"Imagine being the mayor of New York City and waking up one morning and finding out that there is no food in the city, no water. There's no way for the people to get to work, they can't call in because there's no telephone; no radios, no TVs. Where do you start?"
Only through an analogy can Brig. Gen. Howard T. Mooney Jr. of Ellicott City begin to explain the role his soldiers played in Kuwait City during the Persian Gulf war.
Mooney, 48, led the 352nd Civil Affairs Command, an Army reserve unit headquartered near College Park. Nearly the entire command has now returned.
The unit's most significant mission was getting Kuwait City to function as a modern city after six months of occupation under Iraqi military forces. It was a task the command was trained specifically to undertake.
The general's command of 3,500 soldiers included an eclectic band of lawyers, doctors, engineers, city planners,agronomists and historians -- quite a change from his full-time job as assistant principal at Lansdowne High School.
"I can tailor this organization to do almost any mission that means bringing a countryback on its feet," he said.
As they followed closely behind the vanguard of allied forces entering Kuwait, Mooney and his troops crossed into Kuwait at 1 a.m. on March 1.
"We could see the artillery going off in the distance, you could hear the sound of gunfire, the oil fires were burning off to our right and off to our left," he recalled. "Quite a few of the folks had combat experience in Vietnam, and they looked at me and said 'This looks like Dante's "Inferno." We're going into Hell.' "
Once in Kuwait, Mooney's years of planning for this kind of situation would be tested.
"As soon as daylight brokeon the first of March, my first mission was to find out where the people that needed food, water and medical attention were located and get those supplies out to them as soon as possible," he said. "I had virtually 230,000 (people) there that all could require food, water and medical attention, and I had only 75 truckloads of supplies. I needed to get those supplies to the most critical quadrants right away."
Seven areas of concern were the focus of the 352nd for approximately a month after the war ended: food, water, sanitation, medical needs, transportation, power and telecommunication.
In Mooney's first estimation, it would take a year for his command to get the job done in Kuwait. When he arrived in the country, he figured six months. In the final tabulation, the bulk of his officers were there for only 100 days.
Kuwaiti ministries helped the soldiers by pointing out trouble spots. Mooney's civil affairs officers also linked up with leaders in the community and with Kuwaitis who had been students in U.S. and who had seen two weeks of American military training at Fort Dix. Like guides, they shared their knowledge of the neediest areas.
"We had 70 of them helping us in the city, so we didn't have any language problems," said Mooney. "They knew the city, so we got around in the city quickly, and that helped us a lot."
Mooney relied on a supply base in Saudi Arabia and radioed his orders there. A convoy led by Americans would then deliver the items, including food, water, medical supplies, generators, spare parts and trash trucks.
Mooney's officers came from diverse backgrounds, and many were dispatched to units in different parts of the war zone. Their jobs included logisticssuch as buses to transport POWs, moving civilian populations away from military action and teaching Middle East culture to the Army.
Maj. Les Caplan's stint in Saudi Arabia is one example. Caplan, 43, ofColumbia, was night operations officer for civil affairs in the Theater Army General Staff. Part of his day-to-day responsibilities involved dealing with atrocities committed by the Iraqi army on their own citizens.
"We were taking care of thousands of Iraqis and Kurds inour hospitals. It was really a heart-rending and eye-opening experience. Two-year-old girls would come with bullet wounds. We had to track these children through our medical system. We didn't have enough pediatricians for the children. Who would have expected it?"
Along with tragedy, Caplan was a participant to a unique experience. During Passover, he and other Jews celebrated the first two days of the holiday aboard a luxury cruise ship in the Persian Gulf that usually functioned as a recreation ship for allied forces during the war.
"We had 400 people, Jewish soldiers, celebrating Passover, on a ship, andit was absolutely unbelievable, right in the heart of the Islamic World. It was just an amazing series of requisitions to arrange it, butGeneral Schwarzkopf approved it himself," said Caplan. "It was a fascinating experience, to put it mildly."
Both Capts. Paul Albreti of Jessup and John Miller of Columbia were dispatched to the 414th Civil Affairs Company, which was part of the Army 7th Corps, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.