Friday, December 29, 2006

Owed to Saddam

This may sound odd, but in a very real sense I owe much to Saddam Hussein. Allow me to explain.

In August of 1990, I was living in Connecticut, working in an IT job for a large insurance company. The job was OK, and the company wasn't a bad place to work. At the same time, I was also a Master Sergeant (E-7) in the Connecticut Air National Guard's 103rd Fighter Group.

On the weekend of 4 August, I was to deploy with about 20 other members of my squadron to Germany for our two weeks annual active duty tour. We had a good squadron commander who believed in working hard and playing harder, so we were all looking forward to the trip. A C-5 transport from nearby Westover AFB was to provide our airlift.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait on 1-2 August, I had a pretty bad feeling we wouldn't be going anywhere. At least not Germany. Sure enough, I got a call from the boss saying to not bother packing, but to be on station on the 4th (a Saturday) anyway. We all show up on Saturday morning and were given the news that there's not a single airframe to be found on the east coast and we'll be doing our active duty at home station. As a good friend of mine would say, "maximum suckaciousness".

The next week was spent glued to the news and taking inventory of our "go to war shit" as one guy called it. I remember crawling over mountains of chem gear suits in the main hangar as we counted out how many of each size we had on hand. One thing about the ANG as opposed to the active forces: senior NCOs don't exempt themselves from crappy work details.

In the second week, a message came in from the National Guard Bureau asking for volunteers to work Contingency Support Center (CSC) at Andrews AFB in Maryland. Anyone who could put in a minimum of 30 days there was welcome. Since my own unit hadn't received any kind of warning order for activation, me and a couple other guys decided what the hell...let's go. I didn't realize it then, but I wouldn't be spending much time in Connecticut after that. Ever.

So for the next month, I found myself working at the Air National Guard Readiness Center (sort of a headquarters agency for ANG units) at Andrews helping to get the CSC stood up for 24/7 operations. When my 30 days was up and things were humming along in a more or less calm routine, I was asked if I wanted to extend "indefinitely". I politely declined and half-jokingly told them to call me "when the shooting starts".

Needless to say, I found myself back at Andrews in February, 1991. I don't recall now exactly why it took two weeks after the shooting started for me to get there, but that's what happened. Since my unit wasn't one of those activated (only two ANG fighter groups were, as I recall), I felt little guilt in taking a cushy state-side individual activation.

I ended up spending 139 days there and was released in July. During my time there, I had a chance to work with a lot of people in different directorates, and got kind of a feel for how things worked. Prior to my release, a Major in the comm-computer systems directorate said he had a job for me if I ever wanted it. The thought of going back full-time to active duty hadn't occurred to me, but I told him I'd consider it.

I got home and right back into my civilian job in July. Less than a month later, I received a call from the good Major, who said he'd received authorization to bring on an E-7 full-time. There'd be a competitive selection process for the position, and he expected a lot of interest "from the field". It was broadly hinted, though, that the job was mine if I wanted it.

During the war, my company paid me the difference between my active duty base pay and my salary. On top of that, there were benefits under the Soldier and Sailor's Relief Act that made things pretty easy for me. I wouldn't have that relief for this, so I had to do some math to see if I could afford it. As it turned out, with all the allowances and housing and such, it would be a wash. On 1 December, 1991, I was back on active duty and back at Andrews.

The decision turned out to be the best I could have made. I never did move back to Connecticut. Not that there's anything wrong with Connecticut (besides being a blue state), but for an IT guy, the Washington, DC area is great. I stayed on active duty until August, 1995, then went back to being a part-timer in the guard. I stayed in the area, and built a house in Virginia.

Through IT industry contacts I made while on active duty, I was able to move through a series of well-paying jobs, and along with one of my 'cubicle mates' from Andrews, ended up at the company I'm with now, doing very well. While at Andrews, I also developed many non-technical, or soft, skills that I'd never have picked up plugging away at the insurance companies in Hartford. Public speaking, for instance--sometimes addressing a crowd of hundreds--is just not something you do very much of while writing code for an insurance company.

And if Saddam hadn't invaded Kuwait in August of 1990, I'd still be working in the insurance industry.

So to Saddam Hussein, I say "Thanks, you blood-soaked, murderous pig!"


Anonymous said...

Good story. Here is mine. This is the short version but Its still long so grab yourself a beer.

I was stationed at Holloman AFB in 1990. On August 1st I woke up in Colorado Springs enroute to Sturgis SD for Bike week. I turned on the tv and saw the invasion of Kuwait footage and immediately turned to my travel mates and said, "Pack your bags cause here we go". Our over night host, an LTC, had to have the geopolitics spelled out for him by an NCO. (Grin)

3 days later I get called back to Holloman (No surprise) I rode back straight thru and arrived 21 hours after the call.

I deployed 3 days later despite the worst support I ever saw at any time during my 22 year experience in uniform. (Side Note: Holloman AFB sucks. Holloman has always sucked and Holloman will always suck! Check the history of the base. No mention of those 150 folks sent to the Gulf War. We didnt fly airplanes, we were NBC, EOD, SVS and later some CE folks and therefor did not deserve recognition. Case closed, they suck).

Anyway I arrived on August 7th 1990, 6 hours before my troops who left 3 days before, and got home on 18 March 1991. Spent most of that time at Jeddha.

Heres the good part.

I had promised my mother that I would visit her (in Illinois) as soon as I could after returning. During that visit, on March 22, I met my beautiful wife, JoJo. We have now been married 15 years and they have been great. She is my best "partner" and we have a great life together.

I never would have met her otherwise. So thank you Saddam and I hope you enjoy hell as much as I did Jeddha.

Ron in El Paso

Did I mention, Holloman AFB sucks?

Eric said...

When you wear the uniform, world events have their way of changing you in ways big and small, good and bad.

Thanks for stopping by...always good to hear from a fellow blue-suiter!