Arab class has Army cramming

October 18, 1990|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Evening Sun Staff

George Bradshaw recited the Arabic equivalents of "please," "thank you" and "good morning."

He nodded agreeably as his teacher, Army public affairs specialist Pete Britten, reviewed the do's and don't's of Saudi Arabian culture. And he listened intently as Britten provided a thumbnail geography lesson on the Middle East.

Sounding not unlike a travel agent, Britten said, "The Red Sea is gorgeous. It's not red. It's blue. Great snorkeling, and some pretty good restaurants there, too."

Bradshaw and nine other men in Britten's hour-long class yesterday at Aberdeen Proving Ground were not idle travelers. They were a few of the more than 500 military personnel and civilians the Army post will prepare for tours in the Persian Gulf in the coming months.

Nearly all come from outside Maryland. They are associated with the Army Materiel Command, which supplies troops with food, weapons and other gear.

With American soldiers entrenched in the Saudi desert, many support personnel are needed to keep them up and running.

Those en route to the region must first make sure they have passports, visas, shots and wills. They must know how to deal with insect bites and the heat. They must be briefed on counter-terrorism techniques. Some must qualify on firearms.

The whole process takes about a week. Some of the participants are specialists in maintaining tanks and other military apparatus. Some are logistics experts. Others are computer specialists.

"How many of you did not get chemical gear yet?" William H. Allbritten, the proving ground's deputy director for plans, training and mobilization, asked the men yesterday. NBC training -- short for nuclear, biological and chemical defense training -- takes four hours, he said.

Bradshaw, 53, is a civilian who works as a contract specialist at the Sacramento Army Depot in California. He spent five years in Saudi Arabia with the Army Corps of Engineers, from 1975 to 1980, and he knows the Arabic language and culture.

"I'm very eager to go back and see how the country has changed," he said. "I still have Saudi friends. I hope to contact some of them."

But he knows he has a job to do, which is making sure that the troops there have the supplies they need. And he has his own thoughts about why American soldiers are in the Persian Gulf.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "needs to be stopped," Bradshaw said. "I don't feel we're over there just because of the oil problem," he said, adding that reported atrocities carried out by Iraqi troops occupying Kuwait have received too little attention.

And if war does break out, he said, "It's not going to be like another Vietnam."

Bradshaw said he expected to be in the region for three to six months.

By giving briefings on Saudi religion, customs and geography, Britten is re-living his own stay in the Middle East. He spent a year in Taif, Saudi Arabia, in the 1960s as an adviser to the Saudi army.

In a booming voice, he flips from English to the guttural Arabic words. Some of his tidbits on the Saudi culture bring chuckles to the students.

Most Arabic men smoke, he tells them. And it is impolite to ask someone not to smoke.

Dale Masser, a 40-year-old computer expert, says he doesn't smoke and he's not about to start.

On a break from the class, Masser, a resident of Newburg, Pa., who works at the Letterkenny Army Depot near Chambersburg, said, "We're all preparing for the worst and praying for the best."

His children, ages 12, 14 and 20, are worried, he said. They don't like the fact that he will gone for Christmas.

"I'm going over there for an important function," he said, adding that the three months he expects to be in the Middle East is a small price to pay for all the military has afforded him, including an education.

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