Military personnel take some time to relieve some stressors from their deployment with a little friendly competition

In the midst of deployment life, active duty and reservists military personnel can undergo stress after stress due to a variety of reasons.  Their Area of Responsibility (AOR) will determine the level of severity and stress they will experience.  Either it is having to take gun fire, hold back a line, be on the lookout for hidden Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) or simply providing security and always being prepared for the possibility of an attack.

Studies have shown how deployments can affect personnel differently on a mental level.  Even in locations where the threat is not as high, the simple stress that comes from adapting to a new environment and away from loved ones can be taxing to the individual and their family.

Psychological Health Center of Excellence states, “Combat and operational stress is a normal reaction to an abnormal event…Combat and operational stress applies to all deployments, not just those involving a combat environment.  Being away from the comforts of home and support systems can add stress that often is not recognized.”

Mental health is a serious matter, especially in the military.  Personnel in command understand the importance of mental health and seek ways for their troops on the ground to find ways to relieve themselves of stress in a multitude of ways.

In 2016, the U.S. Air Force Marathon took place at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  At the same time, about 2,000 deployed Airmen in Qatar, Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Southwest Asia also stepped to the starting line to participate, not letting a minor hurdle such as being deployed, stop them from competing in the Air Force Marathon.

Now in Kuwait, 2018, the semi-finals and finals of the Rock soccer games took place.  These games began as a way for deployed military to get out of their rooms, somewhere away from work and deployment life, exert some energy and have some fun while taking part in a little competition.  The word “little” being vastly underrated.

Staff sergeant (SSgt) Nicholas Reynolds, a reservist stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force base is on his second deployment.  He is currently deployed in Kuwait and working as a Security Forces member.  When Reynolds isn’t working, he can be found playing soccer with some coworkers and other deployed individuals.  Reynolds is the captain for the 387th Security Forces squadron soccer team in Kuwait.

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Staff sergeant Nicholas Reynolds (far right) finishes his scrimmage before the start of the semi-finals.

Reynolds states, “There is a lot more to do here than my first deployment in Afghanistan, a lot more things to do here to raise morale.”

The reason Reynolds decided to take up soccer while deployed was to better his health.  Reynolds began to feel that competitive itch the more he played and decided to participate in the soccer tournament.

“It is a great opportunity for individuals to take out their stress and kind of relieve themselves of the stressors of a deployed environment,” Reynolds says.  “Getting together with others, kind of socializing in an athletic type of environment.  It is good for people.  Potentially it can bring sometimes coalition forces together or people from different units together.  It is good to have.”

Reynolds mentions how easy it is to get caught up in going to work and staying in the room. Continuing that same routine for the 6 months of deployment will eat away at a people and make the deployment seem longer as well as harder to deal with, elevating stress and decreasing morale.

“Getting out and getting involved in a sport, especially where different people from different groups get together and have a good time, that can help relieve some of the mental stressors that go on from being away from home,” says Reynolds.

Deployments are what the individual makes it.  They can be fun and exciting, they can bring anxiety and fear, or they can be long, boring and miserable.  It is entirely on the person experiencing it.  A group of people can deploy together and each of them will have a different experience and different opinion of how it went.  For the person who does the job and goes back to their room, they may feel miserable and homesick.  For the person who decides to make the best of it and participate in events, go to the gym, take dance classes, or join an intramural sports team, the deployment flies by and they leave having formed new bonds with people they otherwise would not have met and great stories to tell when they get back stateside.

“I would definitely encourage someone who is isolating themselves or trying to stay by themselves to get out there and do something social or something that is competitive because you can build some really good relationships,” says Reynolds.

Driving habits of Kuwaiti locals and how they are different from the U.S.

The world consists of different countries, which then follows a set of different cultures, leading to different ways of doing day to day things.  Foreigners will come to the United States of America and wonder why Americans do things a certain way.  Why the currency is the same shape and color, why personal displays of affection (PDA) are acceptable and why Americans appear to be so boisterous or forward. The same can easily be said for foreigners, specifically Westernized foreigners such as Americans, travel to Eastern countries and experience what is commonly called a “culture shock.” The same set of questions are pondered when exposed to different cultures that they are not used to seeing. Especially when these countries are more conservative in comparison to the open-minded views of Americans.

The country that will be focused on will be Kuwait.  Kuwait is a pre-dominantly Arab country and the religion widely followed is Islam. Although Kuwait has embraced a more Westernized culture, it is a highly religious country and has its own set of laws, customs and regulations that citizens and foreigners alike will have to abide by. Kuwaiti men wear a dishdasha, which is a full-length robe.  It is a traditional style that has been going strong for the last 14 centuries and is suitable to the climate of Kuwait.  The traditional dress for women is a full-length long-sleeved black abaya that will cover the clothing underneath.  The hair and neck will also be covered by a hijab. Some women may even wear a veil (niqab) that will cover their face.  In this case, all a viewer would see would be the very expressive eyes of the woman under the niqab.

With Kuwait embracing a more western style of dress, not all women will be dressed completely in the traditional abaya.  Women are dressed in a range of styles from the full outfit, to just wearing a hijab to just western dress.

