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Interview with Mike Arndt on November 20, 2001

Mike Arndt:

Greetings. This is Mike Arndt. I'm recording on tape the date, which is 20, November, 2001. We are in a classroom at Mary Washington College here in Monroe Hall. The name of the person being interviewed is me, Mike Arndt. The name of the person attending the interview is...

Mary Schmotzer:

Mary Schmotzer.

Mike Arndt:

Including interviewer and his or her affiliation or relationship to the interviewee, we're both students in America studies classes. I was in the Marine Corps from 1975 to 1997. I participated in Desert Shield, Desert Storm. I was a Master sergeant (sic). And you will see as we get along here where I served and all that. Why did I join the Marine Corps? Actually I was always a very impressionable young man. And back in 1971 or two, I was working at McDonald's. And some friends of mine who were just back from Vietnam, and they were in the military. They were in the Marines. They would tell war stories. I could sit there and listen to them all day long. So that kind of left an impression on me. And then one day there was five Marines that walked into McDonald's in their dress code uniforms with their medals and all that. I said, you know, that's got to be me, I've got to do that. I'd been working at McDonald's for five years at this point, from 15 to 20. I was 20 years old. But I got tired of doing that, so I just went down to the recruiters' office and signed up because of the uniform. At the same time a benefit to all this when I wanted to join at that time was they had this thing called the GI bill that it allowed me to go to college if I wanted to. I had no inclination at all of going to college, but I wanted to be able to at least have the opportunity to. So that's how I joined, why I joined, why I picked the Marine Corps, because of the war stories these guys told. There was no other reason at all, no other thought to join any other service, my father being in the Army, my uncle in the Air Force, my grandfather in the Air Force. My mom wanted me to join the Navy because I was slender, tall and slender, and I'd look good in bell-bottoms. But I didn't that was a criteria for military service, so I chose the Marines. No second thoughts ever, not since the beginning or not since now.

Mary Schmotzer:

What were their war stories about?

Mike Arndt:

Strangely enough, one war story I really remember is somebody, not me, asking one of them if they had ever killed anybody. And one of the guys said, "I don't know. All I remember is sitting in that fox hole and putting my weapon on automatic and putting it over the fox hole and shooting like this here, bringing it down, changing the magazine and shooting again out there at the fox hole."

Mary Schmotzer:

Wow.

Mike Arndt:

So I didn't know -- I didn't think to ask really where they were at, but I remember that he told me that he was there. He told me a story that he was in - out in Liberty at one of the Vietnam -- South Vietnamese Liberty (sic) ports. I'm not sure which one. But he was walking down the road with a friend of his. And they were down in the bad part of town, no doubt, you know, all the bars and things like that. One of the ladies -- one of the ladies there looked at his friend and said, "You're Joe Blow." She told him the guy's name. The guy had never been there before. And so they asked her how she knew that. She said, "Wait a minute." She went and came back and she brought back a picture of this guy's father from 25 years ago and her. She was a little younger at the time. But he had just passed through that area and I guess left an impression on the lady. And I thought that was kind of neat, a neat story.

Mary Schmotzer:

And you were -- you participated in the Persian Gulf War?

Mike Arndt:

I was in the Persian Gulf War, absolutely. August 4th, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. September 4th, we were sitting on the ground in Saudi Arabia. And thinking about it now, ten years ago today, I was in Saudi Arabia during the buildup to go into Kuwait. I was with the First Marine Divisions - First Marine Division Headquarters battalion. We were with the general and his staff is where we were at. That's who we supported. So wherever he was at, we were at. And Marines are kind of funny because they like to be where the action is. So he was never too far in the rear, actually. We landed in early September, and we just kept inching forward. We landed in Saudi Arabia. It was hot. It was hot. I couldn't believe how hot it was. I don't know why anybody would want to be there. But we landed there and then we just kept leapfrogging forward. A day we would go forward from the center of Saudi Arabia towards the Kuwait border. And then we would set up camp for three or four or five days, get it acclimated. Move again three or four or five days on to the next camp. And ultimately we got in February of 1991 to the southern edge of the Kuwaiti border where they had built a berm along the edge of the Kuwaiti/Saudi Arabia border. And we were just waiting for the word from President Bush elder at that time to say send in the ground troops because the air war had started months earlier. We were still in Saudi Arabia.

