South Point officer remembers Kuwait

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 13, 2003

During the past week, United States military personnel and Iraqi citizens toppled statues of Saddam Hussein amongst cheering crowds thrilled to see the downfall of the Iraqi regime.

One South Point police officer met grateful Kuwaitis also happy to be free of Hussein in 1998.

Brian Efaw, 25, is now responsible in part for the security of the Village of South Point. Five years ago, he and other personnel in the U.S. Air Force were responsible for the security of a military compound in Kuwait City for four months. The compound housed aircraft that would patrol No-Fly Zones. Efaw is currently on inactive duty.

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Efaw recalled watching Hussein's statue come crashing down during the fall of Baghdad.

"It was almost like watching history repeat itself, like the [Berlin] wall torn down," he said. "It was another country getting its freedom."

When the 21-year-old Efaw, in Japan at the time, learned that he would be going to Kuwait, he spoke to his mother before leaving. The military's plans were to first send him to Oregon, then Georgia, Germany and Kuwait.

His conversation with his mother was the last he would have with her. Efaw discovered that she died after a battle with diabetes when he arrived in Oregon. In 1991, he had also lost his father to diabetes. Efaw boarded a plane for Ohio in Georgia and headed to his hometown, Chillicothe.

Efaw was given the option of being replaced on the Kuwait mission, but he only requested to have a week to coordinate his mother's funeral arrangements and take care of her belongings. Members of his family wanted him to stay longer. Even though he loves the remaining members of his family, he had lost both of his parents. He opted to mourn in the desert.

"After having diabetes, I knew they were in a better place," he said. "I was with friends, and they helped out a lot."

Despite the first Gulf War being over for seven years before his arrival, Efaw was still in a dangerous place. That summer, two U.S. embassies were bombed, one in Kenya and one in Tanzania. Every day, dogs would find the residue of explosives on vehicles that traveled outside the compound. This residue, Efaw said, was placed on the vehicles by Iraqis wanting to see exactly how tight the compound's security was.

The oil fields set on fire by invading Iraqi forces during the first Gulf War were still burning.

Efaw said he and the others were told to only give their name, rank and Social Security number if they were ever taken prisoner. Also, land mines were still prevalent in the area.

"You had to walk on a beaten path that had been cleared by a team," Efaw said.

As if the security risks were not enough, the climate presented another challenge, especially the sandstorms.

"It was like a sandblaster," Efaw said.

"It was 140 degrees during the day," he continued. "We were told to drink a bottle of water every hour. At night, it wasn't below 100 degrees."

Upon his arrival, Efaw stayed in an eight-person transition tent in which he and his comrades had their own rooms. The tents were air-conditioned with television sets and refrigerators.

However, power outages were frequent.

"You would wake up in a puddle of sweat," he said. "Then, you would take off your boots to make sure no camel spiders or scorpions were in them."

Even though security and climate conditions were harsh, the Kuwaitis Efaw encountered were not.

"They were happy we were sent over," he said. "They all liked Bush, and they would show us pictures of the war.

Every two hours, the Kuwaiti guards at the compound where Efaw was working would switch. The Kuwaitis had a shared gun with a small amount of ammunition. The Kuwaitis would joke that if under attack, the Kuwaitis would hide behind the better-armed Americans.

Just as the U.S. military was still present in Kuwait seven years after the war, Efaw predicts the military's job being far from over now.

"We'll have a high presence until who knows when," he said.

Efaw encouraged support for military personnel doing the job he once did as well as President Bush. A co-worker at his other job at AK Steel in Ashland, Ky., is currently serving in the U.S. Army. This man was in Kuwait the last time Efaw heard about him.

If he were asked to fight in the war this time, Efaw said he would have done it.

"When people join the military, some people join to fight for their country, some join for the education," he said. "No one wants a war. I don't want a war. But, if I were asked, I would be right there."