Soldier Writes Of The Bizarre And The Banal

War In The Gulf

March 08, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

"I saw the Nile during sunrise," 2nd Lt. Michael A. Karns wrote his dad the week he arrived in Saudi Arabia.

The Severna Park High graduate left Fort Bliss, Texas, in September to command five tanks in an intelligence and reconnaissance unit, the eyes and ears of the armored force.

In the months that followed, the 24-year-old wrote home to his father, retired Army Lt. Col. Andrew M. Karns of Severna Park, chronicling life in the desert.

The letters are crammed with details aboutweaponry, about tactics and missions and exploding bombs.

But theformer altar boy and high school football star penned merry moments,too -- sleeping on his tank until cots arrived, scorpion fights and beetle battles among the soldiers, drag-racingtanks in the sand.

*

Oct. 5

Well, I've been here a few days now and am getting used to it. I'm at a seaport claiming my equipment. I'm sleeping on a warehouse floor and get food (bread, fruit, soda) and water three times a day plus MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat). It reminds me of a refugee center.

I miss being home and am already starting to want to countdays, but oh well.

I think a lot about what's going on here and what I'm doing, and I'm learning a lot.

Oct. 14

Well, I'm in thedesert now and whooee! It's desert. I'm living on my tank now and also have a tent for shade. We can't sleep in it because we don't have cots and the ground is too dangerous (snakes, scorpions and flies -- Oh my!) I have seen quite a few of all of them.

Best so far was a fluorescent yellow scorpion, neat. It died.

I hope the grass is growing finally in the back. Has it started to get cold yet? And how isSeverna Park football doing? I think of you all a lot.

*

Afterhigh school, Karns was awarded a four-year merit scholarship to the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. He spent a year in Vienna with the Institute of European Studies program and graduated from VMI with a bachelor's degree in biology. He then went on to complete a basic armor officers course and a paratrooper course before being stationed in Fort Bliss.

Karns has always been "an outdoor, athletic type," says his father. In high school, he ran track, played football, coached track and in the summers worked as a camp counselor.

Then he joined the Army.

*

Oct. 21

As I ran along the road, pickups full of Arabs would drive by, giving the peace sign and stuff.. . They must definitely think we're lunatics, and dangerous ones atthat.

We keep ourselves occupied with cards, radios, and we also have scorpion fights, beetle football. . . . We're building a swimming pool and hot tub.

That's not to say it's Coco Beach out here. . . . It's hot, dusty, dirty, smelly, primitive and hard, but we're managing.

Oct. 24

Desert Follies

Scene 1: 16 lieutenants running down a desert highway in T-shirts, shorts and sunglasses past incredulous Arabs in pickups.

Scene 2: Night, a car -- headlights blazing -- charges out of the gloom and straight for my platoon perimeter.Is it Iraqi Commandos? A Libyan suicide bomber? No . . . it's a bunch of lost-as-hell American civilians who had no idea how close they came to dying.

Scene 3: The wives of the soldiers back at Ft. Blissall getting maps showing exactly where their husbands are, when we don't even know exactly where we are cause of map shortages and for operational security.

Scene 4: An entire squadron forced to relocateafter getting half their equipment to a new site because a Saudi sergeant major comes over and says that his unit is going to locate herefirst.

Scene 5: Guards going on guard with no ammo (since changed) and more scared of snakes than terrorists.

Scene 6: A platoon oftanks moving across the desert, their turrets and back decks coveredwith bags and boxes and tents, and buckets and sleeping bags and water coolers and poles. Who us? We're not the U.S. Army, just a bunch of heavily armed gypsies. So it goes.

Scene 7: Has anyone seen my tank?" One squadron has apparently lost a tank overnight. It wasn't where they left it the next morning. Probably in some Saudi's used car lot.

*

Nov. 8

My tanks are out of service now (for re-equipping) and we took 'em out for a test drive. We lined them all up and had a drag race. We also did doughnuts and sliding stops and generallytore up the desert like some bikers on a rampage. It was fun.

*

Initially, Karns, serving with K Troop, third squadron, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, was camped out south of the Kuwaiti border.

Once the ground war began, the officer's platoon was moved west with the 18th Corps on the western flank.

"I worried, but I was confident he knew his job and had excellent equipment," says his father, the retired officer.

Karns reported to his father and younger brother Peter that his unit was constantly on the move, mostly at night.

*

Jan. 18

I kept reminding myself this was real and I'm in the middle of it.

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