Mike Arndt:

There was one night -- one morning we heard a big, loud noise outside and they came and got us. We all went outside and looked. And all we could see in the sky was planes, everywhere planes. It was -- they said, yep, the air war started. So it was just wall to wall planes everywhere. So they - then they -- we knew it was real then at that point. So they did their thing. They bombed the heck out of the Iraqis. And we went forward to the southern border and the ground war started, and we made our mad dash to Kuwait International Airport, that was our objective, about a hundred miles inland of Kuwait. We made it. We saw all the destruction. There was the highway of death as they called it, the highway -- there was all kinds of burned out tanks and armored personal carriers and there was bodies laying around up there on the sides. We ended up getting to the airport and the same thing, saw the exact same things. No bodies. We didn't see any bodies. I don't know -- I don't recall that. But the Iraqis, when they left, took all the tires off every vehicle they had, off the regular cars, trucks, the airplane movers that push them out of the back of the gate, loaded gates. They took every piece of rubber there was. So they did that. We got there and they weren't there, so that was a good thing. That was kind of neat.

Mary Schmotzer:

Did you -- what was your exact job or assignment?

Mike Arndt:

In the Marine Corps or in the war? In 1975 -- never volunteer. I'll tell you that right now. I joined the Marine Corps in 1975. September I went to boot camp for 13 weeks. December I graduated from boot camp. And then late December I went to Camp Legune (sic) in North Carolina. I went to boot camp in Paris Islands (sic), South Carolina. It was late December in Camp Legune, we're standing on line. There was a big ole line of us of us new young Marines. We've all been in the Marine Corps, you know, for two or three months or less type of thing just out of boot camp. And a white van pulled up. The white van said -- talked to the guy out front. And he said -- whatever they said. The guy out front of information turned to all of us -- all of us young Marines there and said, "Hey, anybody want to go to Recon?" And I looked around and didn't see anybody raise their hands, so I kind of said, you know, "Okay, I'll go, what is it?" They loaded us up in the van, there was about six of us, they loaded us up in the van.

Mike Arndt:

They took us out to Ozlow (ph) Beach, which was the second Recon battalion training grounds, living grounds right on the beach. Beautiful, beautiful area. Beautiful area. So I volunteered for Recon. I was a Recon Marine, sort of the equivalent of the special forces from the Army. Swiss Island designated their job to train to be quiet, gather information. They work in small groups, four-man groups, four-man teams, gather information, understand its mission, get it back to the intelligence folks back at the rear. Seeing - having a lot of fun at that, but seeing no future in it, I made what they call a lateral move into the computer field in 1979. I went into the computer field. I learned how to program main frames, the big ole main frames in the 1980s, that was in 1980, down to the personal computers to local area networks. We went to Saudi Arabia in September of 1999. I was a part of the computer support section. Wherever the general was at, he wanted information. So we had our own little local area network out there and our personal computers, military personal computers. And we were able to pass information back and forth, be it battle field information, to the -- to the commanders to us back to the rear instantaneously.

Mike Arndt:

In wars past, it was days, information, battlefield information was days old. This was hours old, if that much. It was really an incredible, incredible accomplishment. So while my mom was happy I left Recon into the computer field, she wasn't so pleased I was still in the Marines at all when I went to Saudi, even though I told her I was in the computer field. But, yeah, it was a lot of fun doing all that with the computers.

Mary Schmotzer:

When you were in the Middle East, did you see any combat?

Mike Arndt:

The short answer is no. Thankfully I didn't. I saw a lot of remnants of combat you know, the highway of death. There were the burned out vehicles. I saw a lot of prisoners of war going the other way. Of course the Iraqis were pretty happy to surrender to the Americans because they were constrictions -- pretty constricted soldiers there. Saw a lot of effects. Saw a lot of burned out -- the airport was pretty much destroyed. I saw ... ____ I want to show you here. See this here? This is me actually on the highway of death over in Kuwait. And in the background is the important thing there. In the background is really all the stuff right here. That's all the burning oil well fires that the retreating Iraqis had lit up. That place was horizon to horizon of oil well fires. So I have not seen any -- any direct combat, but a lot of effects of the combat afterwards. We made it down here to the airport. And where is my last one at? That was what was left of a jumbo jet they had there. It was really kind of - kind of neat from our perspective, of course, because we saw, at the airport, we saw this big ole jumbo jet. And all over the tarmac, that's the first place there, all over the tarmac, what we had been dropping in the air war was these things called cluster bombs that when a bomb would fall, it would throw out little -- little bombs themself, little bomblets. All over the tarmac here at the airport, every square meter, there was a little cluster particle. So nothing could have survived. We've been doing that to those guys there for forever in a day. So it just had an incredible, impressive show of air power. It was great. It was great. It made our job a lot easier.

Mary Schmotzer:

Were you awarded any medals or citations while you -- while you were in the service?

