Three little old buttons, bright and cheery yellow, are pinned to an equally aging red-and-white ghutra that hangs reverently in my garage, beaming slogans that inspire feelings of pride and triumph.
IN SAUDI ARABIA MY DADDY IS A HERO
GOD BLESS MY DADDY IN SAUDI ARABIA
WELCOME HOME DADDY
I was 2 back when my 20-year-old father, Mike “Doe Doe” Huffman, joined the Army National Guard in 1988. It was something he’d always wanted to do, always wanting to be a part of something bigger than himself.
The Army welcomed all 145 pounds of him.
After a swearing-in and a salute, my father was shipped out via bus to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he and other fresh recruits were greeted by the loud, grating voice of a drill sergeant.
In fact, right before my father left for basic training, my great-grandfather and Korean War veteran, Henry Sanders, gave him the heads-up:
“Now, Mike, I’m gonna go ahead and tell you, the one thing that’s gonna get you is your laughin’. You laugh at everything. ...”
And that’s exactly what my father started doing shortly after getting off the bus, as the poor fella standing next to him in line was being called every synonym to “scum,” “worthless” and “disgrace.” The recruit agreed, repeatedly yelling, “YES SIR! YES SIR!”
My father tried to hold it in. But all he could think of was Gomer Pyle, at least until he felt the brim of the drill sergeant’s hat pop him in the forehead, and he became acquainted with the most vicious pair of bulging eyes he’d ever seen.
Instantly, my father took up right where the other recruit left off: “YES SIR! YES SIR!”
For eight weeks, my father understood this was no laughing matter, especially when the female drill sergeant took over and made it her mission to make every push-up, sit-up, rope climb, obstacle course and heart-pounding hike even more strenuous.
She hated men. There was no doubt. Snarling in disgust, she never let the recruits forget they all smelled “like a bunch of goats.”
Eight long weeks.
After basic training, my father spent a few months learning the fine art of auto mechanics. However, rather than repair vehicles, he found himself behind the wheels of flatbed trucks once the Gulf War got underway in 1990.
Being handed the truck keys didn’t surprise my father at all. Since high school, he knew his destiny would roll along life paths on 18 wheels. So it was only a matter of time until the Army recognized his special talent.
And put it to good use.
Before my father and other soldiers were deployed, the town of Gordo and city of Reform held parades in their honor. Driving a deuce-and-a-half truck, my father was steering toward the crowd gathered in downtown Gordo when his daddy, Pawpaw Buck, leapt onto the driver’s side door and grabbed my father’s arm, riding along.
The old man, who’d spent a short stint in the Army himself and told his drill sergeant upon completing basic training that he didn’t care where they wanted him to report to next, he was headin’ back home to Pickens County, was squalling.
“I gotta go, Daddy,” my father said, gently shooin’ the old man away as the cheers got louder. “I gotta go…”
So off he went, flying out of Fort Benning, Georgia, and landing in Saudi Arabia. Then he and the rest of his unit, the 946th Supply Company, headed deeper into the desert, where the blazing sun and shade competed for sweat.
The shade always won, inflicting an Alabama-like humidity upon anyone who got in it.
In fact, the dry heat was so intense that, after washing clothes in a bucket and hanging them out between tents, they’d be dry in about two hours. Cool breezes were always welcomed, but strong winds brought blinding sandstorms.
These were among the things my father got used to while hauling supplies and equipment to various units throughout the desert. But one of the most memorable sights came while driving toward the outskirts of Kuwait, when he gazed upon a massive cloud of darkness.
The entire area underneath was engulfed in a smoky haze.
The phenomenon was the result of arson committed by a retreating Saddam Hussein and his troops, who turned multiple Kuwaiti oil fields into an inferno.
The grimness was made even grimmer by the sight of starving Kuwaiti children, inspiring my father and his traveling comrades to toss out MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) to a group of kids they encountered along the roadway.
Completing his duties, my father was happy to get back to glorious Alabama, where family was waiting for him.
“Are you gonna have to go back?” Pawpaw Buck asked him.
My father reckoned he’d have to if he got the call.
“Naw, you ain’t puttin’ me through that again, Doe Doe,” Buck assured him. “They don’t take one-legged folks.”
My father insists he didn’t do anything special during the war. But I disagree. When our country needed a trucker, he was ready to ride.
My father was Doe Doe of Arabia.
Keith Huffman can be reached at email@example.com.
Keith Huffman can be reached
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