DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
WASHINGTON, D. C.
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
Oral History Interview
DSIT AE 107
CPT Theresa O. Cantrell
Accountable Property Officer
32d Medical Supply, Optical and Maintenance Battalion
Interview Conducted June 1991 in Building AT-3058, Fort Bragg, North Carolina
Interviewer: MAJ Robert B. Honec, III (116th Military History Detachment)
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
7 August 1990 - 15 May 1991
Oral History Interview DSIT AE 107
MAJ HONEC: This is a DESERT SHIELD/DESERT STORM interview. My name is MAJ Robert B. Honec of the 116th Military History Detachment. We are here today at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at Building AT-3058, talking about women in the military, women in combat, with CPT Cantrell of the 32d MEDSOM.1 For the record please would you again state your name, social security number, unit, unit of assignment, and how long you've been there?
CPT CANTRELL: Okay. I'm CPT Theresa O. Cantrell. Social Security number is ***-**-****. I am assigned to the 32d MEDSOM. I have been the accountable officer there for almost 2 years now.
MAJ HONEC: Great. Okay, starting with a little warm-up, when you activated, how did that effect you as a working mother, and how did it effect your family?
CPT CANTRELL: It scared us all, basically. The kids' reaction was pretty much one of, you know, 'what is going on' because my husband was also active duty at the time. And so my youngest one of course wasn't old enough to understand it.
MAJ HONEC: How old?
CPT CANTRELL: He is ... he was four at the time. And then my other--older--son that was nine at the time was able to understand it and his main reaction was, 'no, you don't have to go,' 'no, don't leave me,' and 'I'm afraid something is going to happen to you.' Which were all very realistic fears.
Working hours became extended. We were trying to ... basically in my position, we were trying to supply every single unit getting out of here with what they needed to take with them. And many of the units don't keep the type of supplies on-hand that were required just to survive in the desert. It is not an average supply unit or the supply room does not carry sun screen. It doesn't have ... it has the field sanitation ... basically the field sanitation items, but even there, they don't necessarily have what they would expect to use over a thirty day period. And they weren't sure exactly what the situation was going to be as far as soon they would be able to resupply any of that ... any of those field sanitation items became a matter of possible life and death. And so, we had a very high demand on all of those items, trying to get them in and back out fast enough.
The combat lifesaver bags, the units have been just slowly starting to get people trained and getting picked up on that, and a lot of them did have the equipment yet for the soldiers who had been trained. Or hadn't even had the training. And those were extremely hot items. We couldn't get enough of them in. We had actually done a depot build on those items right here at Fort Bragg.
MAJ HONEC: You had established the ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: It was something we had done prior and we were just preparing to ship them out to some of the other installations. We had actually done the build in the MEDSOM and so we had a large supply of them on hand fortunately.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. So give me some ... what were your hours like?
CPT CANTRELL: It is a different lifetime, it is hard to remember back that far.
MAJ HONEC: This was August?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: And you left the country ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: I left the country in September.
MAJ HONEC: In the middle?
CPT CANTRELL: Right in the middle, September 17th.
MAJ HONEC: So in the meantime, you knew that eventually you would have to go?
CPT CANTRELL: Oh, yes, absolutely.
MAJ HONEC: So you set about preparing your family for that eventuality. What did you do with your children during this period?
CPT CANTRELL: Well, we were extremely fortunate, as compared to a lot of families. With both of us in military, they basically considered us single parents and so we are required to have to family care plans. But nobody ever expected to have to use [them]. And fortunately, in some ways we didn't need to use ours in that we didn't need to jump on a plane the next day and have to leave everything for somebody else to take care of. We were able to make the longer term arrangements ourselves. My mother-in-law has been retired for a number of years and my husband has a 17 year old step-son who was 16 then, everything has changed, and ...
MAJ HONEC: What does your husband do?
CPT CANTRELL: My husband is a Sergeant First Class. He is the NCOIC of the maintenance section of supply in the 2d Medical ... or not Medical--Materiel Maintenance ...
MAJ HONEC: The 2d MMC.2
CPT CANTRELL: Right.
MAJ HONEC: So you had ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: So my mother-in-law moved up with us and my step-son ... he has just started in the Southeast Senior High School, and agreed to move into our house with my mother-in-law and two boys, in order to give her a hand. She is in her mid-60s and wasn't able physically to be able to keep up with two young boys. But between the two of them, things should be all right.
MAJ HONEC: You are lucky.
CPT CANTRELL: Extremely lucky that they were both able to move and take on that job, that burden, for us because the additional trauma of having to move away from home and friends and everything that was familiar to them and in a place where they could expect us to come back to, would have been horrendous and made it all that much more difficult for them to cope, no matter how familiar the place that they might have gone to. You know, had I sent them to my sister or somewhere else, even though that was family, it wasn't their home and it wasn't their parents and everything else. By staying in their home, they still had that to cling to.
MAJ HONEC: Excellent. Okay, was that, did you find that that is ... in all the cases that you know of, obviously you know people, there are a number of ways to work that. Is that by far the best way to do it, with the family care situation in your case?
CPT CANTRELL: For us it was, but it is kind of rare I think for ...
MAJ HONEC: For single parents to have that kind ...
CPT CANTRELL: That ability to have somebody else that is willing to move into their home and take it over is extremely rare. I don't know of anybody else that was fortunate enough to have that happen.
MAJ HONEC: Okay.
CPT CANTRELL: The other single parents and such in the unit, that I know what their care plans were, all of them had to send their children off to either friend or other family, so the children lost their home as well as their parents.
MAJ HONEC: When you went over, how much did you take? A rucksack and a duffel ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: A rucksack and a duffel bag.
MAJ HONEC: A duffel bag, okay. You flew how?
CPT CANTRELL: We flew on a 747. I was in a very small group out of my unit that went, there were only five of us.
MAJ HONEC: You were the advance party?
CPT CANTRELL: No, I was sort of in-between, not being in the advance party because of the requirements for me to close the accounts here, ship out what I could, continue to issue to the units as they were moving out. And at the same time, transfer what we were leaving behind and that responsibility of those supplies, so that they could still be used. We transferred all of it over to Womack Army Hospital.3
MAJ HONEC: Was the transition smooth?
