Out of the Desert Darkness
By Kate Hessling, Huron MI Daily Tribune Staff Writer Published: Monday, Feb. 2, 2009 11:01 AM. Reprinted with permission.
GAGETOWN, MI — Pete Gamet didn’t feel like a hero following his tour of duty in Operation Desert Storm. Instead, he calls it an experience that resulted in “the lost innocence of youth; it gave me a different perspective on life,” he said.
Gamet enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1988, a year after graduating from Cass City (MI) High School.
“I didn’t really want to milk cows — and it was harder than (heck) to get into any of the local factories,” he said. “(Plus), I just wanted to get out of the area.” Gamet’s Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) was 63W, which was classified as a wheeled vehicle mechanic, he said.
He went through basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., an experience he said that wasn’t just physically enduring, but psychological as well.
“In a nutshell, it was a mind game — the drill sergeants would play mind games with you,” Gamet said. “Part of it was to break you down and get you in the proper mindset of the military.” He said the goal was to break habits learned in civilian life and “retrain you for military life.” When asked whether he grew a lot during this period, Gamet replied, “My mom says I did.” “I don’t think I changed until I got back from Desert Storm,” he added.
But Desert Storm wasn’t on the radar yet when Gamet graduated basic training in 1988 and went on to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
“It was the basic advance training for being a mechanic,” he said, noting skills he learned included vehicle recovery, how to pull an engine and make minor repairs.
Gamet said AIT proved to be good training. “I could pretty much tear apart a Humvee and put it back together,” he said.
Gamet then headed to Fort Benning, Ga., which was his permanent duty station, in 1989. There, he was cross-trained to work on everything — gas and diesel, and wheeled and track vehicles.
Then came August 1990, when Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait.
“At first, the military asked for volunteers, then after negotiations with the Saudi government, my company ... was deployed,” Gamet said.
Gamet was in the 197th Infantry Brigade at Fort Benning, and when his unit was deployed, it was made part of the 24th Infantry Division, the third division to get deployed. “We got there the first week of September,” he remembered.
After leaving the U.S., Gamet’s destination was in Saudi Arabia. Though he spent time at the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Gamet said he was fortunate to have never had to actually go into Kuwait. “I was lucky,” he said.
Instead, he was on a contact team which supported the 2-18 Infantry Battalion, Gamet said.
Though combat only lasted five days, those days took their toll on Gamet and his fellow soldiers in the form of sleep deprivation, he said.
“From the time we jumped the border Thursday night, I didn’t get any sleep until Saturday— and that was only because we ran into a sand storm, so I got four hours of sleep while we were waiting for the storm to pass,” Gamet said.
It was 130 miles into Iraq before he saw any Iraqi soldiers, Gamet said. “Most of them were surrendering (even though) a few of them still had some fight left in them,” he said. But U.S. soldiers had different training and better technology, which gave them a huge advantage.
Besides the less-than-a-week of combat, Gamet said what he remembers most about his tour in the Middle East were the cultural differences.
“We were told to have as little contact with the Saudis as possible because of the cultural differences,” he said. That was especially true regarding the female Saudis, Gamet noted.
“We were told because of the Saudi culture, women would wear veils and not make eye contact,” he said. “We were allowed to talk to men, but not women. That’s their society’s rule ... women are second-class citizens, you could say. The males come first in the society, and they’re very protective of their women.” Six months after he arrived in the Middle East, Gamet had another shot of good luck in the form of a competition that served as his ticket home.
“Toward the end of October 1990, morale was low. So (our commander) had a competition,” he said. “I won for best Humvee in the company, got a certificate and was one of the first to come home.”
And Gamet really wanted to go home. In fact, when asked about his overall experience, he replied, “I wouldn’t go through it again.” Once home, he didn’t feel like a hero.
“I was bitter as hell,” Gamet said. It started his first night back in country when he saw CNN talking about the Highway of Death.
“We just came from there, and that just ticked us off (because) their reporting was biased.”
It really angered him when he’d hear Americans say the military was only involved in Operation Desert Storm so the U.S. government could get oil.
“My daughter’s history book said this too,” he said. “That’s a crock — someone doesn’t know their history. The UN asked us to remove Saddam (Hussein) from Kuwait.” Americans at home didn’t see how Iraqis looted Kuwait, Gamet added.
“We were hearing stories that Iraqis would go into hospitals and kill newborn babies and bayonet pregnant Kuwaitis,” he said, noting those who resisted were “rounded up and executed in a public setting. So we had our reasons and we tried to do it as humanly as possible.”
He said it took some time for him to feel any satisfaction about serving his country.
But there was a light during this dark time for Gamet in the form of his daughter, who was born 21 days after he returned to the U.S.
Gamet left the Army in February 1992 as an E-4 specialist. He was 22 years old. “At first, I came home to Cass City, then moved to the Kalamazoo area for a few years,” Gamet said.
He moved back to this area in 1998. After earning an associate’s degree in architecture from Baker College in 2001, he got a job in the engineering department of Active Homes in Marlette in May 2001. Unfortunately, it closed in 2003.
So, Gamet went back to school and is a full-time student. He runs an online business on the side where he sells designs for hunting blinds, www.greenleaf-designs.com.
He also keeps busy with his family, which include his wife, Kathy, and children, Amber, Joshua, Jacob and A.J.
Gamet recently was VFW post commander in Cass City where he started a support group for past, present and future soldiers. The group sends care packages to soldiers overseas. Pete Gamet said to call Kris Gamet at (989) 872-8382 if they would like to donate.
Pete Gamet, PO Box 174, Gagetown, MI 48735, (989)665-0183
The Taro Leaf, Vol 63(2) Spring 2009, pg.12, 13, and 23.