Local View Column: This? 'Cakewalk' compared to Desert Storm

Dave Boe took a selfie wearing the gas mask he still has, ready to use, from Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm.

I'm stuck in a place. I can't wander far. I'm surrounded by other people but try to keep my distance because, well, we don't smell all that great. Can't go to the movies or shopping. What food I get isn't very good. Danger lurks out there, and I'll eventually have to come face to face with it.

But I do have a mask on hand, ready to use if needed. And I have to burn my own human waste.

A quarantine scenario in today's coronavirus world? Nope. It was one of my bivouacs during Operation Desert Shield/Storm. I wasn't holed up in a house but rather a large tent. It was crowded in the co-ed space. After a few days, modesty went out the window and all of us were getting undressed in front of the other sex. I would go out to get some space, but there wasn't a lot to do. I was in a muddy field filled with other tents and handmade wooden latrines. No porcelain. You did your business into some big, round metal can; and every day or so, some poor sap was tapped to haul the cans out and stir and burn what was inside.

We did have enough toilet paper, though, thankfully.

Just about every other night there would be a SCUD missile attack or threat, and we'd have to put on our chemical gear: suit, gloves, booties, and, of course, the gas mask. I still have mine. When things exploded, we ran, but there was no place to run. Eventually we just stood where we were, figuring it’ll fall where it falls and there’s nothing we can do about it.


It made no difference where we were, the bivouacs were the same: boring, confining, smelly, uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous. Add to them the dog and pony shows that higher headquarters put on routinely.

So, when the brass asked for volunteers to go with the lead support element of the 3rd Armored Division when Desert Storm began, I eagerly raised my hand. More danger, but I'd be away from headquarters. Seemed rational at the time.

I've told this story many times. I'm telling it again because those bivouacs in Southwest Asia — and others in Germany, Kansas, California, Minnesota, and Wisconsin — prepared me for what I'm going through now with all the annoyances brought on by the coronavirus. Compared to those bivouacs, today's restrictions are a cakewalk. I have daily showers, computer, WiFi, TV, radio, a comfy bed, and a porcelain toilet. And I don't have to burn my feces. Flush and forget.

As a man of leisure now, I'm not worried about being laid off. To supplement my VA pension, I write articles and develop wargames. That professionally keeps me occupied. But I was doing that long before the virus showed up. Socially, I attend Toastmasters and other meetings through my computer. Not the same as face to face, but I never had this ability when I was in the Army.

I mentioned wargames. It's been a hobby of mine since I was a teen, so, again, the virus hasn't changed that dynamic — other than I do play more often, along with computer games. One day I'm refighting the battle of Waterloo and the next day I could be conquering and pillaging the Incas or fighting Redcoats. Great fun.

I do worry about my family and friends, but I'm sure with all the crap I ingested while in the Army I'm probably immune from any 'ol silly virus. I'm staying confident, optimistic, and relaxed — and for good reason. It could be worse. It could be an Army bivouac. Instead it's Club Med.

Dave Boe is a communications professional, veteran, and a father who lives in Duluth.


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Dave Boe of Duluth

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