CPT CANTRELL: Basically very smooth. We work with them on a daily basis and we had very good relations with the hospital, and ...
MAJ HONEC: That is important?
CPT CANTRELL: Extremely important. They bent over backwards to do anything they could to help us. We did our best to try to stay open, basically, and maintain a customer relationship that we had in order to keep it as easy as possible for them. Because there are so many units on post that do not come through us, the special forces ... not the Special Forces, but the JSOC4 units, go directly to the hospital. All of them were accommodated. They were experiencing increased problems and increased demands on their own. By staying with them and continuing to carry out customer load as long as possible helped them out as well. So we were scratching each other's back and taking care of each other. By turning our supplies over to them, we maintain a stock level of certain types of items and such that they did not normally carry, and they were able to fall back and pull from our supplies as well, once we transferred it over to them, such as the lifesaver bags that I mentioned earlier. That is something that they would not stock, that we had available. And as the Reserve units came through then they fell back on our stocks and started to draw those types of items out and issue them.
MAJ HONEC: So in sum, you would say that the transition of at least the MEDSOM side, unplugging from the post to go to Saudi Arabia was fairly smooth, didn't have any ripples or any significant events ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: No.
MAJ HONEC: ... or problems? Good. Your typical work day, you land at Dhahran International Airport5?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: And you set up first across ... in that warehouse across from Peace Park.
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. When you were dealing with the Saudis in that, what issues, as a woman ... what issues were you faced with them? How did they treat you? Obviously MEDSOM is how much, how many percentage female?
CPT CANTRELL: Oh, I think we are probably about ... overall 30 percent.
MAJ HONEC: 30 percent. That is quite a ...
CPT CANTRELL: That is close.
MAJ HONEC: That is fine. That is a large number of women working in the MEDSOM.
CPT CANTRELL: It is common to the medical field to find that though.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. And what were the issues you faced when you landed? [LAUGHTER] Were you briefed in Saudi customs?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes, thoroughly. The medical brigade was highly conscious ...
MAJ HONEC: Were you over there before you got it?
CPT CANTRELL: We received briefings over here before we went. As a matter, all of the women in the [44th Medical] Brigade were required to attend briefings, having the advantage of having the JFK Center6 here, they had ... I don't know if they had any others, but they had at least one female Middle East analyst ...
MAJ HONEC: Good.
CPT CANTRELL: ... assigned there. And she came over and basically all of the women at one point, for about three or four hours, discussing what to expect in customs and habits and how to handle it and how to deal with it, and the best way to react to it. She had lived there for several years. And she also advised and was asked to attend all of the command and staff meetings that they had before we left and gave the same types of advice and answered questions for all of the commanders and such in the brigade as well.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. I am also interested to find out what it is that they covered, in general terms.
CPT CANTRELL: In general terms, a lot of it was trying to cover the Saudi attitude towards women, why it is, where it is at, how to face it and how to deal with it and some of the ... . We also had a gynecologist from the hospital come over and speak with us about what the effects of living in the desert environment might cause and how we could cope with that or alleviate any problems that might occur. So it was kind of split between the two of them.
MAJ HONEC: Sounds like a lot of good things, a lot of good resources in ...
CPT CANTRELL: It was excellent resources.
MAJ HONEC: To prepare you for that environment.
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: Did it track when you got over there? [LAUGHTER]
CPT CANTRELL: Yes, just about everything that she predicted we either ran across ourselves or spoke with others, second-hand information. Yeah, everything she predicted we heard about happening.
MAJ HONEC: Now what, for instance?
CPT CANTRELL: Well, for instance, the attitude in that the Saudi men would not deal with the women in many cases if they could avoid it.
MAJ HONEC: Was it all across the board or just senior officials or junior officials?
CPT CANTRELL: Junior officials aren't Saudis people. They are Lebanese or whatever.
MAJ HONEC: Good point.
CPT CANTRELL: And those ... the other nationals were usually quite happy to deal with us. And most of the vendors who were most of the local nationals that I actually had any contact with ...
MAJ HONEC: I guess we would call them expatriates as opposed to Saudis ... third country ...
CPT CANTRELL: Third country nationals, and even the third country nationals had two different levels. The Bangladeshis were ...
MAJ HONEC: The Bangladeshis were hired help ... they were expatriates. They weren't the landowners. They were owners of business, most often they worked with them.
CPT CANTRELL: They were generally the laborers, hired labor, generally unskilled.
MAJ HONEC: They treated you indifferently, no?
CPT CANTRELL: For the most part, yes. We weren't there to them. And there were a few incidents. We had one incident when we were first moving into one of the warehouses where the workers actually tried to push one of our women around.
MAJ HONEC: Oh, really?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: Why? And was he a Saudi?
CPT CANTRELL: No. He was on the third country nationals, the laborers in the warehouse, and there was no reason that we could see other than she was a woman. She was not standing in the way. He just shoved her. And she reacted correctly in that she just ignored the incident, went and told her NCO, and the NCO talked to the supervisor there. They handled it within their channels, because this was right as we were moving in, we couldn't afford to have any problems at that point. So they took care of it appropriately.
MAJ HONEC: Okay, and I think we should bring up that this is the warehouse across from Peace Park?
CPT CANTRELL: No, this is after that ...
MAJ HONEC: This is the next move?
CPT CANTRELL: This is the catering company ...
MAJ HONEC: The Saudi catering company warehouse, okay.
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: Why did you ... the warehouse, the original, first place you moved into ... what ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: That was actually before I got there, and so all I have is second-hand information on that. But we disturbed them in many ways. We carried weapons. We had women wearing tee-shirts.
MAJ HONEC: But that is fine to mention, I think, because ...
CPT CANTRELL: There were multiple causes to that that I have been given, and so we moved out of there. And traffic also being one of them.
MAJ HONEC: Traffic, a large number of trucks having to come from ...
CPT CANTRELL: Having a lot of trucks. It was a main road through the city, and in that ... they were probably right, that the organization that we grew to become and the requirements that we had for transportation, it probably could have created an extremely large traffic problem for them in that area.
MAJ HONEC: I want to mention, at this time, am I correct, that you had a theater medical logistic support ...
