Apg Prepping Troops For Gulf Survival And Cultural Skills A High Priority

October 28, 1990|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Contributing writer

Snakes. Sandstorms. Arab men holding hands.

For soldiers and civilians who are part of the U.S. military build-up in the Persian Gulf, knowledge of these topics is as important as knowing how to use a rifle.

And at Aberdeen Proving Ground, school is in session on these subjects for many people who are Gulf-bound.

The proving ground is serving as a processing site for military personnel being trained for duty as part of Operation Desert Shield, the name for the U.S. operation in the Middle East, said Army spokesman George Mercer.

During the next six months, up to 1,500 people will pass through APG and receive training that ranges from preparing for chemical warfare to understanding Arab culture.

"(The Army) needed a centralized location to prepare those folks," said William H. Allbritten, APG's deputy director for training and mobilization.

"APG was the best available site and we got the job."

The program began earlier this month, Mercer said. As many as 200 people each week will be trained through March 1991.

Already, more than 200,000 U.S. personnel are in place in the Persian Gulf, a mobilization triggered by Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

Those being trained at APG include military personnel from Army installations nationwide, Mercer said, as well as civilian employees. Many are being called upon for non-combat tasks in the Gulf.

The soldiers are part of the Army Materiel Command, a division charged with ensuring combat soldiers are provided with food, weapons and supplies in the field.

APG was a likely selection for a processing center because of its facilities.

"One of the main reasons we were selected is that we are already a designated mobilization site," said Allbritten.

The proving ground also was attractive because of its proximity to East Coast installations -- such as Dover Air Force Base in Delaware -- which serve as departure points for military personnel headed for the Gulf.

The five-day program is multifold, Mercer said. Mundane arrangements are squared away, such as assigning quarters, issuing visas and passports, and administering vaccine shots.

The program also includes chemical warfare training, which is of particular importance because Iraq possesses vast stocks of chemical weaponry, and is believed to have little inhibition about using them if war were to break out. The trainees learn how to use protective masks, outfits and other equipment.

"We can't be sending people to Desert Shield if they're only halfway prepared," Allbritten said.

Basic survival training is taught, including what snakes inhabit the desert regions, and how to deal with regional phenomena such as sandstorms and oppressive heat.

One of the more interesting portions of the program, Mercer said, is the session on the culture and customs of the Arab world.

For example, it is common for Arab men who are acquaintances to hold hands, simply as a sign of friendship.

"Arab men sometimes hold hands, so if you're talking to an Arab man and he starts holding your hand, it shouldn't be such a shock," Mercer said.

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