Monday, March 07, 2011

Ee, Uh, Ooh Ah Ah ...


I grew up in rural southern Missouri, and contra Bill McClellan's take on the pronunciation controversy, the state has always been "Mizz Ur Ee," not "Mizz Ur Uh" to me.

Apropos of said controversy, I have a state-name-pronunciation-related story to tell. Nothing important, but I found it funny at the time, so why not? You don't have to read it if you don't want to.

Timeframe, late April or early May of 1991.

Location: The general area of Ammo Supply Point 3 in the desert outside Ras al M'Shab, Saudi Arabia.

General Circumstances: The First Gulf War was, in theory, over. My US Marine Corps Reserve Unit (Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 24th Marines) had gone home in March, but I had volunteered to stay awhile longer and serve with Provisional Rifle Company, 24th Marines.

Our job was to provide exterior security for ASP 3. We quartered in a US Navy Seabee base a short distance away. I was third shift (11pm-7am) Sergeant of the Guard, which meant that I went around each night with the second shift SOG, posting my guards in towers and bunkers, relieving the previous shift's guards, running some security patrols in the desert around the ASP in a big, noisy stolen* German 7-ton truck, then going around at 7 with the day shift SOG to relieve my guys and post his.

The story: During a Sergeant of the Guard's off-time, he still needed to be available to help out the Officer of the Day, a job our platoon commander and platoon sergeant split between them in 12-hour shifts.

One morning or early afternoon, one of the posts reported that some Arabs were setting up a camp site within the ASP's external security perimeter (the internal perimeter was a berm; the external perimeter was a shoddy fence, full of holes, a quarter mile out from said berm). The platoon commander gave me a yell, we jumped in another stolen* truck (a little Nissan flatbed) and went out to chase them away.

The conversation:

Platoon Commander: A salaam aleikum!

Arab #1: Howdy!

Platoon Commander: Uh, hi.

Arab #1: I'm (name), this is (name, pointing to Arab #2).

Platoon Commander: I'm Lieutenant (name), this is Sergeant Knapp.

Arab #1: Lieutenant (name)? Where are you from?

Platoon Commander: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Arab #1: Are you related to (first name, last name)?

Platoon Commander: Uh, yeah, he's my dad.

Arab #1: Far out! I studied engineering under him at (university). And where are you (points at me) from?

Me: Mizz Ur Ee.

Arab #2: Isn't that Mizz Ur Uh?

After which, as anyone who has encountered itinerant Arabs in the desert will know, we had to sit a spell with them and drink their incredibly strong coffee. It would have been unthinkably rude not to do so, and besides they had good coffee and we didn't (I didn't drink coffee until I went to Saudi Arabia, because American coffee just tasted like dirty hot water to me).

They claimed they were out camping from Dahran and hunting lizards. There's an iguana-like lizard native to the area that some of the desert tribes apparently beat to death with sticks and eat as a matter of custom, and their citified members come out to "keep in touch with their roots," or something like that. Unfortunately, the lizards weren't edible at the moment because the smoke from hundreds of burning oil wells (visible on the horizon) was in pretty much everything (air, flora, fauna ...) and had the meat all fouled up.

At no time was there much doubt in our minds that they were agents of the Maslahat Al-Istikhbarat Al-Aammah ("General Intelligence Presidency," the Kingdom's equivalent of the CIA), sent to keep an eye on what was up at the ASP. Lots of units were turning in lots of ordnance there on their way south from Kuwait. The monarchy was almost certainly concerned that that ordnance not fall into the hands of people who might not like the monarchy (those guys were bringing abandoned Iraqi arms right down the highway by the pickup-truck-load, though). Also, there had been some rumors that maybe some of the stuff at the ASP was ... special ... which might have had something to do with their curiosity.

Anyway, they moved their tent outside the fence upon our polite requirement that they do so, stayed a couple of days, and went on their merry way.

So anyway, apparently the Mizz Ur Ee versus Mizz Ur Uh controversy is a global thing.

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* Every military unit has, as part of its Table of Organization & Equipment, a certain number of vehicles (HMMMVs, five-ton trucks, whatever). In theory, these are all the vehicles a unit needs to accomplish its mission.

The problem with that theory is that as soon as you get into an operational environment that's spread out over more than walking distance, every officer suddenly decides that his job is so important that he absolutely must have a vehicle assigned for his sole personal use. And every military unit has one or two enlisted personnel whose secondary Military Occupational Specialty, above and beyond their "real" jobs, is "rat-fucking" -- seizing anything useful that's been left sitting unattended by outsiders for more than a few seconds and contributing it to the unit's informal TO&E.

So, by the time a unit had been in Saudi Arabia for a week, most of its vehicles had been stolen, and if that unit's rat-fuckers were skilled, they had in turn stolen about half again as many vehicles as the formal TO&E called for. Some of these vehicles were official US military equipment, which meant that their previous owners' RUC (Reporting Unit Code) had to be sanded off the bumper and replaced by the RUC of the commandeering unit. Other vehicles had previously been the property of foreign military units or unfortunate civilians.

Anyway, the Provisional Rifle Company didn't, if I recall correctly, have any official TO&E vehicles. The units from which we had volunteered had taken their vehicles (or some semblance thereof) home, and we were left with three vehicles of unknown, but highly suspicious, provenance (I've already mentioned two; the third was a very nice Jeep Grand Cherokee that some colonel must have badly missed -- no keys, but our rat-fuckers knew how to get around that).

At Camp 15 (near the Al Jubail Naval Airport), an "amnesty lot" was established at the end of the war. Any vehicle could be left there, no questions asked. The place looked like it covered about 40 acres as of late May, 1991, and it was wall-to-wall vehicles, including our three.

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