CPT CANTRELL: At that point we were on the only MEDSOM in theater. And so we moved again and we got to the port. And very little contact with the locals there and no problems with the few that we did.
MAJ HONEC: Did the women, there were women truck drivers?
CPT CANTRELL: Lots of women truck drivers over there.
MAJ HONEC: Did they have an Army uniform on or did they have to wear scarves over their heads or roll their sleeves down?
CPT CANTRELL: When I got there, I was told to wear my sleeves down. I was ...
MAJ HONEC: By whom?
CPT CANTRELL: By COL Graham.
MAJ HONEC: But it was based on a briefing, some policy was put out by 44th Medical Brigade?
CPT CANTRELL: We were told the policy was XVIII [Airborne] Corps.
MAJ HONEC: XVIII Corps. Okay. You had to roll your sleeves down.
CPT CANTRELL: Women had to keep their elbows covered.
MAJ HONEC: Elbows covered.
CPT CANTRELL: You had to keep your shirt on. It was ... when I got there the average daytime temperature was running between 110 and 120. And Saudi Arabia may be a desert country, but Dhahran is on the water, on the Persian Gulf, and it was humid.
MAJ HONEC: It was humid, hot.
CPT CANTRELL: So a couple of days after I got there, I had worked--done a twenty-four hour shift and gone back to the tent during the day to get some sleep. Laid down in a simple tee-shirt and shorts and got up about thirty minutes later because my sleeping bag was too wet to sleep on. I took off my shirt and wrung it out. That was the type of atmosphere we were in. And that we had to keep our outer shirt on (which was made out of a winter weight material) with the sleeves rolled down ...
MAJ HONEC: These are DCUs,7 or ...
CPT CANTRELL: The DCUs that we received were the winter weight, there were no summer weight available.
MAJ HONEC: It was the heavy DCUs?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: And the men weren't required ...
CPT CANTRELL: No, they were not. It was bad enough having to do that, but it was worse to watch everybody else not have to do it. We went back to the old two-party system there, which wasn't any fun.
MAJ HONEC: Did this continue until when?
CPT CANTRELL: Basically it sort of died out. It just died a natural death. People started ignoring it and nobody stopped us, stopped them from doing that. Our contact for the most part with the locals was limited. We were not allowed to go into the towns at any time.
MAJ HONEC: Yes, I think that is important to mention, is that you had your own little installations. But then again, wasn't it at this time that you were also traveling like thirty-minute drives by bus to change shifts?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes. Our campsite was actually about thirty or forty-five minutes away from where we were working and so we were driving back and forth. An interesting thing was we got ... let's see, I guess it was back sometime early October, that the corps or somebody at COSCOM,8 I am not sure who, completed a contract for some civilian buses to do the transport. And they came with drivers. And we had to post an NCO, a male NCO, on every bus in order to tell the driver where to go. And it had to be male because the drivers would accept instructions from the women.
MAJ HONEC: Interesting.
CPT CANTRELL: And this is the case, even though the drivers were not Saudis. The drivers were generally third country nationals. And he could not have women giving him directions. It was against the contract we were told. I don't know that that was actually written.
MAJ HONEC: That is fine. Your observation is important in this.
CPT CANTRELL: It was something. There were rental cars everywhere and many of the units, we hadn't received our vehicles yet and that rental car was the only way to get around unless you had access to that bus. But women were not allowed to drive those buses. And as a matter of fact, until just shortly before I got there, women weren't allowed to drive anything. And so you were second-class citizens. You had no mobility. And in the situation over there, mobility was crucial.
MAJ HONEC: Why? What did you need the vehicles for?
CPT CANTRELL: In my circumstances, we stayed ... at one point we were staying at a campsite out at Cement City. Cement City was nothing but one great big dust bowl. It was supposed to be a transient camp for units moving, just coming in, getting off the plane before they actually went to work. And the facilities and the hours on everything were set up that way. For instance, the women's shower time was from, I believe it was 9:00 in the morning until noon, and 7:00 in the evening until 9:00. That is real exciting. If you are there all day that is not a problem. If you are working, as all of our people were, they were just getting home about the same time that the showers ran out for women.
MAJ HONEC: Well, yeah, but I am pretty sure that some slack was cut for that?
CPT CANTRELL: There was no capability for cutting slack on that. There were three-minute showers. They had people on top of the shower stands counting the time off, getting you and in and out of there on time. By the time the women's shower hour had finished, or even before (frequently), they had thrown the women out and they would have a line of 100 men outside waiting to use them.
MAJ HONEC: Interesting.
CPT CANTRELL: Our people were working twelve hour shifts. And if they went on a shift at 7:00, they had to leave to 6:30. They couldn't get to the daytime shower hours. They would get off shift at 7:00, get back at 8:00. By the time they got their stuff and got over there at 8:30 they would have already closed it off to women because they had enough of a line that they couldn't get in, in order to meet the time to change to the men. And so they wouldn't be able to get a shower, sometimes for a couple of days.
The reason why I say I knew the deal was in my circumstances, the job I had, I didn't work a twelve hour shift. I worked what I needed to work or as much as I could stand, which ever came first, and ... or which ever came last. I would frequently work from 6:00 in the morning until sometimes midnight, 1:00 in the morning. It was rare for me to leave before 10:00 at night. But out shift changes were at 7:00 and 7:00 and without, I was frequently the only one working those types of hours, and so I had no way to leave. I worked a twenty-four hour shift simply because I couldn't leave sometimes. And even then, during that period, I had generally missed all the meal hours so I had eaten nothing but MREs because the dining facilities weren't available at those hours. And I missed all of the shower times, and so ... .
When you get to be a single person [shop], you had those kind of requirements and demands made of you, and you were expected to be able to meet them. And in order to meet them, you have to be able to get to places. If I needed to go and talk to one of the hospitals to find out what the problem was or how we could work something out, I couldn't get there. The hospitals were thirty minutes away, they were an hour away, they were two hours away. You had no communications with them, and to wait for them to be able to come in to us created more supply problems. You know, that was my job, right? Not necessarily to go and talk to them every time because as the accountable officer, most of my job involved the supplies themselves and the ordering what not. That, as the Chief of Inventory Management, a title I also held, I was responsible for customer assistance. And there were times when it should have been me talking to me, but it wasn't, because I couldn't get there.
