Final thoughts from Kuwait

FARWANIYA, Kuwait — They wear one-piece jump suits, often open to expose bare chests. The fair-skinned ones are sunburned; those with darker complexions are tan. The red or yellow uniforms have large, round patches on the back that read "Boots and Coots: International Well Control."

It's 6:30 p.m. and all of these men look tired, dusty and a bit out of place in the opulent lobby of the Crowne Plaza hotel here, where music from the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" often plays.

Fighting oil well fires in Iraq is draining work, even without the unwanted rise in temperature with each passing day. And tomorrow will bring more of the same heat — from the blazes they're fighting and the persistent glare of the sun.

That is just one of the images that I'll remember from the past 10 days I've spent here reporting on Operation Iraqi Freedom.

I'll never forget my trips to Camp Doha to report on the Defense Message System — and where I also got too close for comfort with some Patriot missiles. And I have an abundance of memories and notes from Camp Arifjan, where Army officials and contractors briefed me on an assortment of logistics and communications systems.

But the everyday life here is what will stay with me the longest.

My constant companion was my backpack — loaded with a gas mask, my identification papers, Kuwaiti and U.S. money, a digital camera, notebooks and pens, bottled water, my cellular phone, as well as some backup supplies kept in a Ziploc bag, including baby wipes, swimming goggles and a travel-size deodorant.

The baby wipes were to clean off sand and dust or, God forbid, chemical agents. The goggles were in case I needed to write or travel in a sandstorm. And in case I got stuck somewhere longer than expected, the deodorant was for...well, you know what that's for.

Thankfully, I never had to use any of those backup supplies. But I did have to wear my gas mask, once. I needed my ID to get on and off the bases and enter my own hotel. The pens, notebooks and digital camera got quite a workout, as did my wallet. And I drank bottled water almost exclusively since I've been here. (Remember: No alcohol in Kuwait, and "near beer" just doesn't cut it.)

Last night, I ventured out to downtown Kuwait with "Col. Bob" and Tanja Krone, a German citizen who has been working here at the hotel since last July. They served as my tour guides, showed me the sights and helped me barter for a few souvenirs.

We ate dinner at an outdoor cafe on the shores of the Persian Gulf. The restaurant's management changed the Arabic music to American selections as soon as we sat down — something that Col. Bob and Tanja told me happens frequently when Westerners are in town. But the American music was from another time: Lionel Richie's greatest hits is the best way I can describe it.

From that brief excursion, I learned that the two towers you see in the background on television when anchors are reporting from Kuwait City are aptly named the Kuwait Towers. The smaller one is a functioning water tower, and the taller structure houses an observation deck and a restaurant.

It was the most relaxed I had felt here, even though most of the dim lighting was provided by blue-and-white flashes from the tops of squad cars at a police checkpoint on a nearby street.

My final purchase was a traditional red-and-white Kuwaiti winter headdress (technically, it is still winter here). In a few weeks, when the summer heat really takes hold, everyone will be wearing all white, but I thought the red was appropriate. It's a native garment, full of color and significance that perfectly captures how I will remember this tranquil place at this most dangerous time.


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