Book Review: “When Duty Called” and “Hidden Casualties”
When Duty Called: Even Grandma Had to Go by 2nd Lt. Dianah Kwiatkowski as told to Sandra Warren AND Hidden Casualties: Battles on the Home Front by Sargent Sara Raye
Reviewed by Mary Ickes
2nd Lt. Kwiatkowski gratefully recalls the hearty welcome she and her comrades received when returning from the Persian Gulf War in Saudi Arabia (January 17–February 28, 1991). She also recalls, with justified anger, people sneering that it wasn’t a real war and, “It was only 21 days long. You were a nurse, you weren’t in battle. What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that many of the people fighting the battles would have perished without nurses the caliber of 2nd Lt. Dianah Kwiatkowski and Sgt. Sara Raye (pen name).
At age 47, Dianah Kwiatkowski, a wife, mother, grandmother, and registered nurse, quit intensive care work to teach nursing and joined the United States Army National Reserves for advanced nurses’ training. In September 1990, she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the 350th EVAC Hospital Unit operating out of Canton, Ohio. Shortly before Thanksgiving, her unit mobilized and she reported to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, to complete Officer Basic Training (the medical version of boot camp). She writes: Our main job was to learn how to command and deal with the possibility and aftermath of nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) warfare. If an American Patriot missile failed to intercept an Iraqi Scud warhead carrying NBC, medical personnel had six seconds to put on a gas mask and six minutes to be in the MOPPS (Mission Oriented Protective Posture), a bulky rubberized, charcoal-lined suit. (For a demonstration, watch YouTube: Fastest Change to MOPP Level 4 Ever!!!) On their eleventh day of training, the general in charge of reserve medical units announced: “All of you in this room are going to Saudi Arabia.”
Sergeant Sara Raye, a single mother, joined the Army Reserves for LPN training to support her three children. On December 7, 1990, a captain called to announce that she was transferring to another unit as a filler (loaner) and that she had four days to prepare for training at Fort William Harrison, Indiana, before deploying to Saudi Arabia. Though shaken, she was grateful to her parents for signing, five years earlier, the Family Care Plan promising to care for her children in case of deployment—until her mother shouted, “We won’t take them. We can’t take them, Sara.” Brian, her brother in California, finally agreed to care for them. Granted an unexpected Christmas leave, Sgt. Raye returned home to discover that Brian, whose treachery had earned her an unjustified reprimand, changed his mind. No other options available and time running out, Sgt. Raye sent her children to their father, Captain Jay Raye, of the Montana National Guard.
In early January, 1991, the 350th EVAC unit landed at the King Faud Airport outside of Dhaharan. 2nd Lt. Kwiatkowski: Still before dawn . . . we marched off the plane . . . into nothingness. . . . Just sand, sand, and more sand, everywhere. Buses transported them to the Kobar Towers where the women first experienced Arabian culture’s contempt for women. Blaming their sudden lack of water on faulty plumbing, they later learned that their water had been turned off because women, especially American women are unworthy of such luxury.
Two weeks later, they moved to King Kalhid Military City (KKMC), 300 miles farther into the desert, where the four large tents were obviously not the hospital complex they expected. The next morning, the 400 doctors, nurses, and medical staff received orders to level the ground, stake out the site, and build the hospital within 20 days. Sgt. Raye: The hospital itself was tents of all sizes and shapes joined together by corridors of canvas. At the end of designated corridors, a self-contained hospital unit on a trailer would be driven up and locked in place. Despite rain turning the sand to cement consistency, wind storms toppling tents, and unceasing Scud alerts, their hospital was ready when the ground war started on February 24, 1991. Their patient roster varied far more than expected.
As the most forward EVAC hospital, the staff’s primary duty was preparing American and Allied casualties for transfer to the Lanstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Both nurses were amazed and touched by the hundreds of civilians from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia seeking medical care, food, and shelter. Treating enemy of war (EPOWS), eager to rape and kill all devil American women, offended their sense of loyalty and patriotism, but, well-trained nurses, they set aside their personal feelings. Credit for their survival goes to military police, armed with M-16 rifles, constantly at their side.