MAJ HONEC: I understand. I think on a previous tape,9 previous interview we had that is on the tape, it is true that transportation and communications was a big issue at the very beginning at the MEDSOM. The fact that they did not supply you with the land lines you needed in order to conduct business. And the one comment that you had, wasn't it true, at the Saudi catering you had to share that phone.
CPT CANTRELL: Originally, when we first moved in, for the first several weeks, it was actually their phone that they were allowing us to use. And then when we did get our own phone, one line was ... as any of our customers will tell you, it was impossible to get hold of us because the phone was just busy twenty-four hours a day.
MAJ HONEC: Any other incidents in the deployment and coming through the field ... while you were in Dhahran or, any things that particularly effected you as a woman? How about going into ... obviously you worked a lot.
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: Did you get a chance to go in town to any of the places?
CPT CANTRELL: In fact, just before Christmas, the corps decided that it was acceptable for us to go downtown. I don't know what the policy10 was based on, but they did decide that we could take twenty-four hour passes and go downtown. Women could not ... you had to be in at least two. Nobody goes alone, the buddy system was in effect, and that is fine; however, we couldn't have two women. There had to be a male in every group. And of course, there had to be an E-711 in every group at that point also and that was a reasonable restriction as well.
We did get to go downtown. Of course, women had to wear loose fitting clothing. You had to have your elbows covered. You had to wear long sleeves. You weren't authorized to go short sleeves. Slacks or a long skirt. And we did go. The vendors of course, the store keepers, were all more than happy to see you; they did not care, which was nice. Some of the men--some of the women--had occasions when the men would follow them down the street and such. I guess we all expected that and that was something that nobody had any real problems with. We had no incidents in our unit where there was any problem with any of the local citizens trying to accost any of our women or anything like that.
MAJ HONEC: None at all?
CPT CANTRELL: Of course, the closest we came to an incident was one night, they had relaxed the rules as far as women driving rental vehicles, and therefore I had managed to get my hands on transportation that I could count on and put the keys in my pocket. [LAUGHTER] And so myself ...
MAJ HONEC: This was in December?
CPT CANTRELL: No, this was in November. This was late November. And LT Floyd and myself, she is also female ... . As I said, my hours varied greatly from everyone else's and she was the OIC12 for the shipping and receiving section and so we would frequently work the later hours in the evening because of the way we had our work patterns. And it required that she be there usually until about 10:00 or so night. And so we would oft times be driving home alone because we were the only ones left, but still needed to go home, that were not on that shift, particular shift or whatever. And so we were driving back one night. Our campsite was out at King Fahd Military City, outside of Dhahran, and we were driving back from the Saudi catering company where we were located. I was driving and we got pulled over by the police. [LAUGHTER] And I thought, I know I wasn't speeding. I know I wasn't changing lanes. I couldn't think of what I could possibly be doing wrong, why I was being pulled over. And the policeman came out and he says "no, no, you no drive."
MAJ HONEC: And he was serious?
CPT CANTRELL: He was very serious. I said, no, no, I can drive. I am in uniform. I go from work. I go to my tent, and he said, no, no, in Saudi you no drive. I said I am an American. I am in the Army. I am a captain. I have been driving for longer than you have been a policeman. And I was becoming somewhat argumentative with him. I was tired. I think it was about 3:00 in the morning, and I did not want to get into this. He said, no, no, and he put his hand on his holster and said, no, you can drive military truck only. At this point, LT Floyd leaned over and started saying, okay, okay, we no drive anymore. We have to go to home now, but we won't drive anymore, and we promise faithfully that we would not drive anymore. And he finally decided, okay, he wasn't going to take us away to jail and he let us drive away and we never drove down that road again.
MAJ HONEC: That is great. Thanks for sharing that with us, quite a story. Did the situation change when you got to King Khalid Military City?
CPT CANTRELL: We were located on the base as King Khalid Military City. There were very few civilians in the area.
MAJ HONEC: But there was still was Saudi military.
CPT CANTRELL: There was Saudi military, but there were ... there were Saudi military, there were Czechs, there were Germans--not Germans, I'm sorry--but ...
MAJ HONEC: There were multinational ...
CPT CANTRELL: Everybody from the multinational force there. Syrians and the whole nine yards. And so what we were doing was of less concern to them, I guess. The other nationals were interested in us, but on a friendly basis. And I don't know of any incidents of any of the Saudis stopping anyone or trying to restrict anything that we were doing up there. And for the most part, we did not use the installation except to go out to CHARLIE, and then that was generally done in a military vehicle anyway.
MAJ HONEC: That was a logistics base, CHARLIE. Okay, but what were your living conditions over in KKMC?
CPT CANTRELL: About the same as they had been anywhere else, except that we had our own campsite there.
MAJ HONEC: Did you opt for that?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes, we had several acres of dirt that we signed for and belonged to MEDSOM. We had our living support area at one end of that; and then the warehouse down through the middle, out in the dirt; and our headquarters area at the other end. And so we were now totally self-sufficient basically. Our unit supplied the mobile care contract or made arrangements with the other units for all of the outside supplies that we needed.
MAJ HONEC: Did you get a chance to go to any Saudi installations, like Emerald City13?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: Did you go to the large PX they had at the Saudi ...
CPT CANTRELL: The PX complex they had there?
MAJ HONEC: Yes.
CPT CANTRELL: Yes.
MAJ HONEC: What was that like in there?
CPT CANTRELL: Extremely limited. They didn't have what we would consider a good stockage of the things that you needed, but I am not sure if that wasn't just because they had already been bought out by everybody else in advance. It didn't look like it. It just looked like that was what they normally had on the shelves. And they did have a small women's section that had make-up and other essentials like that.
MAJ HONEC: Oh, really.
CPT CANTRELL: A few items of make-up. I wouldn't say that they were Merle Normans or anything, but they had some items like that: hand creams and some toiletries and stuff. We were all, I think, very thankful when finally got the PX fest tent up and opened up the American facility because that was much better equipped to handle our requirements, and actually addressed the things that we were looking to get our hands on. You know, the junk food as well as the essential-type ... toothpaste.
