Desert Storm Christmas: Synchronicity During War

Barely four months after my wife Daryl and I were married, I got sent off to help fight a war. Not the best way to build a marriage relationship, especially since I left her with partial custody of three brand new step kids–an instant family she was just getting to know.

And now it was nearly four months later, December in eastern Saudi Arabia and time to celebrate Christmas in a Muslim country that was uneasy with our presence, but needed us badly. Barely a two hour drive to the north was the dug-in Iraqi army, fourth largest in the world. It had subjugated Kuwait in a matter of days and no one knew what its intentions were for the country we were invited to defend.

Now this Christmas season there were close to 500,000 American soldiers, airmen and Marines scattered in thousands of units large and small around northern and eastern parts of the Kingdom. I was in the middle of planning, giving briefings, and gathering strategic and tactical intelligence essential for the Coalition’s pending goal of wresting Kuwait from the clutches of Saddam Hussein. Still, I had patches of time here and there to think about this, the first Christmas I would spend without my kids and, despite now 14 years in the Army, the only one I had ever spent away from home in all my 38 years , not counting the two in Switzerland during my Mormon church mission.

I had started a tradition a few years prior of using the skills I had developed as an art major in college to create holiday pen and ink drawings, have them professionally printed, and then send out as Christmas cards to family and friends. I had bought a pen and some ink on one of  my forays into nearby Dharan, and went to work to draw a design for this Christmas in what little time off I had.

But what to use as a subject for a Christmas card here in the motherland of Islam?  It didn’t take me long to come up with an idea. My unit, the 101st Aviation Brigade, was housed in the terminal building and parking garage of what would become King Fahd International Airport, the largest airport in the world at the time. Or it would be once it was completed. For now, the main terminal building which we used as our headquarters was nothing but a shell. I and my assistant intelligence officer, Capt. Joe Krupa, pitched our cots under the skeleton of a stairwell that opened out to the flight line and the constant roar of aircraft taking off and landing.

Mosque atop King Fahd Airport parking garage that was the model for the Christmas card ink drawing
Mosque atop King Fahd Airport parking garage
that was the model for the Christmas card ink drawing.

One structure that was completed was the massive six-level parking garage where the bulk of the brigade’s people were housed, two to a parking space. On top of the garage was an iconic mosque, nearing completion with its associated minaret. It seemed a fitting (and ironic) image for the front of a Christmas card created in a war zone. And it was appropriate. Here we were, Christians and Muslims engaged in a common cause, a just war to liberate friends under severe duress. I had the drawing finished and sent home via APO mail in time for my new wife to have it printed and mailed to the people we loved.

Christmas in the looming shadow of conflict is a bit different, more sober, and certainly more removed from the sentimentality and warmth of your typical commemoration of Christ’s birth. Yet there were moments of celebration as well. We held church services, the weapons of war clustered around our seats. The Mormons in the unit formed a group to sing Christmas carols as part of an interfaith service organized by the brigade’s Evangelical chaplain, the fellowship of war bringing out our religious commonality and pushing our differences to the back.

On Christmas morning I got up and had the first truly hot shower since arriving in country. The enlisted folks had worked hard to set things up so all could have hot showers in honor of the holiday.  I then stopped by to check with the folks on watch in the operations center. Despite a warning the previous day of an Iraqi holiday attack,  I noted “No Iraqis,”  matter-of-factly in my journal. Though Christmas would be an ideal time for an attack, we regularly received such alerts that didn’t pan out, so I was not surprised.

After the morning commander’s briefing, I opened the Christmas box Daryl had sent me. “Got some wonderful presents,” I wrote in the journal. “A real pillow!”–it’s remarkable how what we take for granted back home can become a luxury. There were a couple of books, a portable electric razor that came in very handy a few weeks later deep in the heart of Iraq, a small thermometer (to help me know how miserable to feel, I suppose!), and some photos of my kids.

In the afternoon some of my friends and I went to see Bob Hope, performing on what turned out to be the last Christmas show he did in 50 years of entertaining the troops. Hope was 87 at the time, still funny and lively. To see the Bob Hope show, I had to miss the special dinner the mess-hall folks had prepared (taken out of cans this time, instead of foil pouches) but it was worth it. Krupa allowed me to forage in his junk food collection to satisfy my hunger.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I haven’t said anything about remote viewing, this being a blog about remote viewing, remote perception, consciousness and all that. There wasn’t much during Desert Storm that had to do with remote viewing. The few things that did I may write about sometime in the future. I appreciate you indulging me this walk down memory lane, like any old soldier is tempted to do.

But wait.

There was one event that ties that memorable Christmas season into the subject matter of this blog. I’ve written about synchronicity elsewhere, the domain of “meaningful coincidence,” that seems to transcend bare mundane happenstance and bring it into the realm of timelessness and conscious phenomena untouchable by everyday explanations and everyday causation.

As I mentioned earlier, I was one of nearly 500,000 American service members camped in hundreds of locations and thousands of units around the Saudi Arabian countryside. School children all over the United States loved to send us letters, banners, cards, and other items to remind us and encourage us that folks back home were standing with us. These were usually sent to “Any Soldier” or “Any Unit” deployed to the Middle East.

One such banner had arrived at division headquarters and been randomly sent over to my unit, the Aviation Brigade headquarters. The chaplain had put it up in the narrow hallway just outside the operations center. It was of orange paper, and in two long sections, one above the other. Each piece was easily 20 feet long, covered with hundreds of little messages scrawled on the paper or written on notes and glued to it. I had passed it perhaps a dozen times without giving it much heed. Yet every time I went by something nagged at me, though never emerging from the subliminal regions of my brain sufficient to draw my attention.

Then finally on one such passing-by my eye caught the word “Laurel.” That brought me up short. There are lots of “Laurels” around the country. But it so happened I had left my wife and kids home in Laurel, Maryland, so I was moved to look more closely. The banner was sent by the students and teachers of Laurel Elementary School in Laurel, Maryland. My youngest son Christopher went to that school! I immediately began scanning those two 20-foot pieces of paper to see if his name was there.

Christopher shortly after my return from Desert Storm
Christopher shortly after my return from
Desert Storm.

And I found it. He had written something like “My dad is over there somewhere. If you know Paul Smith, say Hi to him for me.”  I instantly remembered how much I missed that boy.

Since that time I have tried to count the odds of the banner ending up in that particular hallway of all other possible places it could have been sent among the hundreds of American military encampments that dotted the Saudi real estate. There is no way to know what the chances of that happening were, except to be sure they were infinitesimal.

I prepared a thank you note to the principal of Laurel Elementary for my colonel to sign. Then I went on helping to arrange a war.

But it was in the glow of that event that my Desert Storm Christmas unfolded.