The first time I was in Kuwait was 20 days after the Gulf War in 1991. Along with 6 others – David Drier, Bob Lagomarsino, Peter Madigan, David Norcross, Matt Reynolds, and Jim Saxton – we were the first civilians to spend the night after the war ended. There were no commercial flights so DHL kindly lent us a small prop plane and pilot (along with a staff member who pretended to be a steward and served us cold beers in the air) to land at Kuwait airport. We had the Kuwaiti government’s permission but, with little infrastructure, there was no official stamp or office where we could have our passports stamped. A nice man hand wrote in our passports. (After the structure came back, we had 10 year multiple entry visas, but I cherish the hand written one.)
Knowing that food would be an issue, I took peanut butter and Bremner wafers. The U.S. Ambassador, Skip Gnehm, also gave us MREs. We stayed at the Hilton, which was barely standing, and the only “almost” useful rooms were on the 14th floor with no electricity. So, needless to say, we got our exercise. Since there were no locks on the doors (the Iraqis had bashed them in out of spite) we had a U.S. soldier guarding each door. When it was time to eat our peanut butter and crackers, none of us had a can opener. (Even the boy scouts amongst us weren’t prepared for everything.) So I asked the young corporal outside the door to the Presidential Suite where we were eating if he could find a can opener. Like the prepared soldier he was, he pulled a knife out of his boot and neatly cut open the tin of wafers.
We wandered the streets and met several Kuwaitis who lived through the war. They showed us where the torture rooms were; they guided us through the streets knowing where the land mines were still placed. We went out close to the border of Iraq and picked up casings and unspent shells (which I still have as a memento). We smelled the putrid stench of the oil wells burning. No matter which way the wind blew one couldn’t get rid of the smell. There was almost nothing useful left to the buildings. The Iraqis had occupied every nice villa and trashed them, including defecating on kitchen floors. Some of the buildings still smelled of blood from where torturing had taken place.
I went back this last week and was amazed at the difference — skyscrapers, a bustling downtown, new beach clubs, and new exquisite houses. I got to see the Kuwaitis I met 23 years ago and with whom I have stayed great friends. Experiencing the rising from the ashes is very impressive. I had been back many times before but this stretch of seven years saw the greatest change. Needless to say, there is no smell of oil — just sand, sea and lots of good coffee. Excellent restaurants have developed; the Sheraton even has a Luxury Collection hotel.
It was great to be back and even greater to see what the proper use of American force can do — allow a people whose nation was stolen to rebuild it and thrive. Mabrouk!