The 147th: Catching up with SD National Guard in Kuwait
Active Duty - 10/29/2009
By Jim Kent
Members of the South Dakota National Guard's 1st Battalion, 147th Field Artillery and 147th Forward Support Company have been in Kuwait for 4 months of their year-long deployment to the Middle East. We coninue our series on how that deployment is impacting one South Dakota military family - at home and overseas.
One sound you're not likely to hear on any South Dakota highway is that of a camel. But that's just what Chief Warrant Officer Brett Anderson heard - and saw - as he made his way around Kuwait his first day there.
"You know, the funniest thing is that,. you know, that first day you're exposed, obviously, to the heat for one thing....but to the culture," says Anderson. "You know, we're taking the bus ride...the vehicle ride back from the weapons ranges And the buses stop. And it's hot, you know. We're not acclimatized yet. We're a little miserable. And we look out the windows and we're stopped because, uh, they're herding camels across the road between the buses. So you get to see a lot of wildlife on day one, which is great, but...I'd rather have been in the air-conditioning."
Air-conditioning, indeed. And just how hot is it in Kuwait?
"I think about a hundred-and-twenty was the worst we got," Anderson recalls. "And what's amazing is...uh...the humidity. You know, the location that I'm at is a lot closer to the Persian Gulf than a lot of other locations are. And we do experience some significant humidity. And, you know, it's worse...you know, I grew up in South Dakota, so we're not exposed to it that much. But, you know, my Mom lives in Georgia, so I've been around some humidity. And it's probably the worst humidity I've seen or felt. You could see it in the light...it was dripping off the roof."
Absolutely miserable, says Anderson.. In fact, as he stepped off the plane his first day, that heat and humidity - literally - took his breath away. But it's been a few months, so Anderson and his fellow Guard members are getting acclimated - even to the point of taking part in a 10-mile run on top of their daily physical workouts. As for his duties, the Chief Warrant Officer says they're varied.
"Here in Camp Patriot, there's a lot of soldiers and sailors and Marines...uh, Coast Guard personnel that....that work or train and come through here for various reasons," Anderson explains. "And...uh, the mission I've been tasked with is to make sure that as far as, logistics go...that those, uh, service....members have all the supplies they need. If they need containers, if they have to do...oh, any kind of purchasing of supplies for their specific areas of the camp...that kind of stuff funnels through us."
Anderson says many of the military personnel who come to him for assistance are only at Camp Patriot temporarily, en route to another location. Anderson adds that he's not privy to the bigger picture of their destinations. His sole mission is to care for their needs. As for work, Anderson and his unit are up at 5 and put in long days before their duties are done. But even reduced free time can lead to emotional distractions involving home and family.
"Yeah, tryna' make use of that time in the evening is critical," explains Anderson. "I've managed to stay extremely busy with, uh, you know, college courses in the evening. However, those just ended. And I've got about 2 weeks before my next course starts. And I have found, uh, yeah, you've gotta' keep your mind occupied, otherwise...you can't stare at the walls. You have to be engaged. You have to get out and do things on the camp."
Those things include a flag football tournament, lots of 5K runs - in the cooler morning hours, shooting pool, playing ping pong and a selection of video games - which Anderson says he leaves to the "younger crowd". There are also regular Bible study groups. The primary goal of those in the upper echelons at Camp Patriot, Anderson notes, is to keep personnel occupied.
"You know, 'cause...obviously...that increases morale," says Anderson. "You just don't need a bunch of people sitting around, thinking about...not being home. So, you've gotta' keep everybody busy."
As for staying in touch with his own home, Anderson and his wife communicate by e-mail or phone several times each week. They take care of any business issues first before moving on to personal matters. Speaking from his heart, Anderson notes that as much as he's been successful in keeping himself busy, there are still difficult moments.
"You're done for the day....you go back to the room and you crawl into the bed and it's like...'Jeez, you know...this little bed,' Anderson explains. "Everything's relative. And I try to remind myself of that. I think I have it bad, and I've gotta remind myself that there's, uh, soldiers and sailors and service members in Afghanistan who have it worse than I do. Or in Iraq that have it worse than I do."
Looking toward the upcoming holiday season, Anderson says his unit will put up a Christmas tree, eat a turkey dinner, sing songs and try to have the best Christmas they can. And when the new year comes, they'll be well on the downward slide to making their way home to East River and West.
Tomorrow we'll talk to Brett Anderson's wife, Michele, about life on the home front.
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