AL QUWEIRA, Jordan -- I’m not entirely sure what particular geologic process creates the varying density of the drifts and shoals of dust out here in this desert, but whatever it is, it’s distressingly effective in distributing it everywhere.
After a few days in the desert, the wind and movement has seen everyone covered in a fine layer of blowing grit, lending everything an aged air that will take a full washdown to eliminate. A layer of grime, clinging to your face, your hands, rubbing off with sweat and abrasion. Moon dust, they call it. The analogy fits, dust billowing out from underneath your boots as you tread through the desert, kicking dust into the ever-present breeze.
Jordan is similar, but different from our previous stops. More mountainous than Oman, warmer than Georgia, dustier than either. It’s going to take days to clean off all my stuff when I get back to the ship. It might be easier to just jump in the shower with all of my gear, to be entirely truthful.
This place is bigger – a bigger sky than Oman. The desert stretches from here to infinity, punctuated by mesas and mountains that define the horizon lines around the ranges. Sand and gravel is baked into crusts on the surface of the plains, stirred up by the winds whipping occasionally over the surface, blowing off the tops of drifts caused by amphibious assault vehicles and tanks, punctuated by the sounds of high-caliber gunfire, heavy rounds flying downrange as the report from the guns echoes off the cliff walls delineating the range, and the big 120mm tank guns sounding off like rolling thunder. There’s different echoes, differentiated by their duration and particular sound, caused by the size, shape, and distance of the cliff walls. Artillery causes the same sort of report as the tanks, but the sounds of the round itself streaking through the air as it goes overhead betrays the differences.
The mountains themselves are interesting; more solid rock than Oman, less sliding dirt and scree up in the high hills. Up top, where wind and weather and time have scraped away the loose dirt, the rocks themselves arranged into geometric patterns, repeating fractals of dark, dark red-brown rock cleaved in precise lines and angles, up high, above the desert floor and the camp below.
The camp itself is less organized than Oman; more Marines, more vehicles, more gear. Marines are scattered by platoons and squads in the infantry area, camo nets sprouting like mushrooms after a heavy rain. Lines of dirt berms and barbed wire, of trucks and tanks and AAVs and tents, fences and ditches, fade to sketch marks and mere suggestions from high up enough. British Royal Marines and Jordanian soldiers walk through the camp, heading to chow or going back to their own establishments as the day goes, dodging Humvees and 7-ton trucks running up and down the main road as Marines head to and from the ranges or convoys.
And in the night, the stars are bright and hard, constellations picked out against the evening sky, dust taken through the headlights by the wind blowing over that empty sand, here in this new desert, far from home. Sleeping on top of an AAV, wrapped up in military issue sleeping bag against the whipping wind, I figure life could be far more boring than to be here.