I grew into manhood in the Sinai Desert: 1977-1980. Missed out on Disco, but it was damn well worth it.
Who needed Disco anyway? I served a ‘higher’–figuratively and literally–‘calling’.
What you may choose to read below is the first installment of a personal history I am determined to write about the men and women I had the honor to know, to love, to work and walk among, and to call ‘Friend’, as we all tried in our way, to bring peace between the Egyptians and the Israelis after the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Yom Kippur War / 3 Minute History
(Your Humble Author Highly Recommends You Invest Three Minutes Watching This)
Content Credit: Jabzy
The conditions were harsh, the boredom at times mind-numbing. Seventy-five percent of us were under thirty. Almost all of us were Texans. Roughly eighty-five percent of us were male, fourteen percent female, and one percent ‘other.’
We were not actually building anything discernible, tangible, touchable. We were in fact, merely acting as civilian ‘Paid Political Hostages,’ not construction contractors, not U.S. Military Special Forces, not United Nations Representatives.
I suppose a more euphemistic term for us would have been “Observers.” Which, as I recall, was how the U.S. Foreign Service ‘Officially’ referred to us and our mission.
Yet we still preferred ‘Paid Political Hostages’, as it seemed to more accurately and honestly describe how we saw our role there.
But however you referred to us, we ended up ‘constructing’ something immensely more important than bricks and mortar:
The Camp David Accords
Peace! Peace between two enemies who had not known peace since before Moses was a pup, if ever…
This ‘Peace’ would never have come to fruition if not for men and women (and ‘other’) of The Sinai Field Mission.
This paralyzed fact can never be disputed, nor ignored.
Page one from the letter linked below
Our efforts were not entirely without cost.
Some of us who spent too many years there, went slowly, yet surely insane there…
Lance Marcom was one such man who fell victim to “The SFM Madness.”
(In a ‘Good’ way of course…)
Excerpt from the article linked above:
A faint laughing snort escaped as I shook my head upon seeing that sign duct-taped to the door of the hooch belonging to some of my fellow drivers:
‘Rocket Tom’, ‘J.R. Mog’, ‘Jet’, and ‘Big Mo’. Big Mo wasn’t a driver per se; I mean he didn’t drive trucks or R&R passenger vehicles: He drove dozers, road graders, front-end loaders, and the occasional fork lift, although he considered fork-lifts “Too wussy for a Texan named Big Mo” to drive.
I gave the door a hearty knock.
Opening the door, I was enveloped in a cloud of smoke shoved out by the cold air conditioning.
The contrast from the hot Sinai air shocked my senses, but felt oh, so… inviting. I stepped inside the doorway and paused, giving my eyes a moment to adjust to the subdued lighting in the hooch.
(The sun in Sinai is blindingly bright, and extremely so.)
My ears were loudly and violently assaulted by ZZ Top’s ‘TUSH,’
Blasting from Mog’s Boom Box.
Video Credit: wiieje
Seated around an empty cable spool (about three feet in diameter), were three fourths of the usual suspects: Mog, Jet, and Rocket Tom.
“You just gonna stand there, or ya gonna have a seat?” Mog demanded. Then added, “Hey Rocket! Crank down th’ volume on that shit. We dun got us here a ‘special’ guest!”
“ZZ Top ain’t “Shit”, Mog. An’ I ain’t seein’ no ‘special’ guest. I jes’ seein’ Lancer.” Rocket yelled back over ZZ, as he got up, walked over to the box and ‘Turned that “Shit” down’.
Laughter all around. And at my expense. It was just our ‘way,’ our good-natured way–
Crates full of great, and sincere, camaraderie.
None of us took life (nor one another) too seriously.
J.R. Mog, was a corpulent, charismatic, boisterous, ‘talks too loud’ Texan who generally had the first (and last) word in any conversation.
His full, Proper, Official Title was “J. R. Mog, Half-Man, Half-Alligator, Part-Time Hog; Tamer of Wild Women and Other Assorted Interests.”
Or… simply just ‘Mog’ for short (Thank God).
