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Interview with Mary Cox [Undated]

Mary Cox:

I was living here in Anderson with my parents.

Kelli Jackson:

Okay. Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Mary Cox:

Actually, I was part of the--I had joined the Army Reserves, and that's how I got called up for the Desert Storm.

Kelli Jackson:

Okay. How-- Like what was, you know, your thoughts going through your mind at the time?

Mary Cox:

Well, I had only done one weekend of the Army Reserve. You do one weekend a month when you're in the Reserves. And I had been--I was the newest person in my unit, and so my unit got called to volunteer to pick one person from my unit to send with another unit. My whole unit didn't go. I just got sent with another unit. And I think the reason why that was was because I was the newest person, kind of the newbie, as we call them in the military. And so I was the lucky one. I was the lucky chosen one. So when I got called, I was at work on a Friday, about one o'clock in the afternoon. They called me and told me I had to be down at Fort Ben at six o'clock the next morning and that I would be going--I'd be assigned to an Army Reserve unit that was going to be activated and we might be going to Illinois or we might be going overseas. Well, I pretty much knew that we weren't going to Illinois. There was not much going on there--

Kelli Jackson:

Yeah.

Mary Cox:

--so-- And so my dad took me down there the next morning, and it was just a lot of red tape and paperwork and go here, go there, get this done. And it was pretty-- It was scary.

Kelli Jackson:

Yeah.

Mary Cox:

But there was so much going on, you kind of didn't have--didn't have a lot of time to think about what I was getting ready to do. So it was kind of like I was going through the motions but didn't really think it was me gonna do it, but--

Kelli Jackson:

So what exactly, like, was your assignment? What was your job?

Mary Cox:

Well, I was assigned to a transportation unit, and we were the transportation headquarters, which the best way I explain this to people is we were kind of like the dispatch unit when you have, like, a trucking company or, let's say, a taxicab company and you have all these taxis. We had all these trucks, and we were the headquarters, and we dispatched, you know, so many trucks to go to this part of-- You know, we were the behind-the-lines supports. We were not on the front lines, but we were right directly so many miles behind them taking them food, taking them--I just went blank--taking them ammo, taking them water. And so my headquarters, we didn't actually drive the trucks; we did the dispatching. We sat in the middle of six trucking companies and out in the middle of the desert, and we would just call on our field phone, "We need 30 trucks 100 miles from here, with so many"-- So we kind of kept track of that.

Kelli Jackson:

Oh. What was some of your most, you know, memorable moments of being in there?

Mary Cox:

Oh, that's a hard one because there's so many. It's such a--a shock when you go to a new country that is so totally unlike the country that you live in.

Kelli Jackson:

Uh-huh.

Mary Cox:

And Saudi Arabia is just-- You know, America and Saudi Arabia is so totally different. And the women over there are not--they are second-class citizens. They are not allowed to drive. They are not allowed to show their face. They dress in all black. So it was just--for a woman going to that country, it was just so--it was hard for me not to get an instant attitude, like I cannot believe these people treat other human beings like this. But there were so many other things, just how the little kids in Saudi Arabia, just they--they-- We were heros in their eyes. They--they threw flags at us and candy and were constantly yelling our name, you know, "American soldier, American soldier," you know, and just always wanted to come up and hug us. And that was pretty-- It felt weird because I didn't really feel like I deserved to be, you know, hero status. I was just over there doing my job. But, oh, there were so many. One night we sat outside the tent where our-- The section that I worked in was a 24-hour running. We--we had three shifts. There always had to be someone in our section on call to take, you know, calls and things. So we sit outside our tent and watched some bombings, the bombing of Baghdad. We were about--about 80 miles from there where we were at in the middle of the desert. And it just kind of looked like fireworks off in the back, but you could feel the--the ground shake and you could hear the [makes noise]. Just it just was kind of-- And--and it was so-- There was about four of us, and we just stood out there in total silence knowing that there was a city not too--we were watching a city being destroyed, more like, and know that these people-- You know, it was just kind of--it was--it was sad in a way, and you just didn't--didn't really know how to feel, you know. It was kind of weird.

Kelli Jackson:

When you saw, like, the bombings and heard all that, did that make you want to go more or did it make you want to kind of go back?

