The first USO authors' tour is presently happening in the Middle East. In the USO's 69-year history, this is the first time the organization has sent authors to visit military personnel in a combat zone. Five members of the International Thriller Writers are participating: Steve Berry, Andy Harp, David Morrell, Douglas Preston and James Rollins. Day 1, Day 3, and Day 4 are also available on HuffPost. Here's what happened on Day 2.
Today, our group visited Kuwait's Camp Arifjan, a massive military base instrumental in the management of US forces in Kuwait. While this country is not a region of conflict, we discovered a lot during our briefing from the lieutenant colonel of the camp. We learned about the drawdown of troops from Iraq and the importance that our Kuwait personnel serve in bringing everyone back home.
One fascinating factoid involves tanks. In order to ship a tank back to the United States, US agricultural restrictions require that there be no pinchable dirt anywhere in it. Thus the tank must be totally disassembled, "washed down," and then reassembled for a total of 20 hours per vehicle. Another factoid: The sand here is so fine (they call it "moon dust") that it can't be used for making concrete, so the Kuwaitis have to import sand. Meanwhile, US military personnel protect the convoys that bring back the equipment, traveling at maximum speed at night in order to avoid IEDs.
Meeting the troops has been a joy. It has been an honor to spend time with them. Many are interested in becoming writers and telling their story. They have also added a new variation to author signings by asking us to use Sharpies to autograph their loaded pistol ammunition magazines. That was a new one for all of us.
We also visited another nearby base, where U.S. patrol boats guard areas of the harbor and oil platforms in the Arabian Gulf. As when we had a "meet and greet" at the prior camp, we handed out Operation Thriller T-shirts and signed tour posters. Interestingly, most of the questions were about writing and what motivated us to be authors. The personnel here are committed readers who mentioned how e-readers had made it easier for them to acquire books.
We acquired a sense of what the water patrols are like when we were allowed to ride at thrilling speeds on some of the boats, learning how they can stop on a dime with a gush of water that would certainly surprise any antagonists. But the chance to meet with our armed forces was the bigger thrill. Many have been here since the start of the year. Many have spouses and children and civilian jobs. But they readily sacrifice their private desires in order to fulfill the job they signed on for. Their generosity and commitment are inspiring. This is truly a life changing privilege that our group has been given and we look forward to the days ahead.
More to come tomorrow.