As the dress is different, so are many other customs.  A big difference from the Western world and Kuwait, is the roadway, the drivers on the road and the way law enforcement in Kuwait enforce compared to law enforcement in the U.S.

Habib Toumi writes in Gulf News, “A car accident happens every 10 minutes in Kuwait, prompting traffic safety officials to sound the alarm in the northern Arabian Gulf country.”

Greg McPhee, a Northrop Grumman employee currently working and living in Kuwait for the last 10 years, says, “You have to constantly be on the lookout for drivers changing lanes without putting their indicator on.  You always have to be on the lookout for other drivers.  Most of the accidents I have been involved in were rear-ended.” McPhee mentions that most of the drivers are distracted while driving.  Instead of paying attention to the roadway and their driving, they will either be texting, have a child in their lap, eating, and smoking.

The speed limit on major highways do not exceed 120 km/h (75 mph).  However, for the drivers in Kuwait, the speed limit is more of a suggestion, as the locals will be found racing down the roadway at high rates of speed, leading to the many accidents that take place in the country.  Drivers will race down the left lane, flashing their headlights vigorously so that the vehicle ahead will move into the right lane, allowing the high-speed vehicle to continue on without having to slow down. Often enough, drivers will try to make these lane changes without looking to see if the next lane is clear, leading to preventable accidents.

Why are these drivers being so reckless in their driving and seem to have no regard for others on the road and why does it seem to be the majority that choose to drive so unsafely?

In Kuwait, law enforcement for speed violations is left to a speed camera that can be found every mile. Before the camera is within sight, there will be a posted sign informing drivers of the camera down the road. This allows drivers to fall under the speed limit and avoid receiving a ticket in the mail.

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Kuwaiti police vehicle braking for traffic ahead

Law enforcement on the roadways is almost non-existent.  When a police car is seen on the road, the officer will most likely be on his phone, headphones in the ear and not aware of what is going on around them.  They are not seen enforcing traffic law violations and, as locals are aware of that fact, they continue to violate the traffic laws, having no fear of being stopped by an officer.

Bryan Smith, another Northrop Grumman employee working and living in Kuwait, states, “I have never felt whiter in my life,” in response to his interactions with the police while in Kuwait.  “I’m American, so they don’t really sweat us a lot…most of the time it has been pretty smooth for Americans.”

Smith compared law enforcement in Kuwait and law enforcement in the U.S. as being vastly different. The relaxed and almost lazy attitude exhibited from the Kuwaiti officers due to their not having to worry about the things that U.S. officers worry about, i.e. being shot on duty.  So, U.S. officers have to be more proactive in their policing, where Kuwaiti cops are reactive, and mainly just respond to vehicle accidents versus looking for driving violations.

Gulf News states, “Despite the strenuous efforts exerted by the traffic authorities to instill a better driving culture and shrug off an infamous world ranking in accident averages, the figures indicate that the task is formidable.”

This statement shows that locals are already set in their ways of recklessness when it comes to driving and will continue to disregard the laws set in place, leading to more lives lost.  However, the staggering number of accidents and deaths due to driving is leading law enforcement to take a sterner approach to law violators.

Hopefully, the fear of being stopped by police will deter the hazardous driving that Kuwait is accustomed to, which in turn, will lead to fewer vehicular related accidents and deaths.

How It Is To Be Deployed as a Civilian: From the Perspective of Greg McPhee

Greg McPhee in the process of badging a customer
Mr. Greg McPhee assisting a customer

When the average person thinks of deployment, the first thing they will think about are the military servicemembers leaving their families and comforts of home to live and fight in the desert terrain.  They think of fighting battles with wildlife, the extreme heat, sandstorms, and the literal battles that result in either losing their lives or having to take another’s life.  Not much is said of those men and women who are also battling these same conditions but do not fall under the category of military servicemember.

Civilians serving their country with the military is not a new thing, however, many do not think of that side.  An article by U.S. Central Command PublicAffairs mentions that, “Civilian deployment is not for everyone…the hours are long at often potentially dangerous and austere locations for up to 12 months, all without loved ones nearby to offer comfort.”

There are many people who commit to leaving what they are used to, their families and friends, their independence, to work in a foreign environment where there are many barriers to get through but are never really spoken of.  These men and women have to adjust to the extreme weather conditions that they are not accustomed to and the language and cultural differences. Being in another country, they have to abide by the host country’s laws and customs and if these laws are broken, severe consequences follow, leading to detainment, arrest, and termination from their contract.

Prior Air Force member retired Master Sergeant of 25 years, Mr. Greg McPhee volunteered to devote 10 years of his time so far to working in the country of Kuwait as the Defense Biometric Identification System Site Security Manager for Northrop Grumman.  Having served in the military for 25 years, McPhee understands what it was to have to leave his home for an extended period of time.  He stated that the military prepared him for the current job he is in.  Despite his having become used to being away from home, McPhee mentions that he misses his family a lot, especially during the holidays.  McPhee makes sure that every Thanksgiving he is able to go home to his family.  Unfortunately, he is allotted a short window of time to go home and only gets to see them once a year.  It is a reality for many civilians that live abroad for work: that separation from family and that freedom to be able to come and go as they please because of the commitment that they made.