“How y’all?” I said, taking a seat on one of the camel saddles which served as chairs.
Scattered about the tabletop were a couple of small pipes, a chunk of hashish the size of a pregnant golf ball, an overflowing ashtray, three or four empty beer bottles (Amstel), a couple of magazines, a crumpled pack of Marlboros, a Moët & Chandon bottle with a burnt up candle stuck in it, wax coating it all around and down to the top of the table thus cementing it there, and something that looked like it might have been an orange in a former life.
Mog answered, “We just finer ‘n frog hair. Wanna beer? You know where the fridge is.”
“Matter of fact, I do,” I said, getting up and tacking back and forth through the piles of dirty clothes, homemade furniture, shards of beer bottles, and stacked-up cases of Amstel, Heineken, and Tuborg Squash—a heavily carbonated orange soda from Denmark—the best thing on Earth for the morning cotton-mouth most of us suffered more mornings than not.
(May have had something to do with smoking hash and drinking late into the night, but that’s just my theory.)
I returned with a Heineken and sat back down, taking a swig as I did so.
Jet said, “Well, Lancer, now that you’re all settled, we can fire us up a bowl.”
(I had not done anything noteworthy enough up until this point at Sinai Field Mission to warrant a moniker other than my given Christian name).
Using a Buck Knife, Jet proceeded to carve some hash off the golf ball, then mixing the slivers with some tobacco, stuffed one of the pipes and lit it with a Zippo.
We passed the ‘bowl’ around, refilling it a few times here and there, then settled back with our beers.
Jet, the oldest at the table–about thirty—wore a goatee, long brown hair on top of a head that looked a little too big for the rest of his frame. He had a laconic manner, but was not what one could ever call ‘brusque’. He just didn’t say much. He seemed to save his words like cash money is what I’m saying.
Presently, he asked, “Mog, when’s your next run to TA?” (‘TA’ = Tel Aviv).
Mog (who spent words with reckless abandon) replied, “I got the fuckin’ R&R run tomorrow. Shit! Hey Lance, what you got? Wanna trade?”
Mog hated the R&R runs mainly because R&R runs involved taking passengers. He loved driving the trucks into ‘Town’. Two reasons: He loved trucks and he loved to drive trucks very, very fast. Mog was a great driver, but riding with him scared the shit out of me.
“Sure Mog; I’ll trade with ya.”
“Which run you got?” he asked, now slightly wary at my all-too-quick agreement.
See THIS Recent Post:
“Aw Shit No! Forget it,” Mog said loudly.
SFM Basecamp lies roughly thirty ‘klicks’ from the Suez Canal. Every day an R&R vehicle left SFM to rendezvous with the one coming from Cairo. Passengers and mail were exchanged via a small boat. Then continue on to Cairo or back to SFM.
Having ‘The Canal Run’ meant getting off-base only for an hour or two or three, dependent upon how the ‘Sand Storm Gods’ were disposed on any given day.
Going to Tel Aviv meant driving only four hours, checking into the Sheraton and having the rest of the day and night to paint the town red with Per Diem and whatever else one wanted to contribute or muster out of his own purse.
Mog had an Israeli girlfriend in Tel Aviv, actually she was his fiancée, and he took all the Tel Aviv runs he could get, so he could go see ‘The Little Mama’.
In fact, all the drivers had Israeli girlfriends except Big Mo. His ‘Honey-Co’ was a Big-Boned, Brunette ‘Tall Drank O’ Water,’ Texan Gal, working for SFM, just like the rest of us.
Her moniker was ‘Big Mammu’ and if those two didn’t eventually get united in hellish matrimony, then I say ‘Fuck it.’ There is no hope for the rest of the world. Perfect for each other they were, is all I’m saying.
Rocket Tom was a wiry, slightly nervous-energy type about five-foot ten, with long dark brown hair and a full beard. Even though he was Pure Texan, his accent spoke ‘Tennessee’ to me: Probably genetic since most Texans have Tennessee bones buried somewhere in their family closets.
