ANNAPOLIS -- Mostly, the Iraqi prisoners of war he was guarding were hungry and thirsty, recounted Spc. Ronald J. Raab, who returned home to Glen Burnie from Saudi Arabia Monday on emergency leave to be with his ailing wife.
"A lot of them said they hadn't eaten in three days, some of them longer," he said. "And they had no water. They had been drinking out of mud puddles."
They also were grateful to be out of the bunkers where they had huddled during nearly six weeks of allied bombing raids. And surprisingly, they praised President Bush and said the U.S. Army was the greatest army in the world.
"And they sounded sincere when they said it," Specialist Raab said.
Specialist Raab, 26, was deployed to the Middle East in December with the 290th Military Police Company, part of the Maryland National Guard detachment from Towson sent to the Persian Gulf. He returned Monday after learning that his wife, Bonnie, who is eight months' pregnant, had been hospitalized with back problems.
"I knew she was scheduled for a sonogram last Friday, so I called about 10 a.m. [Saudi] time -- 2 a.m. here -- to see how it went and didn't get any answer," he recalled. "So I called my mother and found out she was in the hospital. I told Mom to get ahold of the Red Cross, that I had to get home."
When he still hadn't heard anything by Sunday, Specialist Raab explained the problem to his commander, who granted emergency leave and got him on the first cargo flight out of Saudi Arabia.
"We stopped at Rhein-Main [Air Base] in Germany and I called my parents and told them I was on my way, meet me at Dover, and then I surprised Bonnie in the hospital," he said.
"I just lost it when I saw him," Mrs. Raab said, picking up the story. "I just started crying."
Mrs. Raab is back in the couple's small apartment, under doctor's orders to stay off her feet as much as possible for the rest of her pregnancy. Specialist Raab is taking over the household chores. His duffel bag, with his desert gear overflowing from it, is in a heap by the door, as if he just walked in.
"Oh, yeah. I'm going to get to that," he said.
Specialist Raab, who has been in the National Guard nearly six years and also had a civilian job in the Guard, trained with his unit for three weeks at Fort Meade before leaving for Saudi Arabia. For weeks, they prepared for the prisoners of war they expected. And when the air war started, they began getting a trickle of Iraqi soldiers.
When the ground war started, "it was like somebody had opened up the floodgates," Specialist Raab said. "They lost it faster than we could win it."
The compound his unit built was big enough to squeeze in 24,000 prisoners, he Raab said, so housing them was not a great problem. "The biggest problem was providing them with food and water. They were hungry."
The MPs swapped tales of life in two different armies with the Iraqis who spoke English, he said, and told each other of their homes before the war.