Another stint in Kuwait

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 20, 2005

As Kathleen McAllister-Morgan and the rest of her colleagues watched &uot;Survivor&uot; on laptop computers in Kuwait over the past few months, it was hard to keep from laughing.

&uot;They bellyached about being (in Palau in the South Pacific) for 39 days,&uot; she said. &uot;We’d been in Kuwait for almost a year! They complained about the food and the bugs. Our food was terrible, and we had giant scorpions running around.&uot;

Since November, that was one of the few amusements for the Navy lieutenant commander and the rest stationed at Camp Buering, less than 10 miles from the border of Iraq. Beginning Wednesday, it will be again for another seven months.

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An emergency planner for the Western Tidewater Health District and 15-year veteran of the Navy, Morgan was on her way home from a drill weekend at Little Creek Naval Base in Virginia Beach just before Halloween when her cell phone rang. Surprisingly, it wasn’t her husband, K.E.

&uot;(K.E.) is the only one who has that number,&uot; she said. &uot;It was the chief from the reserve center (at Little Creek), and he told me I needed to come back. I asked why, and he said he didn’t want to tell me while I was driving.&uot;

She found that she’d be heading overseas-in less than two weeks. She’d be spending Thanksgiving, her 19th wedding anniversary, Christmas and New Year’s far away from home.

After a few weeks at Gulf Port, Miss., Morgan landed at Camp Arifjan. At 3 a.m. in freezing rain, she and the others went into a small warehouse and slept on bare mattresses in sleeping bags caked with sand. They went through indoctrination, and eventually moved to Buering. Not that this was much of an improvement; the showers were a mile’s walk away, and there was no guarantee that there would be hot water, or any hydration at all. At night, everyone slept on cots, hoping they wouldn’t wake up face-to-face with camel spiders. Days would be spent running or driving Humvees across sand in 100+-degree heat, which Morgan compared to &uot;putting a blow dryer in front of my face and having it blow hot air and sand.&uot;

Still, she and her team had a job to do; they’d be in charge of all of Kuwait’s preventive medicine.

&uot;We told the soldiers what to expect, disease-wise,&uot; she said. &uot;We tested the water for contamination.&uot;

With as many as 20,000 soldiers at a time, Morgan and her team dealt with snake attacks, food poisoning, malaria, heart attacks, even chicken pox. Just before her term ended, an outbreak of pneumonia sickened more than 800 soldiers.

&uot;We kept them from eating in the dining halls, going to the gym, everything,&uot; she said. &uot;They were due to go to Iraq, and we got them well. When people went to Iraq, they were in good shape, wearing new boots. When they came back, they were dirty and thin. At night, we could hear the bombing.&uot;

Sometimes she needed help of her own.

&uot;I was deathly ill three times,&uot; she said. &uot;I had respiratory trouble, fever, chills, coughing, everything. I’d never been so sick, and there was nothing I could do. &uot;

An avid runner and common sight at the Suffolk YMCA, Morgan also suffered a torn ACL.

&uot;All in all, people’s attitudes were pretty good,&uot; she said. &uot;When you’re all in the same situation, I think it’s easier. We laughed a lot; we used to joke that we were like ‘MASH’ in the desert instead of Korea.

&uot;I hope that because I went, someone with a small child didn’t have to,&uot; said Morgan, who doesn’t have any children. &uot;There were people there with broken hearts because they were missing their children’s first words, first steps, graduation, and all the big things in life that only happen once. I was missing a lot, but they were missing a lot more.&uot;

In late April, she heard that she’d get a far-too-short chance to return to Suffolk, K.E. and her Burnt Mills home in Windsor. When she landed at an airport in Atlanta in early May, she saw an unfamiliar, but welcome sight.

&uot;I had not seen a child since November,&uot; she said. &uot;It was so neat to see them running around. I’d missed seeing kids. They’re so refreshing, so innocent. They didn’t know about the war.&uot;

Over the next few weeks, Morgan visited her friends at the

YMCA, her co-workers at the Health Department, the Special Olympics swim team she helps coach, and other pals.

&uot;It felt so good to sleep in my own bed,&uot; she said, &uot;and to have enough hot water to take a shower.&uot;

But it didn’t last; by Thursday evening, she’ll be back in Kuwait. If all goes as planned, she’ll be home just before Christmas.

&uot;I don’t think it’s a good idea,&uot; she said of America’s involvement in the war in Iraq.

&uot;I think it’s time to come home, not just for me, but for everyone. They keep saying that this is a war on terrorism, but I think we could fight it here with our resources. I have ample confidence in our younger generation that they’ll have ways to solve the energy crisis. We’ll have to find cars with better gas mileage and we might have to ride bicycles.

&uot;I think the war is different that what is reported here,&uot; she said. &uot;I think the news makes it sound better than it is.

&uot;If people here could talk to the people there and see what they and their children are going through, I think they’d feel a whole lot differently.&uot;