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True Story from a Gulf War Vet

By Vance Riley

This is a funny story that takes place in the deserts of Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield / Storm. The time was early February or late January 1991. I was serving with a M1A1 tank company ( Bco 1 – 8 Cav 1st Cav) about 5 miles south of the Iraqi border, in what was considered the old " Neutral Zone" in the tri – border region.

I arrived in Saudi in late September of 1990. The threat war was on the minds of all Americans as well as the rest of the world. However, war was mostly on the minds of the soldiers and their families.

There were few pleasures at that time. The weather was horrible the food was awful (mostly rations) not mention being far away from your family. One of the few pleasures we did have was receiving mail. I was very fortunate when it came to mail. I easily received more than 1 letter a day when we got mail. I received letters from family, friends and complete strangers. I also received a couple of care packages a week.

Mail always put me in a good mood. Conversely, my crewmembers for whatever reason rarely received any type of mail or packages. I always felt bad for them and I know it affected their morale.

Soldiers on a tank crew over a period of time become very close, so you never like to see your teammates feeling bad especially over mail. As a good Riley, I always shared my fortunes with my crew. In fact, every third day or so the whole platoon would meet, and the guys who received packages from home would share them with the rest of the platoon. It was a potluck on a tank that featured canned goods of all types, smoked oysters, clams, sardines and any other food that would keep you could send by mail. One of the favorites was my mother’s, Billie Jo Riley, preserves. They always went quick.

Many times my crew wanted to know what was going on back home from my letters. I would share news that was sent to me from home regardless of how big or small. On occasion, I would even read aloud from letters I received from home.

One letter in particular stands out. My parents were always sending letters filled with optimism. Billie Jo Riley wrote in one letter " maybe you’ll run into your Cousin Kevin Riley he’s over there you know wouldn’t that be something". When reading this letter, I thought to myself "ha" if she only knew where I was right now. Amused, I read that part of the letter aloud to my crewmembers, which drew a chuckle from them. That notion started a conversation about how Mothers can think and say the craziest things.

We were, at that time in the absolute middle of nowhere. The only people around me were the 1st Cav soldiers and some Bedouins. Kevin Riley was from a unit in Germany. He had not been in – country that long. Saudi Arabia is a vast empty land. The possibility we would just so happen to run into each other was comical. Besides, we were in the process of moving from South of Riyadh Saudi Arabia to the Iraqi border for the Air War was about to begin.

We had moved approximately 300mi from the time I read that letter. Over the next 20 – 30 days my unit was preparing for the ground attack. Nightly we watched in the distance as our aircraft bombed the heck out of the Iraqi Army. On one particular day, I had to go back to our Division rear area about 10 miles away for a work detail. I was gone all day. On my return I was dropped off at our Company TOC Area (Company command post) this was about a ¼ mile from my tank’s location. You have to walk this distance we don’t have curb service in the Cavalry. When I hit the ground, my supply Sergeant told me I had a visitor at my tank. I said, " what do you mean a visitor" he said, " I don’t know Sgt. Bennett radioed and said you had a visitor." I was thoroughly baffled about this. How would I have a visitor on the damn Iraqi border?

As I made the ¼ mile trek to my tank, I did notice a wheeled vehicle parked next to my tank, which was odd. I racked my brain thinking who could it be. The only logical explanation I could surmise was that something bad had happened to a loved one back home and someone was dispatched to tell me some bad news. I moved out in double time towards my tank I was very worried. As I approached my tank, I saw a couple of troops climbing in and on my tank. As I got closer to my tank, I make out a shock of red hair atop a lean mean fighting machine wearing a nametag that of Riley.

Wouldn’t you know it……..it was Sergeant First Class Kevin Riley!!

Well, I was in shock. How in hell did he wind up here? After a hug and a how ya been for my 1st cousin, he explained how he located me. Kevin, you see was on a "need to know basis" to know where all troops and equipment were in theater. So, after some research, he was able to locate me.

After a brief conversation with Kevin I thought of my "Ma’s" letter, and the comical notion that I might run into my cousin. I reminded my crew and Kevin of the letter and we all got a big laugh out of that.

How two 1st cousins could run into each other given those circumstances is truly remarkable. It also goes to show you how powerful a Mother’s intuition can be. The Army was so happy about the reunion that they even bought us dinner. Kevin and I caught up on things over a nice moon lit Army ration dinner right there on the glamorous border of Iraq ……the moon light was literally the only light we had.

It was about a week later when my platoon and another platoon of tanks from my battalion led the 1st successful ground "raid", (some 2 weeks before the official start of the ground war) onto Iraq. It was good to see a Riley right before going in….. and that’s all I got to say about that.

Copyright©2001 Vance Riley