I have mentioned in previous blog posts that I served in the military, finishing with a fine tour of the Mideast during Desert Storm. I have a few stories of my time there and decided to share this one. As some of you know, the wildlife of Saudi Arabia seemed to always want to kill people. Yes, that’s an exaggeration…only 90% really wanted us dead.
While there, I obviously saw a lot of camels and goats, but this post is about the wildlife. Animals such as snakes, insects, spiders, lizards, and a really cute gerbil I made friends with. We’ll start with the gerbil.
One of the first things we did when we arrived at our base…oh, who am I kidding…when we arrived at our assigned patch of flat dirt was to dig fighting positions, or foxholes for all you movie buffs. We dug and dug then fortified the positions with sandbags. It was like my third morning there when I went into my hole and saw another hole about 2 inches in diameter along the back wall. My buddy was sure it was a snake hole, but I wasn’t so sure about that so I dug in a little shelf in front of the little hole and put a dab of peanut butter on a cracker. The next day, it was gone so I repeated the same routine for about three mornings and was rewarded with a pair of whiskers on the fourth morning. After about a week, I could get the gerbil to eat from my hand. That was cool.
Snakes were another creature in abundance. It was just safer to assume they were all poisonous and I believe every snake I saw was. The most common snake I saw was what we called a sand viper. I believe the correct name is Carpet Viper, but when you see a bunch of these, does it really matter? They were small, aggressive, and apparently, mean. They pretty much attacked anything and everything. We saw about a dozen young vipers going crazy attacking a truck tire once. The best attack we saw, however, was when one was chasing one of our “loved” supply guys. This guy being chased was a particular favorite of ours and about 30 pounds overweight. I remember that he always found a way out of company runs before we landed in the desert because of one ailment or another. Turned out he ran pretty fast…or at least he did that day. He was hauling butt with that snake right behind him. It wasn’t until a country boy in my platoon jumped up and chased the snake down with his knife that it finished well for the supply guy.
Another time I ran into a King Cobra. It reared up and was at eye level about ten feet away. I opted for the other direction.
Scorpions were plentiful and we lived by the rule that the smaller they were, the worse they were. Every morning we shook them out of our boots and watched them scurry away. Some guys caught them and would hold scorpion fights later.
Camel Spiders were another strange creature we dealt with. Even though they technically are not spiders, do you really care when they grow up to a foot in length and bite? I know I didn’t…
I shared a tent with the Platoon Leader and we got along pretty well. He was a fresh Warrant Officer (so yes, we called him “spot”) but had previously been a Staff Sergeant so he was pretty much one of us until he couldn’t be, like during inspections and when he had to pass along unpopular orders. We were sound asleep one night, or as sound asleep as you could get while remaining hypervigilant when we heard a loud clicking sound. We were both awake in an instant. Any combat veteran will tell you, clicking sounds make you plenty aware…
SPOT: Sergeant Dazeodrew, you awake?
ME: Yes sir.
SPOT: You hear that?
ME: Yes sir.
SPOT: Is it you?
ME: No sir. (The clicking sounds continued so I pulled out my flashlight and turned it on).
ME: Good God!
My light was shining on the biggest beetle I had ever seen! It was easily bigger than my fist and so heavy that the clicking sounds were its feet on the plywood flooring! Click click click click!
SPOT: You gonna kill it?
ME: With what?
SPOT: I dunno, your boot or something?
ME: You ever squish a beetle before?
SPOT: Yeah, I…oh, I see what you mean.
Anybody who ever squished a beetle knows the mess they make. All puss-like gunk. If you squish a stink beetle, it’s worse because it also comes with an aroma. What if this was a gigantic stink beetle? I know I wasn’t getting that on my boot! Besides, it was hard enough to keep anything clean in that giant ashtray!
SPOT: Maybe you could just shoo it out of the tent?
ME: Is that an order, sir?
SPOT: Um, no.
ME: Good, because up until now we’ve gotten along pretty well. Besides, beetles can usually fly.
SPOT: Yeah, we sure don’t want that thing flying around the tent…someone’s liable to get a concussion if it hits us in the head. What do you think that thing eats? Goats?
ME: Probably crap. There’s enough things that crap around here.
ME: Yeah, but now I’m a fan. The more crap that beetle eats, the fewer flies we’ll have.
Of course, that was wishful thinking. I have never seen as many flies as I did when I was over there. One would think there would be fewer flies in the desert because of fewer living things, but you’d be wrong. Plenty of things die in the desert and the flies have a regular smorgasbord all day and all night long. I’m pretty sure our arrival doubled those numbers.
Possible moral to this story? Next time you freak out over that little spider or beetle crawling around your house…it could be worse…much worse.