Living in Kuwait is vastly different from what Americans are used to in the United States.  Kuwait is known to have one of the severest and driest deserts in the Middle East.  There is an article “Pros and Cons of Moving to Kuwait” that mentions things to consider when thinking about moving to Kuwait.  An important thing to note from the article is that although there is a low level of crime in Kuwait, police are not in a rush to assist.  It can be said that in the U.S., police officers are quick to respond to a call, no matter the level of severity.

“In American you are always taught to be on the lookout for the other driver, so you drive defensively,” McPhee says in regard to the hazards of driving in Kuwait.  “Here in Kuwait, Kuwait has that mentality you need to lookout for them because they are always in the right.  If you drive passive, they will run you over.”

Kuwait is an Arab country and predominantly Muslim and therefore, follow different customs than what non-Muslims are used to.  A few major differencesthat American citizens will have to be quick to remember are those revolving around the Kuwaiti religious practices such as Ramadan.  During the Holy Month of Ramadan, Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset.  This will mean eating, drinking and smoking in public places are prohibited to Muslims and non-Muslims.  Consequences for violating Ramadan practices can include fines and imprisonment.

With the growing times, Kuwait has become a little more open-minded however, there are still things not accepted in Kuwait that is a norm everywhere else.  A couple being, the drinking of alcohol being illegal and modesty in behavior and dress, specifically regarding women.  For westernized individuals, it is a culture shock when they visit the country.  For people devoting their time to live and work in Kuwait, it is an adjustment that needs to be made.  As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  The same could be said for Kuwait.

McPhee not only works alongside the military members deployed in Kuwait, but lives with them as well.  He knows what it is to live in a deployed environment, losing the freedoms that many are accustomed to in having their own homes.  Part of the understanding when he signed his contract to come to Kuwait was the substandard living arrangement.  Simply put, McPhee and many other contractors in Kuwait, live in dorms occupied by military personnel.  The living arrangements are not as one would expect in the U.S.  Whereas many have become used to their own space, the dorms do not promise that.  McPhee has had to live with other people, losing the freedom and privacy he was used to. McPhee decided that to receive the comfort he wants, he would pay out of pocket to live in the city.  Not many contractors will pay out of pocket due to the high-end living in Kuwait.

“You are used to having your own room, own apartment where you are free to walk around and have free time,” McPhee says.  “Over here there isn’t really any free time.  You are always with someone.  You are with someone at work, driving home, and in your room.  There is no private time.”

McPhee loves working. He has proven that by continuing to pursue a career even after his retirement from the Air Force after 25 years. McPhee stated, “I’ve got the itch that it is time for me to move on.  I am not looking to do it much longer, but who knows.  Until I get that signal that it is time to go, I will continue to do it.”

Military Life Deployed

Military Deployment Life

Not many people would raise their right hand and promise to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”  Those that do sign on that dotted line, sign with the knowledge and acceptance of the very real possibility that they will have to keep that oath with their lives. That paralyzing fear of deployment, the bloodshed that is expected, having to take lives, having their own lives taken, stops many people from enlisting.

According to an article titled Demographics of the U.S. Military, 2.2 million men and women make up the active component in all of the military branches (Army, Navy, Marines, and the Air Force).  That makes the percentage of active duty U.S. military personnel just under 1% of the American population.

Those that do enlist indeed sacrifice for the country they love and would die for their country. They understand that their life is no longer their own and will have to leave the comforts of home for the harsh extremes of deployment.

The U.S. Air Force Reservesis slightly different than active duty in the part that instead of devoting their entire time to the military, they are more flexible to a civilian lifestyle outside of the military.

For SrA Harun Abdul-Ali, deployment life is no stranger to him.  Abdul-Ali first enlisted in the United States Marines for 6 ½ years.  He transitioned to the Air Force Reserves and has currently been serving for 7 years.  Abdul-Ali is now on his 3rddeployment, with his second stint in Kuwait.

SrA Josh Huber is currently going on 6 years as a Security Forces Member.  In the civilian side, Huber works as a new police officer for Dayton, Ohio.  Huber just completed his  one year probationary period as an officer.

“We got really lucky with leadership,” Huber says when asked how he is adapting to deployment life. Having good leadership is essential to building morale on flight.  With this rotation of new personnel, leadership has stepped up to the plate for their troops that are on the ground.  They coordinate activities to do as a unit such as wine and paint night and functional fitness sessions every Wednesday and Saturday.
Huber, along with many of the deployed members in Kuwait, are often found in the base gym keeping up with their fitness as well as ensuring they are meeting the fitness standards the military requires of them.  “I spend most of my time working out, be it functional, running or weights,” said Huber.

Joshua McCrabb, Security Forces reservist and police officer with the Village of Commercial Point, says, “I miss the food most.”

For many of the airmen currently deployed in the AOR, deployments are what the individual makes of it.  There is the job that they set out to do, whether it is finance, postal services, food services, or security forces (military police), the mission is the same. The end goal is the same,  to get back home to their friends and family.