Mary Cox:

Well, to me it made me want to go back. You know, I--I can't say that-- You know, I didn't--of course, I didn't want to be there, but I knew it was my job, and I felt like--you know, I do feel like we should try to defend other countries when possible. But I guess I just put myself in these innocent citizens that were in Baghdad--in their shoes, you know. They were running for their lives. They were fear--you know, fearing. You know, they were going-- I was just trying to put myself if I was at home and my city was getting bombed. It just I--right then I wanted to be--I wanted to be home.

Kelli Jackson:

How did you stay in touch with your family? Did you talk to them a lot?

Mary Cox:

That was pretty tough. I wrote. We wrote letters constantly. There was not a whole lot to do there because we were out in the middle of nowhere, so we didn't-- It took us about two hours to get to any civilization, so we didn't get out of our camp much. So when you weren't working, you had all this free time and nowhere to go. You had thousands of miles of sand. So we wrote letters constantly. I wrote probably on an average of 10 to 20 letters a day to just about, you know, all family members, friends, anybody I could think to write to. I didn't receive that much mail because there was a lot of trouble-- There was so much mail coming over there, and it was censored. Mail was lost. Mail was dumped out in the middle of--you know, of nowhere. There was so much of it they didn't know what to do with it so they just started dumping it out in the middle of the desert. We got to make phone calls, but those were very few, far in between, and you had anywhere from two- to three-hour lines to stand in. And so you-- And you had to kind of decide if it was 8 o'clock in the morning over there, it was midnight back here, so if you got to call in the afternoon, if you were afternoon over there, then most people over here were at work, and it was kind of hard to schedule a phone call. So it was tough. It was tough keeping in contact.

Kelli Jackson:

What was the food like over there? Was it any different than--

Mary Cox:

Well, we did not-- Of course, being in the military, we--we were served MREs, which are called--which are meals ready to eat. They're in a little package, and they're--they're made by the Government, and there's all different kinds of them. I personally am a very picky eater, so I think they're all disgusting. The only thing I liked out of them was the peanut butter. And it was--at best it was probably a no-name brand peanut butter. I mean, it was not like your Jif, you know. It was thick and stuck to the roof of your mouth. But that's what I survived on pretty much the first month that we were over there. We didn't--our unit did not have a mess tent, which is where you're equipped with cooks in it and the--you know, the capabilities to cook. We had a unit just about, oh, 50 feet on the other trucking unit that was, and we could eat over there. But they made food with powdered--you know, powdered eggs, powdered-- Everything was not--it wasn't real, so even if you had food food, it still wasn't very good. So I lost a lot of weight. I drank a lot of water. And you kind of survived on-- I got several little goody packages. People would send-- I would say, "Send me this, send me that." A lot of people would get smoked sausage in the mail, and I was in a small unit of about 48 people, and we just--we were one big family. We just shared everything. I'd go around saying, "I'm hungry. Do you have anything to eat?" And, you know, they'd take pity on you. The Saudi Arabia food is very different. I didn't try a whole lot of it. They--they like little Cornish-- They made little tiny chickens. They just looked like little chickens, but they're tiny. I didn't try a whole lot. They--they were big on this big flat bread, and I can't think of the name of it, but it just kind of looked like a--like a puffed-up flour tortilla. But it didn't have much taste to it. So I--I didn't try much of their food. It didn't look very appetizing to me, so--

Kelli Jackson:

Okay.

Mary Cox:

--I didn't try it.

Kelli Jackson:

You say that they're--you're like a family there in your little units.

Mary Cox:

Uh-huh.

Kelli Jackson:

Do you still have any more--like do you still have those friends today?

Mary Cox:

There is one--one girl that I was--or woman. I don't know what you call her. I guess she was a woman. We became very, very good friends. You know, when you look at you're--you're in this area-- I don't know how big our unit--our area unit was, but you live in tents with these people. There was-- We had six women and 42 men in my unit. And we did not sleep six women in a tent and the rest; we slept by what section we worked in. So me and another girl slept in a tent with nine other men. And they just became like your brothers, your dads, you know. When we'd change clothes, it was, "Turn your head." We got-- You know, you did it where you didn't take off your shirt. You know, you just--you learn to get dressed without-- It was just something, you know, there was no modesty. You just had to learn to deal with it. You couldn't be prissy out there. You know, you just had to-- You know, you stepped outside your tent with your toothbrush and your bottle of water and you brushed your teeth. There was no going to the bathroom, you know, and having all the comforts of home. There was none of that. It was just like a big camping expedition with 50 people that you had never met before in your life. But you are with these people 24 hours a day. You are never by yourself. You do not go to the restroom by yourself. We had two latrines, which one was for the women's and one for men, and there was three toilets in each. You didn't have a separate stall. You just had three toilet seats. So you go in. If somebody's in there, you know, you can't say, "Excuse me, can you get out?" You just--you're sitting next to somebody while they're using the rest-- You know, you just can't have any modesty because there's no room for it over there. And so you get to know these people very intimately, and they become--you either love them or you--I shouldn't say hate them, but, you know, you either like them or you don't. There's people that you get real close to and other people you just don't. But I have stayed in contact with one girl that we were very, very close. And we just--we--we tried to help each other through that time of being away from our family. And we--we don't talk a whole lot. We send Christmas cards to each other. And there was a--they had a ten-year reunion, our unit had a ten-year reunion for--on Desert Storm, and I wasn't able to make it, and I just--I wanted to so badly. But we had some illness in the family, and... But every once in a while, I will talk to her on the phone. But it's--it's a bond that you probably-- You know, I could probably call her up tomorrow and talk to her for hours just about-- You know, because we--we'd just been through something, you know, very--a strong bond that I don't have with too many other people. Even, you know, any--even my family members, I don't have that bond with them because we went through something together that I didn't do with anybody else, so...

Kelli Jackson:

Did anybody that you were really close to die?

Mary Cox:

No. I was very fortunate. We--we did not see a lot of-- You know, my unit did not see any bloodshed, thank goodness. You know, we were--we were not real close to any of the fighting. We were only about 20 miles from the Iraqi border, but we were--we were about, like I said, 80 to 100 miles from any of the fighting. We could hear it. So, you know, I did not lose any friends or any of my members of my unit, which I feel very fortunate, because I--I've heard so many stories of people from past wars, you know, Vietnam, and how, you know, their--you know, their buddy died in their arms or blew up, and I just can't--I can't even fathom. It didn't mean anything to me before I was in Desert Storm, but now that I've been in Desert Storm I can see why so many veterans have so many psychological problems that saw a lot of bloodshed, a lot of killing. You know, you think, oh, that's 30, 40 years ago. They were in it in the sixties. I don't think you could ever, ever get rid of that in your mind. It's still there. So I'm just very thankful I didn't--I didn't lose any friends or any people in my unit.

Kelli Jackson:

Was there anything special that you did for, like, good luck or anything before you did anything?

Mary Cox:

No, not really. We had a lot of air raids over in Saudi. You know, the biggest threat we had over there, mainly, my unit, we were more concerned about--about chemical warfare than, you know, getting shot, you know, them, you know, releasing some kind of chemicals in the air. So we would have to get suited up in our chemical gear and our gas mask, and we would kind of had kind of like a running joke, you know. We would say, you know, "See ya. Wouldn't want to be ya. Hope we don't--hope we don't become crispy critters." Because if there is chemical passed, it pretty much just fries you. You know, not at all once, but, you know, that's pretty much the essential. It burns your skin. And it was not really a funny joke, but, you know, you kind of have to keep it light over there. You can't really be serious about everything or you'll--you'll pretty much go crazy, so--

Kelli Jackson:

Was there any kind of other humorous or unusual events that happened?

Mary Cox:

Oh, the friend I talked about, she was very, very funny. She just was very-- We-- The only way we dealt with it was--was to try to make a joke out of everything. And sometimes we got on people's nerves because some people just-- You know, everybody hated it over there. We were just all-- You know, you're just unhappy. You're away from your family. The living conditions over there were just terrible, you know. The heat, the flies, the bugs, you know, just everything made it ten times worse. But we laughed at everything. We--we made-- She had nicknames for everybody. We--we just told jokes all the time and just-- It's kind of hard to explain, but we just--we tried to keep the mood light. Because you were either-- If you weren't laughing about something, you were so depressed and so mad about being there, nobody wanted to be around you. You were just-- You know, you would literally go crazy if you didn't try to keep it light and try to make the best of the situation, and that's pretty much what her and I did. And it did help, trying to make humor of things, even though it wasn't really all that funny, but...