MAJ HONEC: We should go back and talk about ... when did you feel like you were in the greatest danger?
CPT CANTRELL: Actually I had two points where I felt I was in the greatest danger.
MAJ HONEC: Shoot.
CPT CANTRELL: We had one night ... we had moved up to KKMC immediately after Christmas. We actually had some people on the ground before Christmas up there. And that was very early on in getting that area established, at least for the Americans and for most of the other countries as well. So there were very few units up there. And this was oh, early on in January, and it was a log[istical] center. It never became anything but a log center, at least not while I was there. There were no combat troops up there, and there were no combat troops that had moved north of there yet, at this point, because it was still before the January 17th deadline. We weren't in a threatening posture.
There was a traitor, an informant, defector, whatever, who was, who came over and claimed or was debriefed and said that Saddam [Hussein] had the 'grand plan' and he was going to turn his tanks and come down the Wadi [al Batin], straight through KKMC, and attack Riyadh. And that made us all extremely nervous. [LAUGHTER]
MAJ HONEC: I bet.
CPT CANTRELL: Since we knew that there was nothing in front of us except another hospital unit. And all we had was M-16s and they don't work well against tanks.
MAJ HONEC: No, they don't.
CPT CANTRELL: The combat troops consisted of a couple of special forces units. We were all extremely nervous at that point and were thankful to see the dawn of that night of the supposed attack, and thankful that it never happened. I think was probably the most ...
MAJ HONEC: Do you remember what date that was?
CPT CANTRELL: No. It was before January 17th. It was, I think, if you could track back to the day the 1st Cav[alry Division] moved north, it was I think one or two days before that. As a matter of fact, I think they actually moved up 1st Cav's movement because of it. But that first night we were real worried.
And then after that, of course, when the SCUD14 attacks started, right after the air war. And the sirens that went off every night, several times a night, until I guess the air traffic controllers or the radar men became a little bit better at distinguishing what they were really looking for, we would have two or three alarms a night. And I have never gotten dressed so fast in my life. And if anybody wants to test me on putting on a chemical protective garment, we can all do it very quickly. [LAUGHTER] The going joke was, you know, 'what did you do in the war, mommy?' Well, I got dressed in the middle of the night and jumped in a hole, because we had our bunkers built, and that was our defensive position, because there is no defense against a SCUD--or against what else might come out of it--was just to be properly dressed. So we spent many nights doing nothing but that, or it seemed like many nights. We had one SCUD that actually did get shot down over KKMC.
MAJ HONEC: Did you see it?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes. It was in the middle of the day. It was daylight. And I had been out to the air field and I was just driving back in with one of the NCOs who was driving. And we heard this tremendous explosion, 'poof,' and looked up and there was ... it looked like someone had set off firecrackers. Fireworks--not a flare--because not one single ... but fireworks because of all of the small pieces burning. And I thought, it didn't click ... it just didn't click. We kind of thought, what was it? Then suddenly, a couple of more Patriots went off and we went, 'oh, no!' [LAUGHTER] And so we started putting on masks. And the NCO that was driving hit the gas and drove us around to the TOC,15 because that being indoors was considered a protective position. But it was strange because we had truck drivers that were sitting out there and they were on the back of their flatbeds and they were just standing up there looking at it too and as we were driving by, we were just yelling at them: "get your gear on and get inside!" Because I think we all had that same reaction. It was just ... wow, look at that. And then afterwards, it took a second or two to fall through, but then you were terrified. Where is the next one? So it is comical in ...
MAJ HONEC: In retrospect. In retrospect it is ...
CPT CANTRELL: At the time it was very frightening.
MAJ HONEC: If Saddam had done what the informant had said and come down the, that would have meant you had been in combat.
CPT CANTRELL: Probably very briefly in combat. Like I say, hospital units and what not, don't stand well.
MAJ HONEC: I know. But what went through your mind of what ... ? How did you prepare yourself for the eventuality of maybe that coming true? I am trying to figure out what sorts of things ... [LAUGHTER]
CPT CANTRELL: The sorts of things I think that go through anybody's mind when they consider the idea that they may either die or become a captive. You know, I think there were an awful lot of people that wrote letters home that night, you know ... you know, 'in case you never hear from me again' type stuff; to be opened in case of my death and all. I know people wrote those letters ...
MAJ HONEC: How about yourself?
CPT CANTRELL: At that point, no. My husband had returned to the States at that point. He had been medically evacuated. He suffers from chronic depression. He has had several incidents previous, and the medication that he was on in that climate, the medication affects his ability to sweat and so in that climate he was getting a double whammy. Not only the stressful situation that he was going through, but the medication ... he had been in the hospital once already for dehydration and such. And so he went into a depressive incident and they had medevaced him, sent him to Fort Lewis, [Washington], of all places with all of his family living on the East Coast.
MAJ HONEC: Why?
CPT CANTRELL: And his doctor that he had been being treated by for over a year at Womack--with beds available at Womack ... they sent him out to Fort Lewis because they thought Fort Lewis, at the Madigan Army Medical Center had a good program. It made no sense to me or anyone in my family or my husband. And he had spent two weeks out there, including his 40th birthday. And came back and so he had just recently gotten back home. My mother-in-law had gone home and he was coping with my still being over there, with the war having started and even in the event of my death, I wasn't prepared to put anything further into his arena, to even send him the letter that says do not open unless. I didn't feel I could do that.
So I think I spent more time just thinking about it, worrying about it and trying to imagine what would happen if we were captured, really. I guess I focused on the other side, because it was too painful to focus on what would happen to my family without me.
MAJ HONEC: The air war started and of course, the incident16 with the female truck driver being captured, what went through your mind when you heard of that sort of thing? What were the details that you heard down at KKMC?
CPT CANTRELL: We had AFN.17 So the details: just that they were missing at first, that they were two, a male and a female, and they were missing, a truck had been found on the side of the road. There were multiple suppositions that went through most of ... that went through discussion in our area. Anything from well, they just snuck out on the side to have a quickie and got lost, to being taken prisoners. They had run out of water or whatever, and all the eventualities or all the possibilities, I think were brought up and discussed by everyone. As they didn't ... as it got ... as it grew on and they didn't turn up, then just like the public at large, I think we came to the conclusion that however they had gotten to be where they had gotten to be, they were prisoners by that time.
