Reality of war, up close and personal

CAMP DOHA, Kuwait — Even though I've only been in Kuwait a few days, I felt I had already become slightly desensitized to many of the constant reminders of war. Seeing military personnel in uniform, going through police checkpoints on the roads and when entering hotels, and even the occasional air siren are all part of my daily routine.

But upon my visit to Camp Doha this afternoon, it took less than 10 minutes for my heart to skip a few beats and for my gas mask to be donned for the first time.

While I waited with retired Air Force Master Sgt. Arthur Edgeson in a car in a small sandy parking lot just outside the camp's entrance, two Patriot missiles launched from what felt like the trunk of the vehicle. The noise and vibrations from the first missile startled me and the second one scared me.

But within seconds, two loud "poofs" were heard in the distance, signifying successful interceptions and eliciting a "yee-ha" from one of the soldiers standing nearby.

Just as I started to calm down, Edgeson said, "You better put on your mask just in case."

So we sat there in his small, rented Peugeot as he told me about how sandstorms affect information technology equipment and how the Army is using the Defense Message System (DMS) to support wartime communications. To say it was a surreal 10 minutes would be the understatement of my young life.

"The Patriots have really come a long way," said Edgeson, who retired from active duty in August 2001 after 23 years of service. "In the Gulf War, they weren't that good."

Edgeson has an extensive background in air combat, weapons and electronics and is now a senior systems engineer for the Fort Detrick, Md., offices of Data Systems Analysts Inc. He also serves as the Army DMS Program Management Office representative from Fort Belvoir, Va., at Camp Doha.

I wasn't that scared after I knew the Patriots had done their job, but wearing that mask for the first time — for real — was about as much excitement as I could stand for the day.

Within a half-hour, we were in the "DMS shelter," which houses three servers and resembles the office of a small IT start-up company — one tailored to a war in the desert: About six desks with computers and multiple phone lines are spread out amid crates of bottled water in a large office area. Deadlines and notes are posted on dry erase boards, including the phone numbers for McDonald's, Burger King and other fast food restaurants on the base. CNN blares on the television. A door leads to a smaller office for the chief, who has his own desk and equipment.

Just then on CNN, a reporter noted that one Iraqi missile had been successfully destroyed by a Patriot missile. Edgeson and the other DMS contractors from ITT Industries Inc. all laughed at the screen.

At least they got it half right.

Edgeson told me that there were Patriot launch sites all over the base and that once an incoming missile is identified, the closest Patriots automatically launch to intercept it.

If I haven't said it before, thank goodness for technology!

A Final Word

No photos are allowed within Camp Doha, which is why I couldn't share images of the DMS shelter, the Patriots' jet streams, or any of the numerous combat vehicles and soldiers from assorted nations that I encountered during my visit.

But at right is Arthur Edgeson working at a computer back at the Crowne Plaza Kuwait. I want to thank him for serving as my escort to the camp, providing a great interview and serving as a much-needed calming influence.

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