In 1997, I was sent to Sinai, Egypt by the U.S. Army. I had been stationed the previous 3 years in the Old Guard in Washington, D.C. The Old Guard is the primary ceremonial unit for the Military District of Washington and the US Army as a whole. White House functions. The Tomb of the Unknowns. Arlington National Cemetery. The Old Guard performs all of these functions and more.
After reading about the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Army Magazine, I volunteered to go to Egypt by calling up my career manager in the Hoffman Building in Crystal City. He told me that I’d need a waver to leave The Old Guard signed by my Regimental Commander. I told him that wouldn’t be a problem. I had a pretty good relationship with my Chain of Command. As the HQ Platoon Sergeant for Alpha Company, I knew most of the key players in the Regiment at the time.
About a year later, I was on my way to the Sinai.
Back then, everyone heading to the Sinai had to inprocess through Fort Bragg, NC. I hated the place. Infantry Bureaucracy in it’s full glory. Serving in the Infantry in the US Army is a decent gig. I never thought to much of it. But Bragg takes everything to the next level. Bureaucracy. Stupidity. Everything. And the Bragg Airborne mentality is such that the Airborne Soldier is the greatest thing on the planet. Even the fat old ladies who guard the entrance to the commissary have attitudes.
After a week, I made it out of Bragg without being court-martialed. Airborne shuffled my way over to the Airport in Fayetteville and I was off to Egypt. Via JFK in New York and Tel Aviv, Israel.
After about 20 hours of flying and airport time, we arrived in Tel Aviv. it’s a different world. Israeli Soldiers and Civilian Police stalk the corridors of the Airport with Uzis and M16s in full view. Locked and Loaded and ready for action. These boys AND girls aren’t playing. I saw them tear through a couple of peoples baggage like it was nothing. they grabbed one Arab looking fellow and carted him off to some room for God knows what. No one is playing in Tel Aviv when it comes to security.
Our MFO liaisson meets us at the baggage carousel. Some Staff Sergeant whose name now escapes me. he ushers us off into a 40 pax white bus with the MFO insignia on the side.
If I remember correctly, we drive immediately for the border. Rafah gate. Right next to Gaza. I admit to being nervious. I had heard all of the stories of violence. Suicide bombers and such. We made it to the border without incident. We crossed out of Israel and into Egypt. My first 3rd World border crossing. In and out of your vehicles. Official Documents reviewed, stamped, reviewed again and stamped again. And a whole lot of waiting. On the Israel side, things were organized and clean.
Crossing over into Egypt was like crossing over into the apocalypse. There were people camped out like refugees. Waiting to get out of Egypt and into Israel to carry goods to markets in Israel or further on into Jordan, Syria and beyond. There was trash strewn everywhere. Israel is green everywhere. Crossing over into Egypt, the green abruptly ends and in it’s place is desert sand and trash.
As we drove off, one of the MFO vets yells; “LOOK! The Egyptian National bird!” and points forward to where a large black plastic bag flys across the front of the bus. We all got a good chuckle out of that.
The other thing that you immediately notice is the flies. They are out in droves. Flies in Egypt are a constant nuisance. Not like in America or elsewhere. You cross the border into Egypt and immediately you are surrounded by swarms of flies. Cross back over into Israel and they disappear. Perhaps, the plagues of Moses continues.
By way of explanation, one of the older MFO guys on the bus tells us that when you cross the border into Egypt, you are assigned your family of flies. They stay with you until you PCS out of Egypt. When you take a pass into Israel or take your mid-tour leave, your assigned family of flies awaits your return at the border. If you listen closely, you can hear them welcoming you back upon your return. “Hey Dave! We missed you!”
We get through the border and arrive at North Camp about 3 hours later. The whole process has taken about ten hours from airport to North Camp. We’re inprocessed. Assigned rooms. Given our work assignments. And then told to rest the next day. At that months Hail and Farewell, we are all greeted and introduced around.
After about two weeks, we start to venture out. My first foray into the Egyptian country side was Port Said. Rob Pando, Peters and I take a weekend trip to a shopping mall and on to Port Said. The strangest thing to happen was when Noon Prayers are called.
We are all standing on a street corner. People buzzing all about. Merchants. Folks out to purchase wares at the market. Kids begging us for a couple of Egyptian pounds.
Suddenly, the muezzin starts the call to prayer. Instantly the streets empty. The place is a ghost town. No people anywhere. I had no idea what was going on. Three of us start walking down the street. We look down one of the main streets and we see them. There must be hundreds. Possibly thousands. In the middle of the street. Prayers rugs out. Bent over praying towards Mekkah.
I wish I had taken a picture. I was too new and was fearful of giving offense. I had never seen anything like it. The whole town seemd to be praying towards Mekkah.
As fast as it started it finished and suddenly the streets were swarming again the mass of humanity that lives and works in Port Said.
Later, when we all became comfortable, we would visit Cairo many times. We would also learn about the lures and beauty of Israel and especially Tel Aviv.
I favored Tel Aviv over Cairo. There are bars and discos and beaches and women. Tel Aviv is similar to European cities. With enough of a mix of Americana to make it seem more at home for me. My second trip to Tel Aviv, I met a gal (Galit Kabra) there and fell madly in love in a relationship that had no future. But it was fun.
In our trips to Cairo, we explored the city, the Pyramids, the river and everything else. I watched the guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns and Sadats memorial change guard once. I saw the reviewing stand at which Sadat was assassinated. Rob Pando and I visited Sakkara and viewed the October War Panorama (Propaganda).
I made a couple of good friends in the Sinai that year. I had a series of outstanding experiences and visited some extraordinary places. Petra and Jerusalem among other places. 1998 was a good year for me.
All of the pictures below were taken from 1997 to 1998. I had an automatic 35mm film job that I got from my ex-wife. I think it was a hand me down from her parents. It took some decent pictures.