Fulayyih Al-Azmi peered from his tent one quiet, starry night to behold a U.S. Marine Corps tank clanking just beyond his goat pen.
"My wife was afraid because it had no lights and she didn't know what it was," he said through an interpreter."I couldn't speak their language, so I lit a lantern to let them know I was here," he said inside his tent made of dark brown camel hide and burlap feed sacks. "So I don't move my herd at night any more."
Al-Azmi is a Bedouin, one of the nomads of the Saudi Arabian desert. He moves his 240 goats from pasture to pasture, if the scrub that grows like sparse bristles on a brush can be considered grazing land. He is guided by whim and weather without regard to political lines on a map.
But like other Bedouins, Al-Azmi is migrating from the north to safer and less crowded southern lands because a 300,000-man force of American, British, French and Arab armies has filled the sands with monstrous metal machines.
Home on the range is now home on the firing range.
The forces that are gathered to counter Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's conquest of Kuwait need room to maneuver. And they need miles of desert to practice firing their tanks, artillery and rifles.
The military is sensitive to Bedouin lifestyles and makes an effort to be safe. But the Army has killed one camel and wounded two others since it began live firing recently, said Lt. Col. Arnold Laidig, a Marine officer.
The Marines, for example, conduct sweeps with their helicopters to make sure no herds wander into their ranges. They also patrol the ranges in trucks before the shells start flying over the tortured landscape.
"It may look like crap to us, but it's Kentucky bluegrass to them," said Lt. Col. Bruce Judge, a Marine operations and training officer.
"Safety is a paramount concern," said Marine Capt. William Taylor, a public affairs officer. "It's like going into a farmer's field and telling him we'd like to bust some big caps in your back yard."
The clash of cultures is stark.
A Bedouin tending his bleating livestock can see helicopters flitting through the skies, armored columns rumbling across the terrain and endless convoys of military trucks.
On one night recently, a patrol of three Marine amphibious assault vehicles passed within 25 yards of a Bedouin camp deep in the desert. Goats were visible through night vision goggles, but the soldiers said they never saw the camp.
Another night patrol picked up movement on its sensors but couldn't hear anything. It turned out to be a herd of 20 camels passing by.
Bedouins require lots of space to roam. Yet they say they welcome the troops in the desert.
"I thank God the government is having people come to defend the kingdom," Al-Azmi said, giving a visitor Arabic coffee, sweet tea and fresh dates while sitting on a rug in the shade of a tent flap.
"Saddam Hussein should be punished. He attacked people who did him no harm. God will punish him," he said.
Although the Bedouin life is rustic, some have the luxuries of modern life such as Mercedes Benz cars and cellular telephones. A camel can fetch $2,500 at auction, and that's a lot to lose to an errant artillery shell or a tank.
But the military also does good deeds in the desert. When Hassan Rashed Alkhater of Jubail, the eastern Saudi industrial city, got his pickup truck stuck in the sand, an army vehicle stopped to help.