Kelli Jackson:

Did you ever keep a diary of what happened, or anything?

Mary Cox:

No. I hate to say I didn't. My mom made a scrapbook of letters I sent home, and she's got lots of pictures and-- Because my brother was also in Desert Storm the same time I was, so she had kind of a double whammy. She had two--two kids over at war at the same time. But I didn't write a whole lot down because it's--even though it's been so many years ago, 12 years ago, there's some things that are just so fresh in my memory, I could probably just recite--you know, recite it for almost word for word. And I--and I almost knew that when I was over there that it would be that because that's probably one of the most traumatic-- Besides getting married and having a child, being in Desert Storm was one of the most--I don't want to say getting married was traumatic, but one of the big huge events in my life. You know, it's hard to define me without saying I'm a Desert Storm veteran because it's just a big part of my life.

Kelli Jackson:

Okay. After your service was over, do you--do you remember the day that you found out that it was done, you can go home?

Mary Cox:

I will tell you that the day that we landed in Saudi Arabia, that's what was on our minds, how many--when are we gonna get to come home, you know. We--our first initial was we would be there 180 days, so we're looking at--you know, we're looking at six months. And every day of the time I was over there, we heard something different. There was always a rumor we may be--you know, it may be 300--you know, 365 days, and we're thinking a year. Then we're thinking another-- You know, and so we never really knew. And we knew-- I--I got over there in December, and I was in the desert from December until the end of May, and then they moved all the troops that were in the desert into one of the big cities--in one of the big cities. They put us up in these empty high-rise apartments, so we thought we were at the--you know, at the Hilton. It had running water, toilets, showers, air conditioning. I mean, they were empty, but we didn't care. We were just in seventh heaven. And we knew we were towards the end in May, but I didn't know until, like, a week before I was getting ready to come home, and it was right before 4th of July, that they said, you know, we're getting ready to get on a plane. And I was so excited, but then there was kind of a weird feeling like pretty soon I'm gonna be home, and I have to go--and I'm going back to normal living after I've been through all this with all these people, and I may never see any of these people ever again in my life. And it's kind of sad in a weird way. I know that's hard to--for people to understand that's not-- But these people became really, really close. You became really close, and you see them every day. So it's like being best friends with somebody for years and years and then all of a sudden one day they're gone and you never see them again in your life. And it is kind of a sad thing. So it was kind of mixed emotions. I wanted to come home really bad and see my family, but there was people that you wish you could just bring, you know, "Hey, come live here with me," you know, so...

Kelli Jackson:

How did the service that you did and your experiences affect your life now?

Mary Cox:

I can honestly say that the military really helps--has helped me with--with discipline because that is one of the main things that they try to teach you--excuse me--is, you know-- And I will say that most of the time if I put my mind to something, I am very disciplined about, you know--you know, doing it. I think the experience that I had in Desert Storm has made me appreciate just the simpler things in life, you know, having a warm bed, having a hot shower, not having to worry about whether, you know, you're going to step on a snake or scorpion, you know, just those little things. They're not as vivid in my mind now as they were when I first come home, but it's just I'm just thankful for every day I can be alive and I live in a--in a free country.

Kelli Jackson:

Did you-- After you got out of the service, did you go straight to work or go back to school, or--

Mary Cox:

I was-- Actually, when I got out from Desert Storm, I got out of it, I did go back to work, and then I did-- I got married, like, five months later, because my husband and--husband now-- We were engaged when I got sent to Desert Storm, and we got married, and then I went to school for a couple years.

Kelli Jackson:

How-- Was that really hard to have a fiance and go all the way over there and just--

Mary Cox:

Yeah. I thought it was the hardest, but then I got in a unit with a young mother that had a two-year-old that she had to leave with an ex-husband that they did not get along real well, but she had to leave him power of attorney and guardianship, and I would hear her cry at night, just sob for that child. And at the time I felt sorry for her, but I didn't have the feelings that I think now. Now that I've had children, I'm thinking how I could have never left. There was a man in my unit that was married. His wife was pregnant when he left, and he did not find out that she had the baby until two weeks after she'd had the baby. That's how slow the news got to him. And the Red Cross was involved in that, and usually they can get news to you pretty fast, but they couldn't find him, couldn't find what unit, couldn't find where we were at. And so that was sad because he sat there and just, you know, he cried and cried just, you know, knowing that he had a new child and wasn't going to get to see him for--you know, he would be almost six months old before he got home. So I--I felt--when I first got there, I felt like, "Oh, poor me," but then when I saw other people there that were leaving wives and families and kids, I was pretty lucky. I mean, I left a fiance and parents, but I didn't have to leave any kids behind, and so it wasn't too bad.