“Y’all just gettin’ back from the TA?” Rocket drawled in my direction.
“Yeah. Had the Reefer Run. The KP’s unloading her now.”
“Well,” he went on, “I hope y’all brought back some ah that Israeli choc’late milk this time.”
“Sorry Bro; they still fresh out at the market.”
“Well shit-fire!” he yelled, suddenly jumping up to his feet. “How they spec’ us to keep our mo’ral here in the Middle-of-the-Fuckin’-East, Sinai fuckin’ field mission, hot-ass desert without no Goddamn choc’late milk?”
(He did love his chocolate milk, especially after a smoked bowl or two of the hubbly-bubbly, which for us was another word for hashish, although technically, it means the water pipe we sometimes used to smoke it in, often mixed with a sticky sweet Egyptian honey tobacco—very pleasant aroma, that.)
Mog chimed in, “Hell an’ God-awmighty Rocket! Calm the fuck on down Son! Y’all need to lay off that shit anyhow. I believe you done put on a pound or two just this week, ‘specially round yer middle section there.”
(Rocket Tom weighed about 140 pounds, soaking wet. With-his-boots-on).
Mog continued on the roll he was working himself up to, “Lancers, that reefer truck still got both its mirrors attached?”
Laughter all around. (Rocket, now sated and satisfied by his outburst, had sat, and ‘calmed-the-fuck-down’…)
I had become notorious with the drivers (and somewhat despised & infamously regarded by the mechanics) for losing the driver’s side swing-out mirrors off four trucks in the past two weeks.
The roads through the desert were quite narrow with no shoulders at all. And in fact, there was usually a sharp drop off which if hit, would cause a fast moving, top heavy, loaded-down truck to flip over. I was cognizant of this and would never give up my half of the road.
No Matter What.
Too often I would encounter an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) truck with some pimple-faced kid, fresh off the Kibbutz at the wheel barreling down upon me from the opposite direction, taking his half of the road from the middle.
Inevitably our mirrors would collide. And violently so. Since SFM’s trucks all had air conditioning, my windows were always rolled up, saving me from being smacked by the mirror as it smashed against the side of the truck.
The IDF guys, well probably not, as their trucks, to my knowledge, did not come with factory air.
“Yeah Mog. She still got both her mirrors.”
“Well, did ya leave any crippled jackasses in yer wake this time?” Mog laughed.
On my very first R&R run to Tel Aviv I was driving our Chevy Van loaded full with twelve passengers, two of whom were high-ranking State Department pukes. I was a bit nervous, and was trying to drive oh so carefully and safely, as I felt my future as a driver depended upon it.
Somewhere just south of Al Arish, we came upon a couple of donkeys in the road.
I started slowing down, but not wanting to hit the brakes too suddenly or too hard, thereby throwing my passengers forward, I misjudged and hit one of the jackasses square in the ass. His hind legs flew out from underneath him and his butt hit the road.
He managed to get back up on his legs, then turned and glared at me as he stumbled off. I drove on down the road as if nothing had happened and saw a Bedouin in my rear view mirror shaking his fist and spewing what I theorized were some choice words at me in Arabic.
“Naw. Overall it was a borin’ trip,” I said. Then added, “Mog, you sure you don’t wanna take my Canal Run tomorrow?”
“Son, you know Goddamn well I don’t. Last time I had that run…”
(Here it comes, another ‘Mog Story’)
“I got stuck for two hours behind a broke-dick-of-a’-Egyptian-lame-ass-broke-down-convoy. They had the whole damn road covered up with their doubya-doubya-two wrecks-on-wheels. Musta been twenny of ‘em. I’m tryin’ to figure out how to get around, but they had the unmitter-grated gall to break down ‘tween two fuckin’ sand dunes…“
“Nothin’ I could do but set an’ wait ‘em out. I’ll be Goddamn-go-to-Hell if their tow truck finally shows, and she pro-ceeds to break down her own damn self! Jesus, Mary and Yosef!“
“My passengers goin’ all stupid worryin’ an’ frettin’ they ain’t gonna get to Cairo in time to catch their planes for R&R back to The Land of the Big PX and the All-Night Restaurant.”
