I left on the 28th of December for guard duty at the 1015th Maintenance Company. . . . It was great duty -- 72 hours of hot showers (indoors), hot meals and real beds. . . . The first night [on guard duty] was cold as hell. I was all bundled up and still freezing. The moon was beautiful that first night. It looked like the sun against a black sky. . . . The best part of the midnight shift is getting to see the moon set and the sun rise, plus all the time I get to think. . . .
On the morning of the 1st, a farmer came up the camp with a herd of camels. I rode [one] and had my picture taken. . . . Combat ready and on a camel, the lieutenant yelled. The farmer charged us each $1 -- that was the only English he spoke and it was perfect. One dollar. One dollar. It seems wherever I go people always seem to communicate when it comes to money.
21.15 hrs. 12 Jan.
. . . Some of the guys came into the females' room playing !B "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." What a sight! Almost like "Top Gun," but better. Tom Cruise has nothing on the 290th men! This is really a great group of people to be with when the "I don't know" factor is high. We can count on each other to keep our stress levels as calm as possible. My gut feelings are good about the outcome of this entire situation. But I also feel long time periods of unrest and uncertainty.
07.48 hrs 13 Jan.
. . . I listened to President Bush speak after the House and Senate approved the U.S. use of force to move Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. . . . I support his decision and admire his courage and strength in his emotional battle of stamina vs. the elements of world politics. Sometimes, I think his job is much worse than mine. I may have to pull the trigger, but he has to sign his name to it. I am sure there will be a lot of questions he would rather not have to answer. . . .
14.45 16 Jan.
Well, the deadline has come and passed . . . a lot of thoughts have been running through my mind in the past few days. Thoughts of what combat would be like, thoughts of what a chemical environment would be like, thoughts of what going home would be like. Meeting the girl who wrote the poem for Christmas -- roses are red, violets are blue, thank you for fighting for our country, we'll always praise you -- and Francis Long, the man who took the time to thank me, in writing, for my diary in The Baltimore Sun. Seeing my dad again. The thoughts of war are all much stronger and more vivid. I have played a zillion hands of gin rummy and Uno and countless games of Pictionary to try and pass the time. I've listened to all my tapes, read most of my books. I'm tired, but just too damn wired to go to sleep.
01.10 hrs. 17 Jan.
. . . I can't believe that I am so close to a war. I feel joy and I feel sorrow. Joy, because President Bush is moving fast and concisely. I feel sorrow for the innocent people of Kuwait and Iraq, and all the families of the military service members serving in Operation Desert Storm. I am in awe that one CRAZY man can cause such chaos. War is bizarre, yet it is survival . . . kill or be killed.
15.50 hrs. 21 Jan.
I had goat for lunch. I was told it tasted like lamb. Somebody lied. It didn't. If it was seasoned as opposed to just boiled, it would have been OK. . . .
21.25 hrs. 26 Jan.
Ground forces should start their move soon. I think that's good. Once that happens, the U.S. will start to take prisoners (guests); if we take prisoners, we will be busy, and if we are busy, time will pass and if time passes, we can go home and I can take a hot shower -- not have a beer, or real food, or watch TV or listen to WHFS -- but take a nice long hot shower in privacy.
07.55 hrs. 27 Jan.
About the prisoners we have in our camp -- some are officers, yet ALL are deserters. They said they wanted food and shelter and warmth. They all braved the minefields and came across the border to Saudi Arabia. . . . It is strange to be living through this and not reading it in the news or seeing it on TV. This seems like something I should be taught in school, not something I should be experiencing. . . . War is something I only need to read about. Experiencing it is not a prerequisite for life -- at least not the last time I checked. I think of the families a lot and what they must be going through. I know I am surviving this. . . . but every day for the families must be living hell.
20.42 hrs. 01 Feb.
I just heard the news. Some children in Israel were being interviewed about how the bombing of Israel affected them. One of the little boys' comments p----- me off. My emotions in response to what this little boy said scare me. He said he "thought America was taking care of it." Why is the U.S. looked at as the police force for the world? That's the U.N.'s job. We are just PART of it. I'm not sure it is right for other countries' children to think America will take care of it. We still have our own nation's problems to take care of. They won't just go away because the nation is at war. They will probably get worse -- drugs, housing, AIDS, S&Ls;, budget -- these things don't go away. I just find it amazing that that little boy thinks America is taking care of it. Yeah, I'm doing my part -- I'm trying. I signed all the papers and said I would and here I am, but because of that my family is suffering. Will my family see the result of my . . . effort in the Middle East? . . . I feel my ideas about world politics change in my head. Maybe this is experience in the happening.
Spc. T. Ann McElroy, 23, of Kensington, is a member of the 290th Military Police Company, a Towson-based unit of the Maryland National Guard with responsibility for guarding enemy POWs in Saudi Arabia.
She has been keeping a diary of her experiences there at the request of The Baltimore Sun. Her latest excerpts encompass the period leading up to the start of the air war, but before the ground phase of Operation Desert Storm began on Feb. 23.