Mike Arndt:

In the Marine Corps, yes. The key -- the key to that whole thing that -- I really enjoyed the Marine Corps because they let me move around. I went from Paris Island, South Carolina to Camp Legune, North Carolina to Kansas City, Missouri, to Okinawa, Japan, to Korea, to -- I was in North Carolina, I also went to Italy, Spain, France and Greece. After I went to Japan, I went to Camp Pendleton, California. Then I went to Panama, went to Honduras, El Salvador, Balese (ph), back to Camp Pendleton, Quantico, and then Saudi Arabia. So you get medals by moving around and doing things. If you stay in one place, you never get anything. You don't learn anything. You don't have any fun in this whole thing. So I moved around a little bit, got a couple medals of awards. But it's all personal citations just for -- for just doing a good job is pretty much how it all come down to. Nothing valorous in the line of combat or anything like that. It was kind of neat.

Mary Schmotzer:

How did you stay in touch with your family while you were abroad?

Mike Arndt:

Very interestingly. In Saudi, a lot of people had real high phone bills, $100 phone bills, $100 and up. But I had a zero dollar phone bill because I had the computers. So with the computers, actually, we used modems, we had phone lines out, so I just disconnected the computer a little bit and hoped the war wouldn't come to a screeching halt while I was talking to my wife or anything. I would just -- I'd talk -- I'd call her up. I'd just call her up. That's not a problem at all. It was before e-mail, so I couldn't do anything like that.

Mary Schmotzer:

How did she deal with your being away?

Mike Arndt:

Very strong. My wife is a very strong woman. I was gone I would say, out of first the four years we were married, the first 48 months, I was probably gone about three months out of all that. And my wife handled it very well. When we were in Saudi, a lot of the wives were -- other wives were crying and moaning that their hubbies are gone, you know, cry a lot now that the hubbies are gone. My wife would say get over it, just live out your life, there's nothing you can do for them now but live a good life back in the states, be supportive of them overseas. And my wife was on the forefront of all of that. So she handled it very, very well.

Mary Schmotzer:

When you were over there, did you feel a lot of pressure or stress in your job?

Mike Arndt:

I don't know. I don't know. I don't think -- I don't think I felt pressure or stress because I felt that we were doing all the right things. We were busy. We were concerned about making sure our equipment was good and taking our part in the war, making sure our equipment was good so that way the bosses could have better intelligence. That way they could direct better air power against the enemy. So I felt that we were just really focusing on what we had to do. And consequently I don't think -- I don't know if I really felt any stress, but I just had a real good time being there -- being with my troops. That's what I trained for. That was the whole -- that's why you join the military, to go and quell some kind of uprising somewhere. So that's kind of why I enjoyed being there and having a good time. So no stress.

Mary Schmotzer:

How did you entertain yourselves when there was down time?

Mike Arndt:

The people back here in the states did a real good job. A lot of -- a lot of us would read. Some of the people put out what they call veteran news. We had the computers. We had access to all the newspapers and stuff. So some of our guys put together a newspaper, a couple sheet newsletter about life in Saudi and talk about the chow and stuff. We even had a visit from Santa Claus, actually, out there wearing his camouflage utilities. And there were some real good people over there that -- we were in the middle of the desert there. And off to off of the horizon we see a convoy of civilian jeeps. And it's the civilian Americans who work at the oil wells for Saudi. And what they were doing, they were just driving through the desert looking for Americans. And they came up, and they brought us food and drink and things acceptable, you know, nonalcoholic stuff. But they just wanted to try to do their part and bring a little cheer from home and stuff like that. A lot of the folks, when we were close enough to them, a lot of folks went to their compound, their houses, and they were able to take hot showers and be indoors instead of being in tents all day long. So that was kind of a real break from the routine.

Mary Schmotzer:

I know that a lot of the soldiers who were over there weren't allowed to tell anyone where they were. Was that true for you as well?

Mike Arndt:

Part of the reason, because I don't think we knew where we were at. It was desert. Generally it was desert. I don't think that really applied because we looked at the newspapers and the newspapers reported who's where by units. Our families knew what units we were in. So the newspapers actually -- actually said who was where. For a while there we actually even were tracking it through the paper just for fun because we were actually -- we were actually sorry to see it because if we could read it, then they could read it also. So I think everybody knew where we were at, and I don't think there was any real restrictions. You know, wherever I was at, there was another 5,000 other people, so we weren't exactly a stealth unit anywhere.

Mary Schmotzer:

Right. Did you keep a personal journal or diary while you were there?

