Like so many Americans, my wife and I have planted ourselves in front of the TV the past few days, eager for news from the Persian Gulf. But we are even more attentive to our e-mail. That’s the only direct contact we have with our 19-year-old son Ian. He’s a crew chief in the Michigan Air National Guard, whose unit has been deployed to a base near the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border. A college student when not serving in the Guard, Ian jokes that he’s spending spring break in Kuwait.
Ian was able to get access to e-mail on Sunday, March 16. Following are a few of the hastily composed (and edited) messages that he has sent out to about 60 of his family and friends. His first message went out on Sunday and was titled, “Greetings from Kuwait”:
After weeks of preparations and waiting, I am finally in Kuwait. When I arrived, there was a fierce sandstorm. As the plane rolled in, I saw about a dozen armed security police in Hummers that had machine guns on top. It was then that I realized this is for real.
There is so much excitement on the base. Occasionally the planes scramble to intercept a “bogie” in the Southern no-fly zone. Right now we are supporting Operation Southern Watch, but things could change very soon. We have made all preparations to defend against a Scud missile attack, chemical or biological attack, or ground attack. The threat is real, but so are the preparations we make. I feel safe now, but I pray that it doesn’t come down to a direct attack.
I am working 12-14 hour shifts. The days are long and the work is hard. I am seeing and experiencing things that I could never have imagined. I wish I could give more details, but I am not allowed.
I miss America, my family and friends, my home, my dogs, sleep, clean water, good food, and beer. I don’t know when I’ll return, but I will return safe and sound.
Love to you all…
Ian’s second e-mail was sent on Tuesday, March 18. It did not have a title:
As I write this, we make final preparations for combat. As you all have heard from the news, the Army is already moving into Iraq. Our pace will hasten soon.
Forgetting the violence, the current Iraqi regime, and the conflict, I have to say this is a beautiful country richly steeped in culture. During the day, we can hear the Muslims singing their prayers over the loudspeakers. The weather is beautiful, reaching the 80′s during the day with azure blue skies. We only run into problems when there is wind; the sandstorms are brutal.
I feel pride, uncertainty, and fear. But I also feel the love and support from you all. Truly, the love and support I have received from you all have actually made my job easier. When it gets tough, really tough, and you have to dig deep to find it within yourself to persevere, I think back to the love and support I am getting now. I thank you all.
I am no hero; I am just answering the call of duty to serve my family, my friends, my countrymen, and this great nation we call America.
Please keep the letters coming, for they are keeping me going!
To my family: I love you, I am fine, and I will return in good health.
To my boys back home: I want you to get a beer, right now, and pound one for me and my comrades.
On Wednesday, March 19, several hours before the news media reported that war had broken out, Ian sent this e-mail titled, “Real bombs, real people”:
I am on a break right now, taking refuge in the “crab shack” from the fierce sandstorms that are sweeping across the desert. I’ve never been in a sandstorm before. They are intense. The wind is strong and the sand pelts any exposed skin. It’s hard to see far. There are times when you can’t see the sun; it becomes as dark as dusk.
As you probably have heard in the news, the Iraqi army is moving missiles and artillery to the Kuwaiti border. As you can imagine, things are “hot” over here. I am hanging out with my pilot, playing cards, chatting, etc., waiting for the orders to strike. The bombs are real, the targets are real, and the mission is real. We’ve gone from bull crap to no crap.
It really hits home when you see a cruise missile streak across the sky above you, or the plane you launched with 18,000 pounds of real munitions (rockets, missiles, cannon rounds, bombs) comes back completely EMPTY.
It’s the most exciting, terrifying, sobering, scary, awesome thing I have ever done in my entire life. Sometimes … I can’t believe it’s happening.
I must go.
Ian sent us the most recent e-mail yesterday morning (our time), March 20. The war had been officially under way for less than 12 hours:
As you have heard in the news, Iraq is launching Scuds at us. One hit very close. We have had 5 “alarm red MOPP 4″ alarms. I’ve never felt like this before. Each time the alarms sound, I have to don my gear before any potential nerve agent or bio agent can overcome me. Not to mention the blast of 3 tons of explosives for each Scud warhead. We are issued atropine and morphine injectors. Everyone is on edge. I can’t really describe it. I don’t know what to write.
God is watching over me. I love you Mom, Dad, Alasdair, and Andrew. I am fine for now.
Pray for me and everyone over here.
— Gleaves Whitney is editing a book on the wartime speeches of American presidents, to be published by Rowman & Littlefield later this year.