Guarding the Airfield
|29 December 92
All morning, we sat on the tarmac waiting for our ammo to be flown in from the HMCS Provider. We watched as palettes
of tables and benches for the REMF's were flown in first. As usual the priorities are
all backwards. They supply the rear troops with their comforts before they supply the
forward troops with the necessities.
When the ammo finally did arrive, there was none for my pistol or machine gun. So I must fly
into Beled Weyne with nothing but the ten World War Two German Luger rounds that I
smuggled over for my pistol. They are better than nothing, but are so old that I doubt
they will even fire.
The flight to Beled Weyne was mercifully short,
with all of us cramped into the back of the Herc in the heat. When
the ramp on the Herc lowered in Beled Weyne, the heat rolled in and engulfed us. It was nearly
unbearable in our flak jackets and helmets, much hotter than Mogadishu. It suffocated us as we
stepped off the plane. It is not what I expected, there are a few thorn bushes around the
airstrip, but otherwise for as the eye can see it is just barren plains with some small
hills in the distance.
We moved out to replace the Americans in the defensive perimeter around the airstrip. My position is guarding the trail
into Beled Weyne. I bummed a belt of machine gun ammo off of an American soldier, making
me feel a little safer. I hate having to rely on others, but at least I am
armed now. The town appears to be nothing more than grass huts from here, but there are
apparently nearly 200,000 people.
Thousands of men, women and children walk by my position throughout the day on their way to the
airstrip to wait for the next relief flights to arrive. The kids all stop to watch whatever we
do and beg for water. The heat is unbearable and I am dehydrating quickly, but it
is so hard to drink or eat with them watching and begging. They go by with bottles of water of
their own, it is brown and muddy.
30 December 92
Last night I bummed a magazine of ammo for my pistol from the American Special Forces sergeant who
spent the night with us. I feel better now that I can defend myself.
Through the night gunshots ring out through the village and the sounds of children
coughing in the nearby refugee huts kept me awake. I don't know if it is jet lag or guilt,
but I have trouble sleeping and wake up tired. Digging into my kit bag this morning I found
a small scorpion. They are everywhere, I will have to be careful.
An old man handed me a note today. It introduced him in broken English and explained
that his wife had just died. The note begged for help, but I could do nothing but turn him
away and point him towards the Red Cross compound in town.
I also shaved my head in Mogadishu, the kids seem amused by the tall, bald, white soldier.
It is hard at times. The kids all beg for pencils or books to practice their English.
I have to stop, I'm giving away everything I own to the children, my money, my
magazines, my food . . . The kids are all so cute, it is hard to resist their pleas.
Through the afternoon we try to stay under cover, out of the sun, but it doesn't help
much. admittedly, I like the heat, but I'm not used to it and must watch myself.
31 December 92
Relief flights have been coming in one after another. It is all we can do to keep the
people back until the planes are unloaded. The shots in the village are getting
closer, the last burst this morning just outside our perimeter. They are getting bolder.
I have been learning to speak Somali from the children. So far I can count and say a
few simple sentences, but it is very hard. No sooner do I learn one thing than I forget
another. I have to watch though because I always have a crowd of people following me, so I
get in trouble from the OC.
I found a small scorpion on my sleeping mat this morning after I got up, it makes me
nervous to sleep on the ground like this.
The Somali shilling is practically worthless, the kids tear it up and throw it at you
and will give you up to 500 Shillings for a Chicklet. A small, homemade Popsicle sells for
500 Shillings and a cheap handmade knife for 16,000 Shillings.
1 January 93
Happy New Years! We are sending out patrols into the village and the surrounding area
now. The Americans captured a SU-23-2 yesterday in town.
Sgt Veary warned me about socializing with the locals yesterday, so I must
watch myself. If you try and have a conversation with one person, a crowd
invariably gathers and that is dangerous. It is a shame though because I was
actually beginning to pick up some of the language and was learning a lot
about the area and the people.
It has been very trying on the emotions, some of the things I have seen. There are so
many crippled and nearly blind kids and such widespread hunger.
There is one little girl who comes by every day wearing her best cloths. She never begs
or says anything like the others, she just stands and watches and runs away giggling
whenever I look at her. I hate to think what will become of her or the others. What future
do they have? She is back again today. She doesn't speak any English, but
introduced herself and her little brother in Somali. Her name is Ifraa. It is good to at
least be able to say hello and introduce yourself in their language, I hope I can learn
Yesterday a thin, frail crippled man crawled up to me and asked for water or food, but
there was nothing I could do. The look of despair in his eyes nearly destroyed me, but he
is just one of the many. It is so hard to not let it affect you.
Many of the older men thank us for coming to help them by chasing away the bandits. But
if we do not track down the bandits and disarm them, then any solution is only as
temporary as our stay. They will begin to trust us and hope for a better future, then we
will pull out leaving them in the same situation we found them in. If the US continues
to insist on its present policy of just securing the food shipments then leaving, then
there can be no solution or lasting peace.
The REMF's have set up quite the base by the airstrip with modular tents and cots,
but they are still loosing it and can't handle the extreme conditions. Meanwhile,
here we are living in trenches without enough water to drink, let alone wash, covered in
dust and filth. I haven't had a hot meal since I arrived. We are given four
bottles of water a day, barely enough to satisfy our never ending thirst. Before every
meal, I wet down a rag and wash myself with it. Covered in dirt, salt and dust amidst all
this disease it is only a matter of time before we get sick.
The Americans have been dropping these leaflets from helicopters. This
one says that the coalition is here to protect the food brom being stolen
by the bandits.