From B.P.C. to Iraq

Gulf vet longs to return to B.P.C.

By Josh Rogers

Alice and Kimmey, before he went to the Gulf.
LLt. Col. Mark Kimmey looks out at the barren desert surrounding Camp Commando in Kuwait, breathes in the air and somehow he is reminded of his home in Battery Park City. Small comfort though, since the desert air reminds him of the months after 9/11 when he and his neighbors were breathing in the dust from the World Trade Center.

“I’ll be hacking up dust from Kuwait for years,” Kimmey said on his cell phone from Camp Commando. He said the dusts are similar. “It’s a fine powder like very finely sifted flour. It gets into everything.”

Kimmey, in one brief cell phone conversation which was cut short when the connection was lost and several e-mails, spoke of missing Alice, his girlfriend of three years who lives with Kimmey in the southern part of B.P.C. He may live closer to ground zero than anyone else who served in the war with Iraq.

After Kimmey and Alice were interviewed, they requested that her last name and street not be published for security reasons. Kimmey, an army reservist with the 358th Civil Affairs Brigade, said they had received intelligence that some Kuwaitis may be examining return addresses for the purposes of harassing soldiers’ families. He said he’s confident Alice is not in any physical danger.

“Maybe we’re just paranoid, but who knows,” he wrote.

Alice, 35, said when she met Kimmey in May 2000 – their anniversary is later this month – she didn’t think his being in the reserves would be too much of a sacrifice.

“The world was a different place at that point,” she said in a telephone interview. “I thought being in the reserves meant one week or one month every year.”

Kimmey left for the Gulf in the beginning of February, before the war started, and is hoping he will be able to return home by Christmas. It’s Alice’s hope, too.

“It’s tough. I hate having him gone,” she said. “I went through a really really hard period when I was worried something was going to happen to him. Now I’m settling into missing him a lot…. Thank God for e-mail.”

E-mail not only is their chief connection now, but it is also how they first communicated. They met through, an Internet dating service. At the time, Alice was living in Battery Park City working for a re-insurance firm, and Kimmey, a computer systems engineer, was living in New Jersey and commuting by ferry. The Seaport was a natural place to meet.

“Heck, what don’t I remember? She met me at the Pier 11 ferry, we had dinner at Red, dessert at Harbor Lights, and I didn’t want to get on the boat to go home,” Kimmey wrote. “She was (and is) charming, intelligent, wonderful company, and has a beautiful smile. She’s got a good heart.”

For her part, Alice said, “I won’t say it was love at first sight, but it was pretty darn close. We hit it off right away.”

They began living together in each others’ apartments almost from the beginning. Immediately after Sept. 11, they lived in Kimmey’s home near Sandy Hook, N.J. Last fall, Kimmey made his permanent home with Alice in Battery Park City.

You might expect Alice to be disturbed to see antiwar protestors in Downtown Manhattan, but she actually has more in common with them than she does with the pro-war marchers who rallied on West St. a few months ago.

Alice has been volunteering for Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who has been the most outspoken critic of the war among the Democratic frontrunners for president.

She said there is nothing unpatriotic about wanting to protect the lives of the U.S. military.

“I wasn’t in favor of this thing from the beginning,” she said. “They still haven’t found any weapons of mass destruction.”

It bothers her when people cite the Sept. 11 terror attack as a justification for the war.

“I feel like the events of 9/11 have been manipulated,” she said. “Iraq had nothing to do with it. It bothers me that many people seem to think that there were Iraqis on the planes.”

Kimmey is more circumspect when talking about the war. He doesn’t see a connection to 9/11 either, but says that if the U.S. is able to improve the lives of ordinary Iraqis, the war will have been worth it.

“Though I think there were plenty of reasons to take down Saddam, I’m not convinced those reasons were adequately explained or supported prior to the initiation of hostilities,” he wrote. “However, I’m willing to allow our leaders some leeway in this, and trust that they have access to information that I’m not going to see….

“Give it five, maybe ten years and see if we have a stable, legitimate government here, respected by its citizens and by the world. See if the standard of living has improved for the average citizen.”

Kimmey, a former tank commander, now coordinates humanitarian relief efforts from Camp Commando near the small town of Al-Jahra, Kuwait. He has been warned not to go into town for safety reasons. He goes on regular missions to southern Iraq delivering supplies, but on most of those, he has had little interaction with the Iraqis.

Usually snipers fire at the convoy and Kimmey says he is glad he has not seen anyone die on either side. He said banditry is rampant and it is common for Iraqis to grab whatever they can, including items like sunglasses when they get up close.

“It’s a gun culture and you have people who don’t have money,” he said. In a subsequent e-mail, he wrote: “In a paternalistic society such as this, the people expect whoever has the power to fix whatever’s wrong. Right now, that’s us. If nothing else, it’s the best argument against big government I’ve ever seen: when everyone is dependent on the government for so much, they no longer know how to take care of themselves (or are unwilling to do so) when that government falters….

“It will take a few years before they really understand that we’re not here as conquerors. They won’t start to understand that until they realize that most of our military has gone away and that we’re still helping them make their country a better, more stable, more prosperous place.”

Kimmey, 43, switched to Civil Affairs several years ago and said it still feels strange to be in a noncombat role.

“In truth, I’m way too old to be running around playing combat soldier,” he said. “But having gone to West Point and having served ten years on active duty as a tanker, you expect to be in the thick of things, making things happen. Coming in after the fact and hiding out in the rear just runs contrary to everything I ever wanted to be.”

This is the closest Kimmey has come to a war, though. In 1990 and 1991 he helped develop the military’s strategy for pushing Iraq out of the deserts in Kuwait. He was stationed at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert. They simulated the Iraqi defense lines and then worked on ways to beat it until they came up with the winning formula. He said he was hoping to go to the Gulf, but Gen. Wesley Clark, who later became NATO commander, was afraid if the war dragged on, he would need Kimmey’s unit to train reinforcements for desert warfare.

Kimmey knows his conditions are better than those of many combat units, but it doesn’t make it any easier dealing with the dust and wind of the Kuwaiti desert. Often the camp runs out of water at the end of the day so there is no way to wash the dust and sand off his body.

In deference to the Islamic country, no alcohol is allowed on the base, and Kimmey said he is looking forward to enjoying martinis with Alice at the Ritz-Carlton.

Kimmey’s 15-year-old son lives with his ex-wife in Nashville, Tenn., and he expects to see him soon after returning and to take a SCUBA-diving trip with Alice. Kimmey and Alice are both divorced and say in their hearts, they feel married to one another. Being apart has not made either one feel like marrying again, however.

Although federal law is supposed to protect his job, Kimmey said he has been hearing business is down at his computer-consulting firm in New Jersey and he is not sure if his job will be there when he gets back.

But he prefers to focus on the good things about coming home.

“I really want to stand in a grove full of evergreen trees and listen to a waterfall in the distance,” he wrote. “I really want to take a deep breath and smell air not laden with dust!”


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