A quiet clash of cultures; U.S. troops, Kurds adjust to camp life

May 3, 1991, Friday, FINAL EDITION
BYLINE: Tom Squitieri
LENGTH: 593 words

Lt. Bob Glowacki has an unexpected problem in trying to help Kurdish refugees arriving at the first ”haven” facility near here.

With all the high-tech weapons of war used in the gulf conflict, Glowacki is desperately looking for a few good measuring cups and a funnel. And if he had a scale, he’d be in heaven.

”We go to give all the refugees their daily amount of food in U.N. standards, which are grams,” said Glowacki, of Green Bay, Wis., who’s in charge of food distribution for the camp. ”But everything I have that they want is in bulk, and we’re losing more from spills.”

Small hills of canned, prepared and other foodstuffs surround Glowacki, in his second day of distribution for the 432nd Civil Affairs Unit: ”We’re still working on it, trying to get our system down.”

More than 20,000 refugees are expected at this camp for the Kurds by next week, said Sgt. Patricia Van Duerm.

Clear blue skies and warm breezes dried up paths left muddy by heavy rains, helping to resume the flow of refugees to the camp called ”Community Jayhawk.”

The noise of helicopters ferrying supplies to Kurds still in the mountains mixed with the whine of power saws and the spray of sawdust on the ground Thursday to give the area the look and sound of military efficiency.

Some families have settled in, with laundry hanging in the breeze and pots of food steaming over small fires. At noon, crowds gather to watch detonation of ordnance found by patrolling troops.

Children skip through the tent ropes in a makeshift game of tag. They also practice a fractured English in which words are strewn together as one sound.

”They manage to tell you what they want by showing you with their hands,” said Spec. Michael Anderson of Bishopville, S.C., an engineer.

Anderson was to have been discharged in January but he is not glum about the current assignment. ”This is the best one yet,” he said. ”It really touches your heart. I feel real good about this because it’s for a good cause.”

Biggest challenge facing the troops in the camp: helping the Kurds adjust to Western culinary and other habits.

For example, Kurds took canned food, opened the can and threw away the food to use the cans to carry water, cook or as resting mantels for their pots over the fires. Sometimes they would not remove the food, causing the cans to pop in the fires. And often, they would toss the cans down the new latrines, clogging them up.

As for the military ”MREs” – the packaged Meals, Ready to Eat – the Kurds appear to dislike the food. So they remove the package of chewing gum and the packets of salt and sugar and throw the rest away. One exception: Children have learned to dump Kool-Aid mix into bottled water.

Other problems: teaching the Kurds to shut off the taps on the water trucks and working with leaders to stop food thefts from the supply area.

”It’s hard to keep folks out of here and we don’t want to put wire around it,” said Glowacki. ”So were coming up with a leader in each zone, who will get the (food) rations” for all families.

The daily ration per person is 17 1/2 ounces of flour, two ounces of beans, one ounce of cooking oil.

Many of the refugees who arrived here Monday and Tuesday have left for their old homes in Zakho and other nearby villages. But by doing so, they left behind their chances for regular meals.

Although stores in Zakho are open, not much food is available there.

That has left children lining the road, waving empty MRE packages at passing convoys to persuade soldiers to toss out full packets.