Laying Down Saudi Law To U.s. Personnel

January 13, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

When in Saudi Arabia, do as the Saudis.

That's the message that more than 260 Reservists, National Guardsmen and civilians headed for duty in the Persian Gulf received during a training program last weekat Aberdeen Proving Ground

About 2,500 soldiers and civilians have gone through the trainingprogram at Aberdeen Proving Ground since October as the United States prepares for a showdown with Iraq.

The proving ground is one of 51 military installations nationwide which is conducting training fortroops and civilian workers being sent to the gulf.

Those attending the training session included 160 members of the U.S. Army Materiel Command -- civilians who work at army posts across the country. They will be going to Saudi Arabia this weekend to provide support services for the troops.

During the three-day training session, soldiers and civilians receive military equipment, physicals and lessons on the do's and don'ts in the Middle East.

You might call it Saudi Arabian Survival 101.

"We must be good ambassadors," Peter Britten, chief of information operations at APG, told the class last week. "Know their religion. Know the role of women. Know the common courtesiestaught by your parents."

"Don't go over there and reinforce the 'Ugly American' concept," Britten added.

Britten, who was stationedin Saudi Arabia as a military adviser in the late 1960s, based his instructions on Saudi Arabia's laws, culture and Islamic religion.

Lt. Frank Russell, who is on leave from his Persian Gulf assignment, said: "(Saudi Arabia) is very modern on the one hand. On the other hand, the people still cling to the cultural ways of the past."

Britten told the troops not to drink alcohol or gamble. However, he said it would be considerate to offer an Arab a cigarette or impolite to ask him to stop smoking.

Britten advised the soldiers and civiliansagainst dating Saudi natives and showing affection in public. But headded that Saudi Arabians are intimate people who often touch one another during conversations.

Women attending the briefing were toldthat they must dress conservatively when not wearing their uniforms off-duty. They were advised to buy a traditional black robe, like those worn by Middle Eastern women, while away from military installations so they don't offend the Arabs.

Russell gave one more note of advice: Don't drink the water.

Among the civilians is Joseph D. Brown, an APG employee who left for Saudi Arabia this weekend.

Brown, who has worked for the army for 10 years, will go to the Persian Gulf to work on the army's battle tanks. At APG, Brown is test directorat the heavy combat vehicles branch.

The 29-year-old Delta, Pa.,man will be in Saudi Arabia for six months, although he is not sure where he will be stationed yet.

With the threat of war, Brown said he is concerned about his safety, but that didn't stop him from volunteering to go to the gulf.

"It's an experience of a lifetime," saidBrown, who has a 3-year-old daughter. "I'll never get a chance to dosomething like this again."

Brown said he sees his work in Saudi Arabia as a chance to serve his country the same way his father did in World War II.

"If he can do it for his country, so can I," Brownsaid.

Unlike volunteer Brown, Joseph H. Bolding of Prince George's County was called to duty.

The 21-year-old Morgan State University student received word on Dec. 26 that he and his 316th Station Hospital, a medical detachment in the army's Reserves, was being sent toSaudi Arabia.

"I didn't think it was going to happen this soon," the psychology student said. "But when you join something like this, you have to think of all the possibilities."

Bolding is a private first-class who works as an operating room specialist for his detachment. He said many members of his unit are nervous about going to the gulf, although most remain confident.

"Nobody is really scared," Bolding said. "We're just going to do the best job we can and get out of there as soon we can so we can be with our families."

To cope in Saudi Arabia, the troops and civilians were given a handbook that outlines the country's language, culture, history, religion and geography.

The handbook provides tips for handling terrorist attacks and military strikes. The book also explains what should be done if a soldier or civilian is taken hostage.

Until the conflict with Iraq is settled, the Army has established rules that military personnel must follow to comply with Saudi law.

Capt. R. Peter Masterton, chief of APG's criminal law division, gave the the class this list: no private firearms, no alcohol, no entering religious mosques, no gambling, no sexually explicit materials.

Violators of some Saudi Arabian laws, including possession of drugs, could be given a death sentence, Masterton warned.

Masterton, a lawyer, also told the troops what they can and cannot shoot if the conflict turns into a war.

Masterton instructed the troops that they are not permitted to fire at civilians, medics, chaplains, injured soldiers and prisoners of war. Likewise, he said mosques, hospitals, diplomatic buildings and civilianareas cannot be targets.

"You can shoot at the enemy," he said. "You can shoot at enemy facilities. You can shoot at anything to accomplish your military mission. For the most part, almost anything goes."

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