MARQUETTE — Lorrie Robinson will never forget the moment in 1990 when she heard about Desert Shield, which would soon develop into Desert Storm.
She was standing in a formation with the 32nd Combat Hospital in Wiesbaden, Germany, when the news was announced.
“I couldn’t understand what was about to happen … I was still pretty unaware of what I had signed up for or gotten into,” she said.
Robinson, who looked up the phone number of a U.S. Army recruiter in the Yellow Pages the summer after she graduated high school, had trained for active duty — she was one of only two women in her boot camp who were training for active duty — but didn’t expect that a war would break out during her tenure.
Robinson called her mom, who was living in the Upper Peninsula and already hearing on the news about the developing situation in the Persian Gulf.
Robinson recalls vividly her fear in that moment.
“I was really scared and really nervous,” she said.
She wished she could ask her mom to bring her home at that moment, a sentiment likely shared — but not spoken of — by many of her peers at the time.
However, Robinson knew in her bones that it wasn’t possible to leave. She couldn’t go home. She was an adult. She was enlisted in the U.S. Army. And she had a job to do.
Robinson was deployed to Saudi Arabia in December 1990 with the 32nd Combat Support Hospital. Operation Desert Shield transitioned into Operation Desert Storm, a military operation to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, on Jan. 16, 1990.
Robinson and her fellow service members were “prepared for the worst,” she said.
They were prepared to see firsthand the consequences of war. They were prepared to see many casualties and treat numerous wounds.
And there were also cultural considerations and adaptations that came along with being stationed in Saudi Arabia.
“We respected and followed all the rules and laws that were set upon a female U.S. soldier,” Robinson said.
She recalls experiences in Saudi Arabia that illustrated the stark contrast between the sociopolitical, cultural and religious climates of the United States and Saudi Arabia.
For example, Robinson learned Saudi Arabian women were not to directly speak to men working in shops or driving taxis — they were supposed to speak to a man who was accompanying them, who would then speak to the male staffer.
“That was eye-opening,” she said.
All the while, Robinson acclimated to life in the desert, heating meals ready-to-eat upon the sizzling roofs of tents or even pieces of machinery and equipment that generated heat.
She found comfort and camaraderie among the women who served with her, echoing back to her boot camp days at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, where she trained before attending an Army schooling program for several weeks at the Fort Lee Army Base in Virginia.
The common thread that united these experiences in training and service was the bonding and support shared among the women, she said
“The camaraderie was quite what you might think it was,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat, most of us away from home for the first time.”
Robinson even had a unique opportunity while she was stationed abroad. It stemmed from the sociocultural and political climate of the region and the era. It was a “rest and recuperation” leave period on the Cunard Princess, a cruise ship that was docked at port for service members to take their R&R leave in a safe, nearby area.
It was just like a regular cruise, Robinson said, with “all the amenities” — except it never left the port.
Robinson, and a fellow service member who she met in Wiesbaden, Germany — and would later become her husband — had both been selected for the “R&R” period on the ship.
It was a welcome opportunity to rest and eat food that wasn’t a meal ready-to-eat, Robinson said.
Robinson spent about six months in Saudi Arabia before returning to Germany, but thankfully, the 32nd Combat Support Hospital wouldn’t see any injuries or casualties while she was stationed there. Operation Desert Storm ended on Feb. 28, 1991, about five weeks after it began.
As Robinson’s time in Saudi Arabia came to a close, her duties shifted to loading trucks and other equipment on to ships that would take them back to the United States.
While Robinson feels she was insulated from the terror of the front lines, she later was shocked to realize just how close she was to the situation and was horrified to learn what other service members faced during Operation Desert Storm.
“I have heard other stories from other men and women who were closer to front lines, it really is scary. And it really is surreal that I was closer than I thought,” she said.
But it helps that Robinson and her fellow service members felt support, appreciation and gratitude from the Saudi Arabian people during their deployment, she said.
“There was always a sense of appreciation while being over in Saudi Arabia,” she said.
Overall, Robinson is glad for the time she spent serving her nation.
“Like they always say, it’s your experiences that get you to where you are. And I’m extremely grateful for the experiences I had in the Army and everything that I saw and did,” she said. “When it was my turn to get out, I was glad for that. However, I have no regrets (about) joining and I would encourage any other person whose considering going into the service to go ahead and go for it.”
And Robinson’s time in the service inspired and prepared her for her next career, which would be as a flight attendant.
“Shortly after I got out of the Army, I proceeded to charge after that career and I spent 14 years as a flight attendant,” she said.
Robinson, who spent part of her childhood and teen years in the Upper Peninsula, recently moved back to the area after living in Texas for many years.
Since she’s been back, Robinson said she’s found a supportive and welcoming community for veterans in Marquette County, and even had a chance to attend a 30-year Desert Storm reunion earlier this fall that was held by the Marquette County Veterans Affairs office at Northern Michigan University.
The reunion allowed her to connect with others who had served in the war and exchange stories and experiences in an environment where she knew she could share comfort and understanding with her fellow veterans.
Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.