Kuwait—The country of Kuwait can be considered a melting pot of its own when only 40% of Kuwait’s population are actually natural born Kuwaitis’. A small country, located in the Middle East on the Persian Gulf, Kuwait is a desert country, known for its intense heat during the long summers and relatively cool and short winters. For an outsider, these conditions can appear harsh, especially when they are not accustomed to the environment as well as the culture.
Mr. Robert Winston, a Northrop Grumman contractor, works in Kuwait alongside the military. Winston did not have many expectations when he decided to take a leap of faith and plunge into the unknown with his new contracting job. He knew that the job paid well, and he would be able to experience new things with him leaving the comforts of home and venturing off into a foreign country.
“Kuwait chose me, I did not choose it,” says Winston.
Prior to Winston taking the contracting position in Kuwait, he was serving his country as an Airman in the United States Air Force. Winston was a security forces member for 6 years and served a six-month deployment in Kuwait in 2012.
“A lot of limitations for me in general, especially with working here and working for a company that works for the Air Force, is the ability to come and go as you please.” Winston says when asked about living on a military installation. Due to Winston having to live in a dorm alongside the military, he is also held accountable for the base rules. No longer can he do as he was accustomed to in the U.S. Not only does he have the rules on the military installation, but he also has to abide by the host nation laws and culture of the country he is residing in. Kuwait is an Islam country and though the country is more liberal than other Islamic countries, they take any violations against their culture and religion seriously. Being a foreigner, Winston cannot afford to violate any laws while in Kuwait or it would mean deportation and termination from the company.
“Normalcy is what I miss most about being home in the States,” says Winston. “Being here, there are a lot of different habits that they have that you’re not used to in the States.”
Winston will have been in Kuwait for two years after April 2019. As of now, he has decided to take it by ear on where his future will be.
Kuwait—The Sandbox Comedy Tour allowed five comedians to travel from New York to an undisclosed location in Kuwait for the purpose of entertaining the U.S. troops, along with some coalition forces that work side-by-side with the U.S. military. On Thursday night, deployed troops made their way to the recreation center known as the Drop Zone, in hopes of having a good time and to laugh. This group was not disappointed in the slightest with the entertainment that they received that night.
Laughter is considered to be the best medicine. Kavita Khajuria writes that while modern life becomes increasingly complicated, happiness and humor improves brain function. With the comedy tour being an excellent event half-way through the present deployment rotation.
“The end goal is to make sure that every person that walks in, walks out with a smile on their face,” says Staff Sergeant Mapson, the recreation coordinator for the Force Support Squadron.
Mapson’s goal was met that night as hundreds of military men and women howled in laughter with each joke.
“I think that people are more receptive to the things we bring in,” says Mapson, “Especially the entertainment because of the six months deployed and away from your family. Morale kind of dies. You get upset. Especially at this point when you’re at your half way mark in the deployment.”
Comedian Mike Cannon gave an extremely hilarious anecdote on a time in his childhood when he came to the realization that he was too old to be disciplined by his parents. His mother was chasing him down, he intercepted each strike, and when she realized the challenge, she brought in her sleeping husband, who Cannon described as a “sleeping polar bear.” Cannon remembers the moment his mother lied on him to his father as she looked him in the eye. He runs in fear to his bedroom where his father rumbles in, steps on a towel Cannon used recreationally, came to the realization what that towel represented, gave a dry heave and escaped.
Comedian Robyn Schall entertained her guests with stories of her love relationship with food and how it played into sex scenes. She asked the crowd how dating life was in a deployed environment and was greeted with silence.
Master Sergeant Shultz stated, “Our purpose is building resiliency and airmen regeneration…you can remove recreation and we will be fine, but we have come to realize that people need more than a place to sleep and a place to eat.”
Shultz believes in order to keep up productivity while deployed and away from loved ones, morale needs to be high. He acknowledges that in general, people can survive with the basic amenities of food and shelter, however, that is not enough. Mental health is a very real thing and stressors can be the deployments, being away from home and family. For many Airmen, this is their first deployment. So, in order to ensure the stresses are limited, groups such as the Force Support Squadron, create events that engage these Airmen throughout the deployments.
“There are all different kinds of people,” Master Sergeant Shultz says. “There are homebodies that just want to go to work and go to sleep, but there are also people that need that social interaction.”
The Sandbox Comedy Tour was another great success under the Force Support Squadron’s belt. 150 people were expected to show up and over 380 people filled the house. Staff Sergeant Mapson views it as a great success and is optimistic of future events he has planned for everyone.
Halloween 2018 marks the halfway point for this new rotation of Airmen in Kuwait. Many will spend the next major holidays away from friends and family and with that knowledge, this holiday season can be even more stressful for them. Not only are they separated from all they hold close, but they have to endure it in a desert location, with the stress of deployment life hanging over them.
The Force Support Squadron is in charge of planning and organizing events that are meant to boost morale of personnel on the installation. These events keep the participants mentally and physically engaged.
For Halloween 2018, the Force Support Squadron hosted a Zombie 5k run and a Halloween party. Physical fitness is a vital part of the military lifestyle, so why not make it as enjoyable as possible by running 3.1 miles in a costume and evading zombie capture? Many of the participants ran for the enjoyment of dressing up and being chased by zombies. There were others that were looking to run against the clock. Those that were looking to actually race stood fast and ready at the front of the pack and were off as soon as the gun went off. Others jogged, while others walked, and others watched.
The purpose of the 5k was to get out there, get moving, and have some fun while doing it.
Senior Airmen (SrA) Lamar Miller says, “I think people would go crazy. Can you imagine being here with no alcohol and no activities? We would probably be fighting for fun.”
SrA Miller is mid-way through his tour and looking forward to returning home in the foreseeable future. However, knowing he has some time before that happens, he goes out of the four walls of his room to keep his mind engaged and keep from going mad. SrA Miller recently took up photography as a hobby and will go out to events such as the Halloween party and Hip-Hop night to capture people in the moment.
“I think that the Force Support Squadron is doing a really good job making sure that there are fun things for everyone to do,” says Major Christina Sukach.
Major Sukach is going on 18 years in the Air Force and also celebrates her halfway mark in this tour. Major Sukach continues to participate in activities hosted by the Force Support Squadron and believes that it is a good morale boost for everyone involved.
After the Zombie 5k, participants made their way to the Drop Zone where the Halloween party would take place. Immediately upon entering, the atmosphere is one of enjoyment. Music is playing in the background as some people are seen playing a game of bingo before the party kicks off.
A group of Mario Kart characters sits in a corner while a group of dinosaurs from Jurassic World run up to each person that walks into the building. Freddie Krueger smiles back as he plays pool, making any person who sees him wonder what if the real Freddie Krueger provided such a charismatic smile to his victims.
One can almost forget that they are in a desert location, hundreds of thousands of miles away from home once they step foot into the party.
The Force Support Squadron creates these events for the troops on ground but that is just their part. Like any good relationship, there has to be compromise. The troops, as the significant other, has to do their part and step out of their rooms and take part. Doing so will allow them to create memories and go back home with amazing stories to tell of their time spent down range.
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.
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.
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.
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.