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          The adventures of my brother in Arabia

    My brother Roc was at one time in the Army Reserves, and found himself sent to the war in Kuwait in 1991.  He achieved one of the old jokes about a war: he got a commendation for outstanding service and a punishment for disobeying orders for doing (almost) the same thing.
      This rather apochryphal  version of the story is written for the benefit of children and grandchildren.  To protect the innocent, it is written to satisfy an old standard of the storyteller's craft.  Yes, it is a true story.  Did it happen exactly that way?  Well, what does that have to do with
whether it is a true story?
     Roc Ordman was in the Army Reserve, in a unit that worked in preventive medicine and health maintenance -- things like safety of water supplies and food preparation areas. When the war over Kuwait came in the winter of 1991-92, it was obvious to the rest of the family that he would be needed -- trying to feed that many men in the desert obviously would cause health problems, and there was a real threat of terrorist action (such as poisonings) or chemical or biological warfare attacks by Saddam Hussein. Clearly the military needed health and safety people there in enough numbers (including biochemists like Roc) but we also hoped very much that they wouldn't have to use them! In other words, the best thing that could be hoped was that he'd be there and be
bored silly; and that is almost what happened.  He was miserable; why should they take him from a very interesting job (a sabbatical year doing drug research in Switzerland), and a year in Europe with his family, and make him leave on no notice, separate him from his family, send him to the middle of the desert, make him sit in a tent in the sand, and do  nothing at all for month after month?

      Then -- just before the land invasion of Iraq and Kuwait -- came a rumor that Saddam Hussein had a supply of Anthrax virus and missiles or shells to fire it -- one of the worst forms of biological warfare.  And this was (we know now) just at the moment when the anti-Iraq army in Arabia was secretly moving the main body of the army from the East end of the border to the West end.  Major Roc Ordman and his twelve-man unit were in some tents in the middle of the desert (near King Khalid Military City, if anyone wants to find it on a map) when the Colonel called him in.
        Colonel: "I want you to take any men you can find, go north out in the desert, and vaccinate any troops you find there against anthrax."
        Roc: "Certainly. I'm glad to finally have something to do. Where  are they and how many?
        Colonel:  "That's a secret. I can't tell you. Just go out in the desert, look for people, I promise you'll find some. Vacccinate them against anthrax."
         Roc: "But that's crazy. You have to tell me where they are and how much medicine to bring. It's a big desert."
       Colonel: "You've been complaining of nothing to do. Looking for them will keep you busy. Go away and do it and don't bother me."

        So Major Roc Ordman drove out into the desert -- where he found incredible numbers of troops going by in convoys, East to West. We know, but they didn't know then, that this was the two hundred thousand or more troops being secretly moved from East to West for the surprise attack, and that it was really essential that where they were, and when, and how many, did
have to be secret! Anyway, Roc took his twelve men, drove south and found a bunch of other support units with people who were also bored, taught them to give anthrax shots, borrowed  a whole lot more jeeps, and set out into the desert --. He finally established a whole line of jeeps across the desert, listening for moving troops, and when they found them flagged them down and vaccinated them against anthrax as they went by.
         His men vaccinated some 70,000 soldiers in about three days -- it turns out the commanders higher up had hoped he could find and vaccinate maybe 5,000 or 10,000 but hadn't wanted to admit there were even that many nearby!
         But then -- given his great success -- he ran out of vaccine! And he was still very mad at the Colonel and wasn't about to talk to that unreasonable man again.  He finally had something to do and was going to go on doing it. So he called some drug companies in Switzerland, called the U.S. army medical people in Western Germany to collect the drugs and supplies he needed, and took a jeep to Riyadh and got on a plane to Frankfurt to get the medicine he needed and bring it back to Arabia. He figured it would take a few days to collect the medicine, so before leaving Riyadh he telephoned his wife in Wisconsin to fly to Frankfurt to come visit him!
        Unfortunately, in the Riyadh airport, he met -- the Colonel. "Where are you going?", asked the Colonel.  Ordman replied, "It's a secret. You have your secrets; I have mine." and flew off to
      Roc Ordman got to Frankfurt late at night. He got one beer and one hamburger, the first in months, one shower, and one night's sleep on a mattress. The next morning when he went to the army medical offices, he was immediately arrested. The Colonel had found out. To make matters
worse, the commanding General Schwartzkopf himself had ordered battle was imminent: that no one was to leave Arabia without specific orders and that ESPECIALLY no one aware of the big East-to-West move was to leave Arabia under any circumstances.. (Roc, of course, had been out in the desert when the orders came around, and hadn't asked anyone who knew the rules before he
had left for Germany).  So Roc was threatened with being charged with either espionage or desertion from the battlefield, and told "it doesn't really matter which; both of them are capital offenses."  They put him on the first plane back to Arabia. Luckily they let him phone his wife
-- he reached her two hours before she was to get on the plane to fly to Germany!
        In Arabia they removed Roc from command of his unit, kept him "under arrest" and confined.  Confined to a luxury hotel in Riyadh with air conditioning, an exercise room, and a swimming pool. And there he sat while they fought the four days of the land war.
     Luckily, Saddam Hussein never used his anthrax virus and more vaccine wasn't needed. The big troop movement from East to West remained a secret and Iraq had  no defenses in the West, so we won the war quickly, with few casualties.  So by the time a court-martial could be organized,  every one was a good deal more sympathetic.
      After a lot of talking, they decided what Roc had done wasn't as serious as they might have decided had everyone not been so happy about winning the war. They reprimanded him  for insubordination (which means they just wrote him a nasty letter) for going to Germany without
permission and for not telling the Colonel where he was going, and they gave him a medal for initiative for doing such an exceptionally good job in vaccinating so many people so quickly!

       So, in terms of what the family expected, Roc's war in Arabia was successful. If needed he was ready to help, when they asked him to do something, he did it very well, and -- thank God! -- he really wasn't needed!  We think -- except for his temper with the Colonel, maybe -- he should be proud of his service, and we find the simultaneous medal and reprimand typical of many old jokes about the army. But our impression is that Roc never did really understand why they made him go to Arabia.
       I need hardly add that Roc's wife, and his mother, had a few sleepless nights while he was under arrest.  The rumor around here is that when he got home, his wife wouldn't let him back in the house until he had written his letter of resignation from the army.
    A few years later, incidentally, the U.S. Military adopted the policy Roc had been advocating much earlier -- routinely vaccinating troops in Arabia against anthrax.

Edward Ordman 1993, edited 2001

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