Desert Storm: One Woman’s Journal
© Iowa Public Television
Morgan: Back in 1991 when we covered the Gulf War, we spoke with Dan McFarland of Fredericksburg, whose daughter, Mary McFarland Stabe, and son-in-law were both deployed to Saudi Arabia. Mary had enlisted in the army under the student loan repayment program and graduated second in her class in the military intelligence school where she met and married her husband, Jason. We felt her personal thoughts and feelings were eerily relevant to recent events.
Words of McFarland Stabe: I'll try to describe life here. I live in a tent with three female sergeants. The tent is probably about 12 feet in diameter with no floor. The desert sand is our floor. I have a cot, a little piece of board about 6 inches wide and a foot long to put my feet on. My furniture is an old water box for storing a few things. It's pretty cramped, but home.
People have made comments to me like, "You must be from the Midwest. You work too hard." One day we had to pick up rocks off a hill to fill a drainage system ditch. It reminded me of picking up rocks back on the farm and of picking up hickory nuts. I wondered if grandma had been picking them up. Everyone is so unhappy about being away from home, but it doesn't do any good to be sour. Working hard helps relieve that frustration, and you're passing time. Still, I never get that feeling of satisfaction as I do working on the farm.
It's Saturday night. I'm thinking about my church back in Iowa, wondering what the expression on the pastor's face might be if I walked into his church carrying my M-16 rifle. For a soldier, that M-16 and your gas mask are constant companions. Most importantly, you sleep with them—your constant buddies who must be cleaned every single day. So naturally we take our rifle and mask to church.
Riding my horse back in the timber of the farm, I used to sigh and think, “Boy, this is beautiful.” It makes me wonder if the Saudis love their country's view like we in Iowa do. I used to think this place was the ugliest place I'd ever been. Following in the tradition of my father, I started to think there's something good in everything. Just what is it here?
Saudi Arabia does have extraordinary sunrises and sunsets and the stars. The sun appears as a huge orange and red burning globe. The darkened sand dunes might even pass as mountains. On moonless nights, the stars are incredible, second only to summer nights on the farm. Those stars are often the setting and topic of the late hours of guard duty, after you and the other guard have talked about every conceivable facet of home.
I imagine I-80 between Iowa City and Des Moines is now completely snow covered. Try and imagine the snow as sand. Blizzards are dust storms, and plows are needed to keep the sand off the highway. Exits don't exist and neither do 90 percent of the farms. All the cattle you would see are camels.
Hey, hey, hey! It's Iowa day! A big “thank you” to the governor and his helpers for the flag and for the boxes they sent in December. It was really great. I'm so proud to be from Iowa anyway but, boy, this was the topper. No one else's state has done what you've done, Iowa. Thank you! Although Iowans may be few in number, we are large in pride. I feel very proud to be an Iowan. And it makes the time I spend over here that much more worthwhile. Well, I guess this is war. Never thought I'd see it, but here I am.
Sure hope Jason is okay. I don't know what to say at a time like this, but I love you. Hi, I'm in a phone tent and just want to let you know I'm okay. After three weeks on the road, no shower, driving a truck, and sleeping whenever and wherever I can, I have no idea where Jason is. Give my love to everyone. Mary McFarland Stabe.
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