Kelli Jackson:

Which of all the things that we talked about was the hardest for you?

Mary Cox:

Probably being away from my family so long and knowing it was-- I would say it was probably harder on them back here than it was on me because I knew where I was at, I knew what was going on. I knew that I was not in immediate danger. They did not know my circumstances. There was a lot I couldn't tell them. They-- You know, from day to day my mom did not know if--you know, pretty much didn't know if I was alive, so she went through a lot. And that was tough on me knowing that they were back home worrying about me and there was no way for me to say, "I'm okay," you know, "I'm just sitting out here in a tent writing a letter waiting for the time to go by until I can get home." So that was probably the hardest, knowing the--the anguish they went through just not knowing where I was at and what was happening.

Kelli Jackson:

Okay. Is there anything that you would like to add to this that I didn't ask you or--

Mary Cox:

Well, the only thing I can think of was--is like I told you earlier, I have a lot of pictures of--of Kuwaiti City two weeks after the war was over. One of the duties of our trucking units was to go into the cities that had been--where there had been a lot of fighting and stuff and pick up where our front-line units were and get any water that was left over, get any food, any ammo, and bring it back and bring it all back to a central location so it could be shipped back to the States. So we were allowed to take--like be on the-- They would take so many from our unit along with them on these. They would take like a, you know, convoy of 36 trucks. And-- Excuse me. And I took a trip, and it was an overnight trip, up into Kuwaiti City with a man that drove a truck. I had no idea who he was. He was just from another unit. And I had, like, eight cameras. People from my unit wanted me to take pictures. And we passed the oil wells burning, and that was such a--I just-- You know, you just can't describe what you feel when you see it. And you think, "I'm really seeing this stuff. This stuff is gonna be history in years to come." And this is-- You know, it was just pure devastation. There was just-- I couldn't actually believe I was riding through an actual city that had been bombed. There were tanks overturned. They had most of the bodies cleaned up. There was a couple things that we saw that, you know, you-- I saw a few body parts that I--you know, and I didn't--I didn't take pictures. That kind of stuff doesn't thrill me. I took pictures of--I mean of vehicles but no-- But they would not let us out of our vehicles because they had not--there were still mines set, and they were afraid if we got out of--out of our--you know, we could step on a mine and be blown up. But we--we parked only about-- When we stopped for the night, I slept in the cab, and the driver got out and slept on the hood of the--hood of the vehicle, and we were only about a mile from where the oil wells were burning, and, you know, it's what you saw in the distance, you just saw these big red flames and all this smoke. And what I want to-- When we entered Kuwaiti City and when we were real close to the oil wells, it was probably about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and it was pretty sunny that day, and all the sudden it started getting really dark. And I was kind of freaked out because I thought what's the deal because it doesn't storm over there. They get rain one month, one month out of the year, and that's in January, and it rains, like, every day of the month, and then they have no more rain. It's just 100-degree weather all year long. And I was like, "Why is it so dark? What's--what's going on?" And it was all the smoke from all those oil wells. It looked like it was like midnight in the middle of the afternoon. That's how dark it was. And that was a really eerie feeling. It's just very-- It's hard to-- It's very humbling to know that you're walking on or you're on ground where people have fought and have given their lives, you know, have risked their lives and some of them have given their lives, you know, for freedom. I feel like I was a part of that, but I was not actually on the front lines with a weapon standing face to face with somebody saying, you know, it's either gonna be you or me, you know. So I don't feel like I risked-- I was at risk, but I was not at risk like the, you know--you know, the front-line soldiers, the infantrymen. And I--you know, I have my utmost respect for those--for those people in the military. My name is Mary Cox. I was born April 7th, 1965. My address is 2225 Silver Street in Anderson, Indiana. The war I served in was Desert Storm. I was in the Army Reserves. The highest rank I became was a specialist. END OF RECORDING.

 
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