We were later taken to Quantico Marine Corps Base to learn how to fire various types of small weapons that we might encounter on the ground in Kuwait for our personal security. I still have a scar on my right hand from improper use of a Magnum 44 during the training: It is my only “battle” wound, but I am proud of it. Base officials looked on our group with genuine concern and compassion. At the base, Um Salah, MP Dr. Rola Dashti’s mother, fired her machine gun on rapid fire next to me (she had one son in Kuwait with the Resistance and another son who went with the US forces as a volunteer and wanted to be prepared to assist if she could). Balkhees, a small woman who was the daughter of a Kuwaiti Brigadier General, walked over to the biggest, meanest marine she could find and asked him to teach her how to fight. Twenty years later, I still remember that tiny 19 year old woman and the raw determination on her face. All the Kuwaiti women I knew at the time were adamant to help in any way that they could. Several faced opposition from their families, but they continued regardless.
In 1991, at the McLean Hilton in Virginia, Kuwaiti students from around the US gathered to volunteer as interpreters with the US forces headed for Kuwait. I was the only American to go with my group of female friends. The students walked away from their lifestyles and their educations in the States and boarded busses headed to Fort Dix in New Jersey for basic training.
After it all, I was not allowed to go because, as an American, I would have been a liability to the group. I would have to join the military for at least 4 years and probably never get to Kuwait . I said goodbye and watched what happened in the news. I prayed for all.
Cindus Al-Sarraf was pictured on the front page of a newspaper shortly thereafter. Another slight woman, holding a grenade in her hand and running around a barricade; she was the face of Kuwaitis (especially the women) who went to fight for their country. I later asked Lail Dehrab what the most difficult part of the basic training was, “The gas tent. They made us take off our gas masks and breathe to get used to it and to know what it was like. It was awful. Everybody got sick,” she said with a giggle.
It is a little-known fact that twenty five Kuwaiti women volunteered as interpreters with the US Forces. Like their Kuwaiti brothers, they were all bestowed with the honorary rank of “Sergeant” by the Kuwaiti military during their service. Most of these women are now mothers and wives (some still hold onto their dog tags and combat boots). Seeing them now, you would never imagine (with their manicured nails and tidy hairstyles) what their lives were like during the occupation or what they did for Kuwait. I still find it hard to believe, but it was a different time and a different country.
As we sit today and have lunch or talk about recent events in Kuwait, all of us who remember (men and women alike) have a hard time believing how much has changed since then and what we have all lived through. I sometimes look at Kuwaiti students now and wonder what they would do for their country…. but I already know the answer: You do what you have to do. You go on and you hope that someday you have a chance to thank others who have worked or fought by your side.
…And, twenty years later, you might be able to write an article and remind a few people of what you remember from those days.