Day 5 - Kuwaiti Desert
I've been screening some of the photos I've taken on my laptop and there's this one snapshot I nabbed of two young Marines hanging out in the desert and smoking cigars that I really dig. They look like they could be on a hunting trip: two guys with rifles, kicking it in camo, smoking Cubans in the great outdoors. (Of course, when hunting, the game doesn't usually shoot back.) But the thing that I really love about the snapshot, and that I think is the most telling about the two guys in it, isn't their guns or their gear. It's the ring on the finger of the Marine on the left. This babyfaced PFC has a wife at home, out of contact, probably glued to a TV screen. He looks like he could be in your homeroom class, or hanging out in your student union. (Click for pictures of Gideon's Kuwait photo diaries.)
There's a second half to these Marines' story, here in the Kuwaiti desert, and it's in that ring — there are people waiting at home for the troops, watching the headlines, hoping that the loss of American life will be minimal. These men, though young, have children, fiancées, girlfriends and wives. That you are likely to have a crop of Gulf War II veterans, so young, in just a matter of months, is an amazing thing. It's a real story, one that the embedded media now have to tell. But what those troops in the Gulf face in the coming months will invariably affect the homes that they return to and the world that they, their families and their friends, will inherit. If there is no separation from the frontlines and the home front anymore — at least that's why we're about to get into this war, isn't it? — then will this conflict make their friends and families more secure? The big headline this week in the States has been the anxious rush on duct tape. At least the Marines here in the Kuwait desert know that they will be able to face their enemy.
I also think of their counterparts in Iraq. How many of them have rings on their fingers? What are they fighting for? After war comes peace ... how will the world made by these young men, for their families, come to reconcile?
As we are prepping to leave Kuwait City, I am getting ready to go back to that place where the wives and families, friends and relatives, casual observers, news junkies, civilians, students and kids on the street will watch this war unfold — from a great distance, up close. The road home is one each and every Marine we talked to hopes to walk.
But living out in the desert, the Marines have virtually no contact with their families and friends aside from snail mail. The single biggest jump at our camera crew has been to give shout-outs or to mail things from Kuwait City, as if to say, "Hey, you might not see me or hear from me, but I'm out here doing this for you." They miss home. A lot of these guys have been away from their families for months (I mean, hell, I've been out here just a week and change and I miss my girlfriend like crazy). They are being told that the road home leads through Baghdad. They block out that they might be staying there as an occupational force. They block out what the war might bring to their doorsteps at home.
Now the focus for us goes from the frontline to the home front, and I'm bracing to detach myself from the stories here on the ground. If there is one thing that I have gotten from this experience it has been that we attached a human face to the actual people, the very young people, who will be waging this war. I wonder how it will change them. I hope it will change the world for the better.
Read Day 1: Welcome To Kuwait's "Vice City"
Read Day 2: Meeting Survivors Of The Gulf War
Read Day 3: 'Get Right With God' And Other Advice
Read Day 4: Fighting For Democracy