The giant C-5A cargo plane carrying members of the Maryland Army reserve unit to the war zone was into its landing approach at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, when the military air base suddenly came under a Scud missile attack.
"It was condition red alarm and everyone, including the plane crew, had gas masks on in a matter of minutes," Col. Hlib Hayuk, a Towson resident and a member of the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade based at Riverdale, wrote in his first letter home to his wife and family.
"The pilot hot-shot the plane and did not land but took a steep altitude climb such [as] you have never seen in all your years of the travel business commercial flying," he told his wife, Zoya, who works with a travel agency in Cockeysville.
It was an abrupt introduction to the Persian Gulf war for Colonel Hayuk, who just a few weeks earlier was wearing civilian clothing and teaching Soviet and Middle Eastern affairs at Towson State University.
In a series of letters he mailed home between the time of his arrival in Saudia Arabia in mid-January and being sent with the U.S. Army's 7th Corps to the front lines, Colonel Hayuk offers insight into the various aspects of war.
Here are some excerpts:
* Scud attacks: The next encounter with an Iraqi Scud came later that same night after the unit had moved into a barracks near the Dhahran air base. The missile was intercepted by a Patriot missile, but there were a few anxious moments.
Colonel Hayuk wrote: "The noise was deafening and the sky was white and red for several continuous seconds. Then came the clatter of the debris as if someone dropped several dozen hubcaps and fenders on the roof. We knew we were OK because the Scud is made of aluminum and it disintegrated in the explosion. That was a real hair-raising experience."
Later in the same letter: "The Patriot crews are becoming much more proficient and we have a great deal of confidence in their professionalism and skills. . . . The kids, and they are kids, that operate the Patriots look like recent graduates of Dulaney High School, but with short hair. They are the heroes of this war . . . saving thousands of lives, both civilian and military, and we love them."
* His job (in a letter from Dhahran dated Feb. 4): "Once the ground push begins, they contemplate a very rapid advance through Iraqi territory so we may not even have time to set up our tents, just dig in the ground at night before going to sleep. . . . My job will be to roam the countryside of Iraq and collect innocent civilians who may be caught in the killing zones. I feel proud of what I'm doing. It is strictly humanitarian work. Strange, but I feel no animosity toward the Iraqi . . . my job is to help them survive if I survive."
After learning that his unit is being moved up to the front lines with the Army 7th Corps: "I gathered my team after I got the news. I told them that each of us has three things, and only three, to do! I said that it is each person's job to (1) save his ass; (2) save his team member's ass; (3) to do our job!!! In that order!"
* Chaplain (Feb. 4, 4 a.m.): The chaplain "is the best scavenger on base. He can find anything that the others say is impossible to find. I needed lumber, heavy 4-by-4s and heavy boards to build a bunker. Everyone said there was none around. He found plenty, a whole truckload, at the port. That chaplain's cross does marvels. And he's no . . . he's a real man. . . . Belches like everyone else and uses the big F-word occasionally for emphasis. The troops really like him."
* On the tricks of staying alive (Feb. 4): After the trucks are packed and they are about to leave Dhahran for the Iraqi border, Colonel Hayuk wrote of talking with two Mexican-Americans from California: "We shook hands, saluted and hugged. . . . They also gave me pointers on how to dig a bunker because both are vets of Vietnam. They also looked at my helmet, told me to hide my eagle, put an American flag and put a small roll of toilet paper into my helmet rubber band (because only the enlisted men do that). This way the Iraqi snipers avoid you because you are only enlisted. They look for officers! I appreciated that advice from a couple of veterans. It's little things like that that save your life." Later he wrote: "I keep telling them [his troops] that the three essentials to survive and accomplish our mission are: (1) bullets (2) water and (3) sleep. I have ordered my troops that they sleep and rest when we are not under attack rather than finding busy work for them. At first some of my colleagues thought it was simplistic. But they also noticed that my troops are the most efficient in doing their job, so the Hayuk philosophy is spreading to the other sections and is being adopted by others."
* Horniness factor (Jan. 29): "I have calculated the horniness factor to be 59. It's like this: H=horniness; A=active duty since Jan. 3; S=no sex since 5 Jan.; K=in country to liberate Kuwait since 20 Jan. Therefore: A (26) + S (24) + K (9) = H (59)."