alive, only to find us laughing and scratching our heads. Right behind them was the Company Commander, the Company First Sergeant, the Battalion Sergeant Major, and of course, the Battalion Commander! We stopped laughing.
We explained that we did exactly what we were told to do, "Pour fuel over the trash heap, and light it." That's what we did. Brown and I never pretended to be rocket scientists! Everyone knows even Brown and I know NOW that there were two basic types of fuel used in the Gulf War ... MOGAS, and JP-5. As I look back on it now, the physics are very simple. MOGAS burns very slowly and, JP-5 is an explosive fuel. This was a real learning experience for Brown and me. Of course, we grabbed the explosive one.
The next day, Brown and I were called for another working party. This time we were told to burn the piles of waste. My Battalion Commander wanted to see if we had learned our lesson about exploding fuel. This time, we did it perfectly. And, we didn't spill a single drop of fuel, either. I did wear my gas mask, though. That was the worst working party I had ever been on.
Shortly after the ground campaign ended, Boat Platoon was reactivated and was preparing to go home. We were still in Kuwait awaiting orders for movement to the rear. By this time we were living with the Sniper Section. They had the neatest toy. They had a remote control scout plane.
One day they had it out for training purposes, and invited us to see how it had worked. Some of us even had the privilege to fly it. I was one of the lucky ones.
Now you have to understand that in the desert, there is no privacy, including when you go to the bathroom. Our head was located away from the Battalion area. It was a set of three sandbags spaced just far apart enough for the average man to sit on. And, there was a hole dug about 3 feet down between the sandbags. So here I am flying the plane and watching the monitor when I see a Marine looking up at the plane. He just happened to be relieving himself. I went in for a closer look. As the plane flew by, the man shook his fist at the plane. I thought to myself that this smart-ass needs a lesson in manners. Being the "Top Gun" that I am, I decided that it was time to "buzz the tower." I proceeded to go to full throttle, and aimed right at the man on the crapper. The plane was now in a full nosedive, looking right down at the helpless target.
All of us were laughing so hard we could hardly see anything because of the tears we were shedding especially the figure of a man coming towards us from the direction of the crapper. The plane operator took over the controls and landed the aircraft. By now we were able to see that the man coming toward us was definitely an officer. As he got even closer, we saw he was wearing silver.
"What do you think?" One of us said, " ... First Lieutenant, or ... Oh s___, it's the Battalion Commander and, he looks pissed!"
I am happy to report that my Battalion Commander had a sense of humor, though. Instead of busting all of us to the rank of Private, he made sure that we all knew the difference between MOGAS and JP-5 for the rest of our tour in the desert!