Some Marylanders' lives changed forever PERSIAN GULF SHOWDOWN

August 02, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff

Army Capt. David Bolgiano was driving with a friend to physical training in Fort Bragg, N.C., at 5:30 a.m. when his car radio blurted the news of an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Bolgiano knew it wouldn't end there. "Here we go," he said.

A few hours earlier, Bader Shaat was waiting at a traffic light in Kuwait City while commuting to his job as a financial manager. Another driver leaned out the window and told him that Iraqi invaders were on the way.

Shaat turned around and headed home to his wife and their five children. From the balcony of his second-floor apartment, "I look, I see something strange," he recalls. "I saw tanks come toward my house because our house is near the sea."

Terri Huber of Parkville followed the first news of the invasion like most other Americans, never thinking that it would impinge upon her life. Four months later she was in Saudi Arabia with a Maryland National Guard military police unit.

A year ago today, Iraqi tanks rumbled into Kuwait. Local resistance was a light drizzle of gunfire. Worldwide resistance by other governments would be thunderous. Outrage over the aggression, and over the threat to a major source of the world's oil supply, led to a United Nations ultimatum which, when unheeded, led to a quick and terrible war.

Maryland contributed on every front.

Five days after the invasion, President Bush sent the first American troops. They were followed by more active-duty soldiers like Bolgiano, who grew up around Towson, and of activated reserves and National Guard troops like Huber. Portions of 67 Maryland-based Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force reserve units were called up, as were 631 troops of Maryland's Army National Guard, and 113 personnel from its Air National Guard.

BWI Airport received some of several evacuation flights from Kuwait. Shaat, a Palestinian who had long lived and worked in Kuwait, landed in Baltimore with his family last September. He and other Palestinians in the same situation were granted visas by virtue of having a child born in the United States during a prior visit or being a student at an American university. The Shaats have since settled in Columbia.

Businesses busy

Throughout the state, businesses with military contracts shifted into overdrive. Among them, New Horizons Diagnostics of Columbia produced test kits for rapid detection of biological warfare agents, AAI Corp. made the Pioneer remote pilotless vehicle and Westinghouse made the AWACS plane radar

system.

Anti-war groups, which in recent years had lacked a high-profile cause, began painting new placards. But their organizing against the war, while invigorating to their movement, came too late, says the Rev. Chester L. Wickwire, chaplain emeritus at Johns Hopkins University.

"I think the peace movement was rather traumatized . . . wondering whether they were asleep at the switch," says Wickwire, who was a leading local activist against the Vietnam war. Although he attended a march in Washington and helped organize an anti-war "teach-in" in January at Morgan State University, Wickwire, for one, never believed that America would go to war until the bombs torched the night in downtown Baghdad.

Wickwire laments that he and his anti-war comrades "were taken by surprise at the swiftness with which everything went."

Events certainly outpaced Huber's expectations as she worked her regular job with the Maryland National Guard, with the rank of specialist, at the U.S. Customs office in the Dundalk Marine Terminal. Huber, 29, never expected to be deployed.

Then she was gone

"One minute you're doing your job day to day, and the next minute you're going off to war," she says. When her unit, based at the Towson armory, was put on alert in mid-August, "I was totally shocked," she recalls. "I was home and they said, 'get your stuff ready.' "

Her unit eventually joined other military police to guard Iraqi prisoners of war -- many thousands of them after the ground war started -- in northern Saudi Arabia.

"The whole experience gave me a whole new outlook on life, not to take things for granted," she says. "It makes you appreciate the little things, like a flushing toilet." But she did come home.

The Shaats feel as if they have no home, even though they've settled in Columbia, Md. After the invasion, they quickly plummeted from the comfort of upper middle class life in Kuwait City to scrounging for food and water and dodging larcenous Iraqi soldiers who wanted to commandeer their car.

The Iraqi army set up a headquarters near their home. Three days after the invasion, an officer and five soldiers knocked on the door and told Shaat to go to Iraq, lest he be harmed by American ships that the Iraqis said were certain to pound the coast within days.

Shaat said no, his wife had given birth the week before and they feared the baby girl would die in a car trip to Iraq under a sun heating the desert to well over 100 degrees.

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