A MARINE AIRBASE IN NORTHEASTERN SAUDI ARABIA -- The Desert Rats are not unknown to Cpl. Charlton Plummer, who is well aware that the crack British tank unit has been deployed to fight against Iraqi forces.
What surprised the 25-year-old Marine from Baltimore was the real desert rat that joined Marine aviators here on risky daylight bombing missions over enemy strongholds.
That foreign ally actually is a remarkably tough Saudi desert mouse that Corporal Plummer and Lance Cpl. Mark Waldon, 24, of Moores Hill, Ind., found in the cockpit of an AV-8B Harrier fighter jet about two weeks ago.
No more than 3 inches long, not including a long slender tail, the brown-and-black mouse has flown on several missions against Iraqi positions in Kuwait, surviving the tremendous G-forces of speeds up to Mach 0.95 and the constant threat of artillery fire and surface-to-air missiles.
"We don't really know how long he was in there until we found him," Corporal Plummer said. "There were a lot of places he could hide."
Both Corporal Plummer and Lance Corporal Waldon, members of Marine Attack Squadron 231, of Cherry Point, N.C., work the flight line here, methodically checking each cockpit as ejection-seat mechanics.
They first saw the mouse through the glass canopy of a Harrier that was being readied for another sortie. "He was sitting on the seat, looking at us, like he was ready to fly out of here," Lance Corporal Waldon said.
The stealthy, agile creature eluded the men when they went after him. He then kept out of sight for three days and several more sorties, leaving only small telltale signs around the cockpit to signal he was still there.
When Corporal Plummer finally thought he had the mouse cornered, the animal slipped into an opening that led to intake doors of the Rolls-Royce turbofan engine.
"I got him out and swatted him to keep him out of the engine," he said. "Then he jumped out, maybe eight feet, to the ground and we caught him."
The mouse now views the war from a cage made from parts of a wooden crate and chows down on MREs, the prepackaged combat rations called Meals Ready to Eat. And the Marines said he now has a name -- "Prince," because everything in this desert kingdom seems to be named for royalty -- and a title: "1st Marine Mouse Aviator."
Corporal Plummer has been able to keep in touch by phone and letters with his mother, Myrna Taylor, and his aunts and uncles. The 1982 graduate of Baltimore's Polytechnic Institute has been a leatherneck for six years.
Myrna J. Taylor, Corporal Plummer's mother, was surprised Friday to hear that her son had adopted a mouse. She described him as a quiet person who "cares about people a lot" and had never shown a tremendous affection for animals.
But she was thrilled to hear that her son was OK. Since he left Jan. 1, he has telephoned once and written three times.
"It's very, very hard," she said. "He's my only child."