MAJ HONEC: After that, of course, died down, a new rumor surfaced that she had been found but not alive ... very dead. You didn't hear about that?
CPT CANTRELL: No. No, that one we didn't hear.
MAJ HONEC: Fine.
CPT CANTRELL: I think I am glad we didn't.
MAJ HONEC: Why?
CPT CANTRELL: You know, the types of things that we are being conditioned to expect by all of the movies and everything else, and even by the attitudes that we had observed, we didn't expect that a woman would receive good treatment from the other side, from the Iraqis. We expected very much the opposite. And the types of treatment that don't get written up on the books, this type of stuff that went on with the men in Vietnam that nobody will ...
[END OF SIDE ONE]
MAJ HONEC: We are basically talking about men in Vietnam and going through the horrors of being captured and tortured, that sort of eventuality.
CPT CANTRELL: Tortured, raped, abused, you know, the ...
MAJ HONEC: Men and women in Vietnam?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes. To basically expect the same type of treatment to happen.
MAJ HONEC: How did that affect the overall ... how did it affect everyone? Did it harden their view of the Iraqis?
CPT CANTRELL: It's hard to say. I mean, we were already gungho, to go ahead, to get into the war, get it over with, you know, one way or the other. Just at that point, we were happy to have the war started because that meant that there was going to be a decision one way or the other. Nobody ... we didn't expect the war to be over in 100 hours of course, but we did not believe that the Iraqis could stand against us for an extended period of time. We didn't think it would turn into an eight-year Iran/Iraq war type of situation. And we felt like at least then something was happening, something was going on, something was being decided. And so I don't think our attitudes towards them could have hardened much more than they already were. We were ready to take then on. Even in the combat service support arena [LAUGHTER] we were ready to take them on.
MAJ HONEC: Do you think women should be in combat?
CPT CANTRELL: I don't see why not, to be perfectly honest. I really don't see why not. It doesn't take a whole lot of strength to be in a tank, you know. The Army's own statistics that I have seen have shown that women are better shots in general. We lived through most of the same conditions. Yes, I am not as strong as the average male, and I can't run as fast or do as many push-ups, but that is really not what it took. You know, there are an awful lot of combat roles that just don't require that type of out and out "brute strength."
So, you know, other than the fact that I can't condone forcing women into that position. And I think that is probably the thing that scares most women from supporting, saying yes, women should be in combat, is the idea that they would be forced into an infantry position where they didn't want to be and they could not emotionally and mentally handle it. You know, I guess I support it as an individual choice, rather than as an overall, we are all the same, we can all fill every job. And I guess that's very hard for the Army to do, is to say, "you have a choice, but you don't have a choice" to the guys, and still maintain equality and fairness. It is a hard one to solve.
MAJ HONEC: That is fine.
CPT CANTRELL: But there were women in combat.
MAJ HONEC: Yes.
CPT CANTRELL: Combat service support has to go where the combat is. You know, you don't necessarily get to fire a rifle, but you have to go to where it is at in order to get the job done, in order for them to be able to do the job. Like the Army reminds everybody, AirLand Battle doctrine--there is no front line, and so every one of us is on the front line, wherever we are.
MAJ HONEC: Good point. That is certainly something to be considered. Of course, what I didn't ask in the very beginning was what was your reaction to being informed you were going to Saudi Arabia?
CPT CANTRELL: Dismay. [LAUGHTER]
MAJ HONEC: I see. Was it family considerations or just ...
CPT CANTRELL: Mostly, mostly. At several points in our career, my husband and I have talked about one or the other of us getting out because it was such a strain on the family. And we both have generally liked what we did. We enjoyed being in the Army, having the different challenges and opportunities that it has offered. And so neither one of us has ever done it. And I never regretted that so strongly as I did in August, because of what it did, what it was going to do to my children to have both of us gone and both of us in that type of situation where they were afraid that they were going to lose us. And the real possibility, especially in August, before we saw that it was going to be a waiting period for so long ... where the thought existed that we could both be gone in a very short period and leave our children completely alone. And that was real scary and I think that was my predominant reaction to everything. It was not a fear of going or a reluctance to go and do my job and do what I had signed up for, but it was real regret that we were both in the situation of having to go and leaving the children, possibly without either parent.
MAJ HONEC: Have you talked about that since, coming back, the possibility ...
CPT CANTRELL: We talked about that a lot, even before we went, because like I say, with my husband's medical history, there was some possibility that he not go. And at some point it was discussed as to whether or not, if both members were active duty, that one member should not go because the Army does have a rule, if you are in the same unit, that you both not deploy in the same unit. And there was some talk that that might be given a really broader spectrum, and so we discussed that considerably. I think that was the main fear that we both shared, was just having both of us gone and leaving the kids alone.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. We talked about never ... you weren't on the road much in a civilian ...
CPT CANTRELL: At 3:00 in the morning.
MAJ HONEC: Other than 3:00 in the morning, the policeman, yes. [LAUGHTER] But did you ever feel that you were in danger, like of terrorist incidents? Heightened awareness?
CPT CANTRELL: We had, our biggest threat at any of the locations that we had in Dhahran was of a terrorist threat. Being in Dhahran we were a long ways away from a frontal assault, but the location that we had there and the nature of the unit itself and the fact that we had so much traffic coming and going, both of our own and of the local company, it was an extremely large threat that we were extremely aware of. And I think the catering company also became aware of it. You know, we spoke with them about it at length, and their guard, I think did tighten up his security. He knew, personally knew, most of the people in and out, but he started checking closer on those that he did not know and actually holding identification on people.
And of course, we were doing the same. Our main problem came in where we had vendors coming in to talk with our local purchase section, who did not have identification to prove to the local guard and had no military identification to show to us. And that worked out a little bit better once we had some communications from the front gate back. We could ... the gate guards could call in and say, such and such a person is here from this company to see you and we could clear them before they came in through the gate. But it was not a good defensive position and we were heavily open to terrorist attacks, not only from the gate, but from other points. And so, yes, we thought about it a lot, even not on the road.
