Local soldiers stationed in Persian Gulf
By Katrina Vander Kooi
Justin Siebenahler and Pat Baustian were both stationed at Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia this spring.
"We are over there as part of the UN sanctions against Saddam Hussein," Baustian said. "There have been 10,000 U.S. troops there since then."
Siebenahler is a member of the Air Force. Baustian is a member of South Dakota Air National Guard. He is the shop supervisor in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Baustian spent 30 days in Saudi Arabia, and Siebenahler spent 98 days there.
The troops are there to keep the "no fly zone" in Iraq in place. "We were in Operation Southern Watch," Baustian said. Their job was maintain the forces that fly over the southern half of Iraq.
"People don't realize that people have been going over there since 1991," Baustian said.
Baustian volunteered to go to Saudi Arabia for 30 days. "But you can volunteer for more or less time," Baustian said. "Every person who volunteers relieves a regular Air Force member from going on active duty." Siebenahler was assigned to go to Saudi Arabia.
To get there, each had to go on a 24-hour plane ride. "Justin was there about one week prior to when I arrived," Baustian said.
Prince Sultan Air Base
The Prince Sultan Air Base is located away from the city and inside the Royal Saudi Airbase for security reasons. "Part of the reason they are there is because of the Khobar Towers bombing," Baustian said. "A group of terrorists blew up a U.S. building and killed 19 U.S. service people."
After that happened, the military moved forces to tents. "Four thousand people lived in a tent city," Baustian said.
New facilities were built two years ago inside the coalition complex. The dorms are two-story and contain a variety off facilities. "The facilities are fabulous," Baustian said. "There are 60 computers with the Internet, a nice library, a gymnasium, a movie theater, and a pool." There was also a place where different types of music were played each night of the week.
French and British troops are also stationed at the base. "I met a lot of new people and made a lot of new friends from around the world," Siebenahler said.
On his days off Siebenahler would relax and go to the pool.
"I worked with the same equipment that I do in South Dakota," Baustian said. He worked a night shift and repaired electronic warfare pods in order to get them ready for the next day's mission. He had one day off while he was there.
Siebenahler's job at Prince Sultan Airbase was part of the security forces, or military police. "Security forces are appreciated," Baustian said. "They have long shifts, and it's a tough job."
Siebenahler's job was to patrol the area and provide security for Operation Southern Watch. His 16-hour shifts were during the day. Siebenahler encountered snakes on duty. "We killed two vipers outside," Siebenahler said. "They hide underneath the gate."
"When I got there, the temperature was 85 to 90, but when I left, it was 104 to 108," Baustian said. "It was hot and dusty."
The weather in Saudi Arabia was less than pleasant. "We had sandstorms at least once a week," Siebenahler said. "It's a great ball of dust going across the land. The only way I can explain it is like taking a blow dryer and blowing it in your face."
All of the facilities were air conditioned, and every person was encouraged to drink a lot of water. "The ground was not just sand," Baustian said. "It was red clayish dirt with sand mixed in."
Baustian and Siebenahler differed in their opinions of security in Saudi Arabia.
"I felt very secure," Baustian said. On the base, there were security levels ranging from alpha, the safest, to delta, the most dangerous.
"When I got there, the threat level was at bravo, one level up from alpha," Baustian said. "When I left, it had moved up to charlie." Baustian said it was because of intelligence.
"I did not feel at all safe there," Siebenahler said. "It is not a country I would like to live in." Siebenahler was there when security measures needed to be increased to the most dangerous level.
Americans were not allowed off the base except for special tours provided by the military. No one could leave the base in uniform, and each destination was well-scouted by security. Siebenahler went on a "cultural tour" that showed him a glimpse of Saudi Arabian life.
"We got to see the chop-chop square. That's where they take care of criminals," Siebenahler said. "There were marble floors and a marble bench where they would chop off their heads or their hands. There was a drain and a hose to wash the blood down."
Siebenahler did not see one of the sentences carried out, because military people are not supposed to witness it.
Females are treated as inferior. Females are required to cover everything but their eyes. "The women had to walk behind the men," Siebenahler said.
Siebenahler also was able to see the country. "It was like a giant landfill," Siebenahler said. "People are either really rich or really poor."
"Yes, I'll volunteer again, but I'm not sure when," Baustian said. "I give my wife a lot of credit. If I didn't have her support, we wouldn't be able to do this."
Siebenahler returned home last Saturday, after a five-hour layover in Germany. He now is on leave for rest and recovery in Luverne, and after that, he will go back to Grand Forks, N.D.
Siebenahler is on standby to go back to Saudi Arabia next year.