Mike Arndt:

I wish I had. No, I did not. Sorry. I wish I had.

Mary Schmotzer:

Do you recall the day that your service ended?

Mike Arndt:

Very much so. Very much so. I had a retirement ceremony on June 20th, 1997. My actual service date is October 31st. But I had to leave -- I had used all my leave to get to that point. But on June 20th I actually retired and building up to June 20th was probably the most stress I ever felt in my life in the Marine Corps because I was putting together a family reunion at the same time. And my dad came from Savannah, my mom from Albuquerque, uncle from Albuquerque, my brother from Albuquerque, my other brother from Tulsa, his wife, my aunt and uncle from Connecticut, went from Kansas City, went to England. My family hadn't seen each other all for a long time. So when we finally got together, it was the first time in 27 years we all were together. So it was a pretty good time. So, yeah, I remember that.

Mary Schmotzer:

What did you do right after you got out of the service?

Mike Arndt:

Just stayed with my family. They were all still visiting and I just -- we went -- it was a pretty cool day. In fact, that particular day we went from the retirement ceremony up to -- we had -- the company had a picnic out at the river, at a reservoir. We went out there. That evening we took buses up to Eighthenie (ph) to watch the Hussein drill team. My family was impressed to no end. You know, it was just the best time of everything. The next day was just resting. It was resting. It was a big day. We just took it easy at that point.

Mary Schmotzer:

Was it hard adjusting after you were in the service for a while?

Mike Arndt:

I don't think so. When I tell people I was in the Marine Corps, they seem astonished by that. Apparently I'm not a typical Marine. So I guess I fit in well on the outside. As much as I love the Marine Corps, as much as I did it for 22 years, when it's time to move on, it's time to move on. So I put my stuff in the corner and I moved on and continued on be a civilian now.

Mary Schmotzer:

When did you start school?

Mike Arndt:

After I got out of the Marine Corps, I worked -- I went to work at _____ Hospital for three years. And I was working, I was happy to be working, but something wasn't there. And then a friend of mine was telling me she's going to go to school. So I came home, told my wife, I says, "I'm going to go to school now." And this is like in April. I said -- I told her I was going to go in school, and started August of the year 2000. So three years later I -- something I wanted to do. And now this GI bill thing pays for it all. I got a part-time job to help pay for it, and I'm just having the time of my life in school. It's all coming full circle what I worked for for 22 years with this here. I'm just having a blast.

Mary Schmotzer:

Do you still have any close friends from the service that you keep in touch with?

Mike Arndt:

Absolutely. Absolutely. You don't go through -- you move around about every three years in the military, roughly speaking. And so you make friends fast or you -- and you just keep them for a long time. So after I left my last duty station at the computer science school in Quantico, it was about four or five of us that were -- all of us settled here. We all settled here. We see each other now and then. And it never fails, every November 10th, we make the rounds to each other's houses and we wish each other happy birthday. As every true American knows, that's the Marine Corps birthday. So we go around and wish everybody a happy birthday.

Mary Schmotzer:

Does your military experience influence your thinking about war in general?

Mike Arndt:

Absolutely. I really think so. I don't think that -- when I was a high school kid, I was probably the biggest waste of human person ever. I joined the Marine Corps and I found out -- I found something. I found a purpose in my life, my way of thinking. And then come Desert Shield/Desert Storm, it put it all to play. Now it means something. I've been training for all this time for that -- those moments. So, yeah, it kind of changed my opinion. I formed that opinion, I should say, about military power that we are.

Mary Schmotzer:

Have your experiences affected your life at all?

Mike Arndt:

Yeah. They make me organized. I am so darn-gone organized in theory. I know in boot camp what we had to do was, because we had so little time to get dressed in the morning, you had to put your stuff right by your rack, and in the morning your shoes right there, get everything ready so you could jump up and get dressed in no time. I still put my clothes ready by the door, ready to get dressed. I'm just, I'm organized in my life. I feel like I take things a little more seriously now. I have one -- one trait that kind of carries me forward, when I call on it, and that's just never be beaten. There are times when I'd be wrestling -- I was still in the Marine Corps wrestling with junior troops, which you're not supposed to do, of course. But these guys were afraid -- they were bigger than me. Most of them were bigger than me. But I just wouldn't be beaten by these guys. So we just went and had a good time along the way. Never be beaten. Never say die.

Mary Schmotzer:

Is there anything that you can think of?

Mike Arndt:

I think that's -- I've told you all the war stories you can handle, I think.

Mary Schmotzer:

Thank you very much for sharing.

Mike Arndt:

Thank you for asking.

 
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