Some U.S. Army National Guard members stationed in Saudi Arabia don't find the desert terrain all that different from home.
They are the National Guard Military Police Company 625, home base Utah. Their mission is to guard Iraqis taken prisoner in the Persian Gulf war."Actually, we don't call them prisoners," said Sgt. Brent Salisbury of Salt Lake City. "We've been told they are guests of the Saudi government, and that's how they are to be treated. Our instructions are to address them as guests, not prisoners, and we are very careful to do that."
For religious and political reasons, the Saudi government does not want to offend other Muslims by treating the Iraqis as prisoners and causing them to lose face.
Salisbury, the supply sergeant for the company, said the Guard unit has been training for years to run a prisoner of war camp, although he "never, ever" thought he'd actually be doing that here.
Salisbury works for the National Guard back home as well, but the rest of the company is made up of men and women from a variety of occupations, including police officers, carpenters, a baker and a boys ranch counselor.Despite the Saudi desert's well-earned reputation as one of the most inhospitable environments in the world, the Guard members have been able to adjust relatively easily during the three weeks they have been there, Salisbury said.
"For us, it's just like Utah," Salisbury said. "In many cases, the terrain is very similar. For example, we've trained at the Dugway Proving Grounds, which is a lot like this."
The members specialize in erecting and policing prisoner of war camps. The duty is given to the Guard because in peacetime there isn't much call for that kind of work in the active duty Army, Salisbury said.
The Military Police at the camp are made up almost exclusively of reserve and National Guard units, Salisbury said.
Salisbury said he has found his experiences in Saudi Arabia thus far "fascinating."
A few days ago, Salisbury said he and a few Guard members wound up doing a "favor" - he won't say exactly what the favor was - for a local Saudi judge.
As is Saudi custom, the judge felt obliged to return the favor and insisted they come to his house for breakfast.
So the Guard members sat on the floor, eating an elaborate, Bedouin-style breakfast with their right hands. Salisbury said he couldn't remember the names of any of the dishes, "but everything was excellent."
"There were two kinds of teas, some thick, pasty stuff that was somewhat sweet; some runny, cream-colored stuff, several jams and breads," he said.
It was a nice change from the MREs - Meals Ready to Eat - that the soldiers had been getting.