MAJ HONEC: Very good. Any other issues in the offensive phase, anything that perhaps we haven't covered yet?
CPT CANTRELL: No.
MAJ HONEC: That is fine. Let's see, let me review this last two questions real quick. That has been covered. Coming back from ... now, as the MEDSOM collapsed its operation at KKMC and you came back, that is the part of the tape that we hadn't covered when I interviewed you last. Talk about how ... what issues you faced as a log officer, accountable officer, in the retrograde operation. Now this will be ... we touched upon it, we had to touch upon it in the original tape, but now you have the key knowledge, so I want to know what happened.
CPT CANTRELL: Well, I think we discussed before the fact that fortunately, very happily, we were caught off guard. We were prepared for a war of several weeks or several months and had the supplies and had been building up the supplies to support that. And all of a sudden, before we knew it, the war was over with and very few causalities and, therefore, very few requirements for supplies. Our biggest requirements came in the items that we had not yet begun to stockpile. We anticipated the humanitarian aid mission for the hospitals.
MAJ HONEC: Oh, really?
CPT CANTRELL: Oh, yes, that had been anticipated early on and had packages designed to support that and resupply. But had not received many of those supplies yet. And so we were in the position of pushing what we could. We didn't look at lot of infant items like formulas and such and those were not on hand in any quantity at that point. And yet those were the items that were required more than not by the hospital which we were very happy about, but not prepared to supply at that point. Because, like I said, we had expected it to be several weeks down the road before we started to address those kinds of issues of the civilians in the area.
And we had copious, copious quantities of supplies on hand, millions of dollars, and no one was prepared to send those anywhere. We had not maintained FDA standards. We were in the desert, we were in the dirt. We were in the rain. It does rain in the desert. We had fifteen rain storms and I don't count drizzles. We had uncounted dust storms. The lighter suppliers, the wind picks them up and blows them across. They get knocked down. They get run over. They get stepped on. We had a fair amount of weather damage. But part of the result with that, even what was not damaged, what was still in good condition, the Agricultural Department and the just the medical community in general was not prepared to accept back into their stocks of supplies. Because they questioned the efficacy, the effectiveness of that and the sterility being maintained and everything else.
MAJ HONEC: The potency because of the conditions that it had been subjected to?
CPT CANTRELL: Correct. Because we could not tell them that this bottle of pills was maintained between 60 and 85 degrees.
MAJ HONEC: Of course not. [LAUGHTER]
CPT CANTRELL: And so, they did not want a lot of it back. There was the question [of] who was going to pay for shipping it back? If we take it back here at this depot, or this location, do we have to pay for it? Or is the Bravo Uniform, the DESERT STORM fund, going to pay for it? And on and on and on. And of course, everybody was pushing to leave now; not next week, now; today. We want to go now, this minute. And therefore we have to have a solution yesterday. Nobody had looked at solutions for that yet. That was supposed to be a little ways off yet. They had looked, but no firm decisions had been made.
MAJ HONEC: No firm plans had been sealed.
CPT CANTRELL: Yes, and it took time to coordinate back to all of these places and such. And nobody was really willing to wait at the time. I mean, it took us months to get all of that there and to get it to that point, but nobody wanted to wait months to get it back.
MAJ HONEC: When you say "they," could you identify the they ... were they the planners, like the 44th Med Brigade?
CPT CANTRELL: No, at that point, well, everybody wanted to go home. So that includes everyone from President Bush on down, wanted us to come home and to do it as fast as possible. The "they" that did not know what to do with the supplies, of course, included us. We didn't know where to send them to, on up into the Med Command that had, the Provisional Medical Command that had been set up in ARCENT.
MAJ HONEC: That was a real problem then.
CPT CANTRELL: And on up ...
MAJ HONEC: Lack of guidance ...
CPT CANTRELL: To the TMC.
MAJ HONEC: From on high and all the way down, it rippled all the way down.
CPT CANTRELL: Well, the guidance came eventually, but just the fact that nobody had expected to make those kind of decisions at that point. There were more pressing issues the day before, of how are we going to get things there that they need. And all of the sudden, the next day it turned around and well, what are we going to do with what is there? It was just that quick about face. There was no time to make those plans and firm up those decisions and coordinate those actions, before everybody wanted an answer as to how we are going to get rid of it.
MAJ HONEC: So what was the plan?
CPT CANTRELL: What we actually ended up doing is the Department of Defense has a program for humanitarian assistance where medical ... not medical supplies, but materiel that cannot be utilized within the Department of Defense are then donated to other countries that are in need of it. And the State Department becomes involved then in determining which countries might need what types of supplies and such. And if the country is not already on the list, it is then approved by Congress and Congress has to get into the issue and decide that yes, it is okay to give things away to this country and such.
MAJ HONEC: So perhaps some of it went to the recent disaster in Bangladesh?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes. As a matter of fact ... I don't know for a fact that any of our supplies from the 32d went to Bangladesh because that actually was after we had left, or right about the same time that we were leaving, and ... . But the 47th MEDSOM, the theater MEDSOM that had stayed in Dhahran, did ship vast quantities of supplies into Bangladesh from what they had on hand. And, in fact, my information is that they are receiving humanitarian service awards for that action.
MAJ HONEC: Oh, good. I didn't know that.
CPT CANTRELL: But we shipped as much back here to Bragg as we felt that we could maintain and deal with. Actually, we shipped back more than we had space for. I have got somewhere between $6,000,000 and $8,000,000 of supplies coming here to Fort Bragg, where I had, prior to the war, a half a million dollar account. So we are begging from space from everybody on post now. That is in the works. Hopefully, we are going to get some additional space to store all of that.
MAJ HONEC: Who maintained the warehouses while you were gone?
CPT CANTRELL: Womack did.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. You just turned it over to them?
CPT CANTRELL: We turned it over to them lock, stock, barrel, keys and everything. They maintained it. They did turn-ins to them and all that stuff, provided services as I mentioned, and they did destructions of things of ours. They did the quality control maintenance on our supplies that they did not use. And then they were ready to hand it back to us when we got back.