Living conditions did nothing to relieve work stress. They froze at night and sweltered during the days. 2nd Lt. Kwaiatkowski reports that sand . . . stung its way into every nook and cranny of our being, making it hard even to breathe. We ate it, slept with it, washed in it. Fighter jets taking off and landing less than five miles away and Patriot missiles intercepting Iraqi Scud missiles, often overhead, thundered incessantly.
When the fighting ceased on February 28, 1991 (the United Nations declared the war officially ended on April 11, 1991), 2ND Lt. Kwiatkowski longed to board the first plane home; instead, orders transferred her to the hospital inside KKMC, leading to an entirely different war perspective. She finally departed on Memorial Day determined to fulfill her military obligation and return to civilian life. Instead, she remained in the Army Reserves . . . on Active Alert for deployment to Iraq, and advanced to major before retiring from the Army Reserves and nursing.
Sgt. Raye, on April 2, 1991, evaced, via Germany, to Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, for extensive surgery on a broken foot and rehabilitation. Notified in early August that she was scheduled for release from medical care and the reserves on September 1, she asked Jay to send her children home then. He replied, “You little witch! I’ve got custody of the kids now . . . I’ve got jurisdiction! They’re not going to you, and there’s not a God-damn thing you can do about it!” Given his familial history, Sgt. Raye expected repercussions, but nothing that treacherous.
Revealing that Sgt. Raye regained custody does not ruin her story’s ending because that was inevitable; her protection under the Sailors and Soldiers Relief Act invalidated his custody claim. Regaining custody, therefore, should have been a simple matter resolved within days; instead Sgt. Raye struggled through a maze of military bureaucracy and derision from Ohio and Montana lawyers, with many condemning her as stupid for giving up her children and pronouncing her case hopeless. Finally, after appearing on a local station, an Army Reserves Major summoned Sgt. Raye to his office and announced, “I’m here to offer you the assistance you need. The order came down that we’re to assist you in any way.”
Rather than relenting, Cpt. Raye led Sgt. Raye’s well-seasoned legal team through twists and turns in the legal maze that surprised even them.
The maze ends with a judge who makes Judge Judy look wimpy. Such a delicious and well-deserved ending!!!
After discharge from the Army Reserves, Sgt. Raye continued working at the nursing home until she was diagnosed with mild-progression multiple sclerosis. She married again and moved to live closer to her two sons and their families.
Sgt. Raye and 2nd Lt. Kwiatkowski’s stories must be read twice. First to get past The Army ordered you to do what! Second, to comprehend the courage and determination of women deployed into military and political requirements beyond their comprehension. They honestly admit that almost everyone, including themselves, endured momentary breakdowns from the stress of working and living in conditions so imminently dangerous, but they persevered. The bits of wry humor sprinkled throughout their stories prove their gumption: the gas masks may have been a pain, but at least they could talk themselves through the war without their comrades declaring them nuts. More than any other aspect of their stories, comrade loyalty speaks for their valor.
When leaving Saudi Arabia, 2nd Lt Kwiatkowski and Sgt. Raye dreaded the moment that they would separate from teammates who were as dear as family.
Thank you 2nd Lt. Kwiatkowski. Thank you, Sgt. Raye.
Sandra Warren is the author of Arlie the Alligator, a children’s story-song picture book; a soon-to-be-released adult novel They Called Me Blue: the Search for a Lost Brother; and other books for children and adults. When Ms. Warren was approached by then 2nd Lt. Kwiatkowski about writing her deployment story, she initially refused because she had written only educational and children’s books. Ms. Warren writes, She begged me to let her come over because “God told me to call you.” How could I say NO to that?” A few months later, 2nd Lt. Kwiatkowski introduced her to Sgt. Sara Raye (her pen name), a single mom battling for custody of her children, taken away while she was deployed. Hoping to further emphasize the chaos that post-deployment mothers STILL incur in reclaiming their children, she wrote a screenplay for which she is seeking a producer.
e-mail: Sandra@arliebooks.com website: sandrawarren.com
View from My Catio
Greetings Friends and Fans:
Speaking of war, as I wrote last month, Tabitha, our library cat, adored Roy. Then, the first week in December, he didn’t see her jump onto the sofa to snuggle and almost sat on her. He felt terrible and apologized profusely, but to no avail. Instead of running to him, she made a big deal of running to hide behind the sofa—making sure that he saw her. Finally, on January 21, Tabitha decided to snuggle again. To show her new-found adoration, she’s helping Roy with his puzzle.