Thursday, May 1, 2003
While some American soldiers fight what small pockets of Iraqi resistance remain, my brother Nathan stands near the sea, guarding a port in Southern Kuwait. He wakes up every morning to the Muslim call to prayer and watches throngs of Kuwaitis flood into the mosque. Never an architecture enthusiast, Nath chatters on the phone about the gold-plated onion-shaped domes. He says the Navy dolphins--trained to search out underwater mines--stand at attention and greet them when the soldiers march on the sand. Nath says the waves look good for surfing.
There''s a souvenir shop set up on base where a few entrepreneurial Kuwaitis sell china plates decorated with camels. Camp Patriot, where he''s stationed, boasts a burger joint, a Pizza Hut and a Baskin Robbins ("seven or eight flavors"). It''s got two pools--one with a high dive--that the Navy uses for training.
Nath''s company worked nights this past week, patrolling the perimeter of the camp with Humvees and machine guns. Once his schedule changes, he hopes to go into town. He says he''ll look for belly dance costumes for me.
I asked him if it feels like he''s at war. Nath said no. "It feels like I''m on vacation, and I get to carry a big gun."
Nath and the rest of his Bravo Company finally made it to the Persian Gulf, three weeks after the Marines and the US Army''s 3rd Infantry division took Baghdad, after months of waiting and cancelled departures. During that time, I''d get a call from Fort Carson, Colo., saying he would be leaving soon. I''d say another goodbye, and then hang up and cry. I''d say extra prayers for him, and then buy new flowers for the vase next to his photo on the dresser.
A couple days later, he''d call and say there had been a change in plans. He''d be angry, because he was sick of training and he knew he had to ship out to the Middle East before he could come home to his new wife, Lindsey, in Portland, Ore.. I''d be ecstatic, hanging on the hope that maybe he wouldn''t have to go to war at all.
He finally left the day before Easter. He called about 10:30pm Saturday night, from an airport bar in Ireland. Local time was 6:30am, Easter Sunday morning. From Ireland, Nath said, they would fly to Cypress and then on to the "final destination," which he couldn''t pinpoint other than to say "somewhere in the Iraq-Kuwait theater." (When he was forbidden to describe his mission, or detail his location, my brother and Lindsey agreed to use animal names as their secret code. Sometime after he arrived, he left Lindsey a voicemail, saying, "I like kangaroos." She know that meant he was in Kuwait. "Unless he thinks Qatar is spelled with a ''k,''" my mom said. The next day he promised that I wouldn''t be charged as an enemy combatant for printing this information).
When I spoke with him on April 21, while he was still in Kuwait City, Nath sounded relaxed and rested for the first time since February. Bravo Company didn''t have a mission yet, so they spent a lot of time sleeping and watching DVDs. He said he was relieved that the waiting was over.
Two days later he called from the port in Southern Kuwait. He said he could see the Gulf from his camp and it reminded him of the Pacific. After a couple days in near-100-degree heat, he felt thankful for the ocean breeze.
He said he doesn''t expect to be in the Middle East longer than six months because the federal government doesn''t like to extend veterans benefits to National Guardsmen. Maybe even less than six months, he said.
I crossed my fingers and prayed he doesn''t move into Iraq. For the first time in almost three months, I stopped worrying about my brother for a few moments. There are worse places to serve a term of active duty than the Kuwaiti coast.
The last time I spoke with him, I asked Nath if he regrets not seeing any combat. "Maybe a little," he said. "And we still might see something, if terrorists try to infiltrate the camp."
I heard on the news this morning that President Bush will declare an end to combat in the next week, but possibly never an end to the war. I will consider the war over when I''m drinking a beer with my brother at his welcome-home party in my parent''s backyard. I told Nath we''re already planning it.
Go to www.coastweekly.com to read Jessica Lyons'' story "My Brother, the Accidental Soldier."