MAJ HONEC: Oh, were they?
CPT CANTRELL: Oh, yes.
MAJ HONEC: The transition was also real smooth.
CPT CANTRELL: The transition, came back. I think I signed back the warehouse, about one and a half weeks, two weeks after I got back. They were lucky, I didn't take any leave. [LAUGHTER] So they were able to get me over there quick.
MAJ HONEC: I see, very good. How long did you stay in Dhahran, once you got back to KKMC? How did you get back? Was it a road march?
CPT CANTRELL: A 300-mile road march? No.
MAJ HONEC: No, I mean, back by truck?
CPT CANTRELL: We had one bus, a contracted bus that had stayed with us. Some of the people went south, driving all our vehicles with our unit organic equipment we had sent about two and a half weeks before we left, in order to get through the wash rack and get cleaned up to meet the agricultural standards and stuff.
MAJ HONEC: Yes. Did you hear of how many facilities ...
CPT CANTRELL: I think the initial units had problems. Again, it was just a matter of fact, it takes a certain amount of time to do anything logistical and that includes planning wash rack times and everything else.
MAJ HONEC: Sure.
CPT CANTRELL: And getting the inspectors on the ground and ready to do their jobs. Ours went fairly smoothly, as far as ... they told us when; our main problem was it was fairly short notice, but we had been anticipating it, so it was just a matter of getting the drivers into the trucks and getting them down south. And in fact we were still up at KKMC and the wash rack was down in Dhahran, and so the other units had already moved down to Dhahran and at a day's notice was fine for them. It took us a little bit more. We squeezed the trucks in. We got them just hours prior to getting wash rack time in some cases.
MAJ HONEC: Just in time. But that was a real problem then, trying to get there in time for the wash racks.
CPT CANTRELL: For us. Like I say, it had taken us months to get everything there. It takes time to get it back out. We were the last unit of the brigade to move south. And it was just a matter that we had millions of supplies that we had to deal with before we could go anywhere. They needed to be dealt with where we were, and so ...
MAJ HONEC: Did you know that the problem there is that under agricultural scrutiny ... so that you could have the customs and everything signed off ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: We had customs seals and agricultural seals on everything out there at KKMC.
MAJ HONEC: Good.
CPT CANTRELL: We met the standards right there on the spot, and so that part went very well.
MAJ HONEC: And all this materiel is loaded onto the ships that are yet to come in?
CPT CANTRELL: Yes. We have most of our rolling stock back; all of our vehicles. There may be one or two still missing. I think we still have a couple of forklifts that haven't come back yet. However, the containers, the milvans--we haven't gotten our first one back. My information is that the brigade just received their first six.
MAJ HONEC: Okay.
CPT CANTRELL: None of those were from our unit. So it is just starting to trickle back in now as far as the containers go.
MAJ HONEC: Any idea why ... that is rather a long time since you have left ... it is greater than three weeks is what I am trying to point out.
CPT CANTRELL: We all thought about a thirty-day block ...
MAJ HONEC: Yes. Any idea what the delay is? Have you heard anything?
CPT CANTRELL: I have not heard anything. I imagine, like I say again, it took months to get it over there. We are not going to get it all back at once. It is going to take some time. And that is not really a problem. We came back and the unit went on thirty days' block leave, as I say, I didn't take leave. At one point, I had twelve people in the unit and I was commanding because everybody else was out on leave. And so it is not a problem. This way we can, instead of shocking the system back into activity, we have that opportunity to do some smart things and get prepared before the stuff comes in. Because like I said, we are bringing back far more than we have the ability to store at this point. So I am not prepared for it to come back until I get additional warehouse space to put it.
MAJ HONEC: Well, what happens with the CONEX containers once you unload them?
CPT CANTRELL: Most of them are contracted and so they will go back to the company.
MAJ HONEC: Okay. Going home. When did you leave and what plane did you take?
CPT CANTRELL: 747 again.
MAJ HONEC: Do you know the commercial airline by any chance?
CPT CANTRELL: It was Air Luxembourg.
MAJ HONEC: And you were on a different route than I have been experiencing from interviewing.
CPT CANTRELL: Yes, well, Luxembourg, because they don't have a standing army,18 they had not participated in the effort, that was their contribution, is what the stewardess' told us, is that was their contribution to the war effort, was that they were using their planes to ferry troops back. And so we flew into Luxembourg for a crew change and briefly had a couple of hours on the ground there, and I sure had some nice conversations with some of the people in the airport. They were all very, you know, thank you very much and all. It was very nice that somebody outside the U.S. was happy to see us too. From there we flew directly into Pope Air Force Base, [North Carolina], and my family.
MAJ HONEC: Okay.
CPT CANTRELL: We missed the welcome crowd there at Bangor.19
MAJ HONEC: Yes. You mention again Bangor, Maine, where they had a big to-do, even at 3:00 in the morning as I understand it.
CPT CANTRELL: Yes, some of our people flew on a different flight in order to accompany a baggage pouch that had the weapons and everything on it. And they stopped off at Bangor, Maine, at 3:00 in the morning and said the place was just jam-packed with people. They would pat on them back and shake their hands and give them ribbons and say thank you.
MAJ HONEC: I see, very good. Well, looking down this list here real quick, what is your typical work day now? Back in garrison?
CPT CANTRELL: P[hysical] T[raining] at 6:30. I run anywhere between two and four miles. And back to work at 9:00, off for lunch, and off duty at 5:00.
MAJ HONEC: Pretty well standard ...
CPT CANTRELL: Pretty standard hours.
MAJ HONEC: Very good. Have we missed anything that you want ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: I think they have to provide more for women than they have to provide for men. I am not sure what they want to talk about there. Yes, it takes more to have women ...
MAJ HONEC: Yes, that is mainly, that is the point of it, the question, I believe, is from the standpoint of separate shower facilities and latrines ... that is just a ... ?
CPT CANTRELL: No, other than the required physical differences, no.
MAJ HONEC: Okay.
CPT CANTRELL: But I don't want to shower with the guys. [LAUGHTER]
MAJ HONEC: We can conclude this interview and thank you very much.
[END OF INTERVIEW]