“I tells ’em the other vehicle gonna wait there at the crossin’, ‘So why don’t Y’all just shut the fuck up!’”
“Uh… Mog,” Rocket interjected, “There weren’t no USG types in your vehicle, were they?”
“Ah Hell No! Rocket. You know I am always po-lite as pie when those State Department assholes are on-board. Anyways, as I was sayin’, we settin’ there wonderin’ when the next tow truck gonna show, so I call ahead to Mohammad to see if he at the canal yet. Finally managed to get him on the radio and tole him to set tight. I’d get there when I got there.“
A word here about the convoys that travelled through the ‘Buffer Zone’. The Egyptians had nothing but World War Two era Russian trucks and every time they attempted a convoy, they broke down.
Sure as God made Texas, they were gonna break down.
The Israelis, on the other hand, had all-new trucks and tanks, and planes, most of which they got from the U.S. when Nixon bailed them out during the first half of the two-week-long Yom Kippur War when the Egyptians were actually kicking the ever’-lovin’ shit outta their Israeli asses.
There was a massive air-lift of new military hardware to the Israelis so they would not get pushed into the Mediterranean.
Now, I’m not saying the Israelis didn’t deserve credit for ‘winning’ that war in the end, (and some would still call it a ‘draw’), but without the infusion of new equipment from Tricky-Dick and Hank Kissinger, well…
Mog continued, “Well, with nothin’ to do now but wait her out, I went to see if I could find some ‘Gyptian could give me an idee of just how much longer they gonna be blockin’ my road.
After wading through some wearing they jammies and wantin’ baksheesh, I found an officer who spoke some English.
He tole me, ‘No worries. No worries.’ Well, d’rectly here come another ‘gyptian tow truck. Took ‘em another hour to clear the damn road. We got to the canal just ‘bout an hour ‘fore sundown. I swear, I ain’t takin’ no more canal runs. Oh-Fuck-No!”
There was a lot of bullshit talked at SFM, but for the most part, it was what you’d call pretty damn good bullshit (for the most part.) I enjoyed it terribly.
If you have come with me thus far, then you may be happy to know that there
will be is more to this story.
Too much more.
Way too much more.
Thanks for reading.
–Lancer of Arabia
Just a footnote here, as this part actually happened much later in the timeline from the stories reported above.
And Lifted from this post:
The Orphan Benjamin.
One night, I think it was in late ’78, I was staggering back to my hooch from our little bar. My walk took me through our game room: Two pool tables, a jukebox, shuffle board, ping pong… et cetera. Anyway, just by the exit door there was a table. On this table was a carton of Marlboro’s, a case of Heineken, a ‘doggie bag’ from the galley, and a one hundred dollar bill.
Thinking nothing of it, I just kept tacking on toward my hooch, some fifty meters down the way…
I woke up the next morning and instantly thought of all that unclaimed booty and for just an instant hoped that no one had stolen it.
But then I remembered where I was and knew that would never happen.
We had a brother/sisterhood there in Sinai.
I managed to drag my hung-over ass out of my rack and head in to breakfast in our galley. My trip took me past the table in question. Everything was just as it was the night before; waiting for the rightful owner to sober up and claim.
If I had not already been in love with my ‘Co-SFM’ers till then, I certainly was now. Two hundred folks at SFM, and nary a thief amongst us. I will never forget that minor little memory. It touched me deep.
And then I just went into breakfast. You see? This was not… ‘different’ for us back then!
For you see?
We had love.
We respected one another.
Ponderin’ Just a Little Bit Though,
I’d Venture A Theory:
Our Mutual Respect Partly At Least,
Came From The Fact That
We were Living & Working So Closely Together,
Isolated, For The Most Part, From The Rest Of The World In Such An Isolated And Desolate Place.
However, I Believe The Main Reason Was Because
The Vast Majority of Us Were Texans.
(But of Course, It Is Within The Realm Of Possibility That I may Be Just A Tad Bit Biased)