Posts Tagged ‘ARAMCO’

The history of the world is unique. Civilizations survive for hundreds or even thousands of years living one day at a time. Some change does takes place but major social norms, traditions and policies remain basically intact. Then suddenly something changes within the civilization and a major transformation takes place within that country. Many times, these changes take place in a relatively short period of time; many times over a generation.
In 1978 I moved to Saudi Arabia to work and live. We had a five day orientation before departing America and during this time we were versed in the local traditions and laws and we were lectured on not trying to invoke American traditions on the Saudi citizens while not criticizing their ways of life.
When I lived in Saudi Arabia the only women allowed to drive were American women and this privilege was extended to the compound we lived on. No female could drive off the compound. Movie theaters did not exist except on the compounds where we lived. The Saudi Stock Exchange opened soon after I arrived but only Saudi citizens could purchase stock and invest in the Kingdom. The first generation of drivers were on the roads and this could be quit an experience when driving in heavy traffic or on the open road. The void that separated the West from Saudi Arabia was quit wide.
In 1990 Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the world changed for Saudi Arabia. American and coalition troops poured into Saudi Arabia to defend the Kingdom; an Army that contained members of all religions including Jews. Thousands of years of abhorrence was cast aside as members of different religions worked together for a common goal.
The war also introduced something else to the general population of Saudi Arabia; the female driver. Women in Saudi could own cars but could not drive them. Enter the United States Army, the Humvee and the female driver. This was a major cultural shock to everyone, including American expats. To see a woman behind the wheel was a true novelty. It was not long before a protest was planned. Many women in Riyadh got behind the wheel and drove around the capital. They were eventually arrested, taken to the police station where their husbands were called and the women were turned over to the husbands. Those that were employed by the government were terminated. This simmering protest has been a part of Saudi criticism for the last 35 years. Last September it was announced that women would be allowed to drive. Not only did this move the country into a more progressive image as the world would see it but it can also spur more internal entrepreneurial investment.
Entertainment is breaking new ground. A New Orleans Jazz concert was held in Riyadh; the first in 20 years. The next open society experiment is the movie theater. On March 1st the Kingdom allowed public movie theaters and CinemaCity, is planning a 20 screen theater in Riyadh. Other theaters will go up around the Kingdom.
The new ruling government of Saudi Arabia is far more deep thinking than just theaters and driving. Last year many extremely wealthy individuals. Some being princes of the Royal Family, were placed under house arrest and charged with skimming money from the government. Billions will be returned to the Kingdom in return for freedom. This is a bold move that promises a more enterprising country.
Tourism was not allowed when I lived there. Only workers were allowed in. This has changed and in 2012 over 12 million visitors had gone to Arabia as visitors. Today there is even a female dive club on the Red Sea.
Probably the biggest change in what used to be a closed country is the sale of 5% of Saudi ARAMCO. Valued at 200 billion dollars, this stock offering will be the largest Individual Public Offering, IPO, in the history of the world. For Saudi Arabia to offer part of its crown jewel, ARAMCO, for sale speaks volumes about the changes going on within the Kingdom.
When I first arrived in Saudi I was told that an aged, very wealthy and very wise Saudi had made the following statement based on the country’s wealth that was derived from the oil resources. “My father rode a camel. I drive a Mercedes. My son will fly a plane. His son will fly in space. His son will ride a camel.” As prophetic as this may have been at the time, this may well be incorrect with the changes that are taking place in the Kingdom today.
It’s amazing what the difference a generation makes.

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I arrived in Saudi Arabia in 1978 and began a sixteen-year work experience that was nothing short of wonderful; however, there were things that did cause a small amount of consternation. One of these was Christmas.
Before we ever left America for our new home the company was upfront with the Americans that were moving to the country. We would not be allowed to worship outwardly as we do in the United States. Freedom of religion is not an option in Saudi, it is a Moslem country and it is the official world center of the Moslem faith. We were also told that Christmas is to be celebrated within the privacy of the home and is not to be flaunted in the work space.
When we arrived in Kingdom we discovered that Christmas had previously been a big celebration within the ARAMCO confines. One cul-de-sac that held about 21 apartments was known as Christmas Tree Circle; named for the massive light display from the lights hung by the residents. My close friend Loren Schoenholtz was assigned to one of the apartments and discovered hundreds of lights that had been stored in his attic. Unfortunately, the company had banned all Christmas decorating.
As my first year moved into the Christmas season I would hear stories about how the Dhahran compound use to decorate for the holidays; how the gates were opened to let the local Arabian citizens into the compound to see the light show and how they wished it had not stopped. Ironically it was not Westerners that were talking about the holiday, it was the local Saudi workers that were working for the company for many years.
Political correctness is often launched by well-to-do leaders of governments and businesses in an effort to placate the world around them. Instead of doing what the gut feeling tells a person is right, we see people making decisions by overthinking, rationalizing and then trying to make everyone happy and not offend anyone. This can never come to fruition.
The one thing that I really looked forward to when returning to America was to be able to walk the streets of our great Nation during Christmas and soaking up the atmosphere. I held no hard feelings for Saudi Arabia, it is a legitimate sovereign country that should be respected for its’ laws and traditions. American is likewise a legitimate sovereign country and it should also be respected for its’ traditions and customs. This includes Christmas, the true meaning of the holiday, what the holiday means and how this is a part of our countries history heritage.
Unfortunately many in our great nation feel that they are being discriminated against and therefore Christmas must be changed to reflect a couple of days off from work and nothing more. Purge “Christmas” from the American vernacular. And for many that believe in Christmas, it is more important not to offend the few; therefore, these individuals are also promoting the concept of Christmas purging.
What is missed here is that America is not discriminating against a certain group or religion. Instead it is celebrating a tradition that is older than the country itself and has been a part of our Nation since our beginning. What should be explained to those not wishing to celebrate Christmas is that they do not have to participate in the celebration. No one should force Christmas on anyone and none should be forced to not celebrate the holiday for what it is. Also, if another person is of a religion that does not celebrate Christmas, they are welcome to celebrate their own religion and celebrate without fear of repercussions. That is what America is, that is who we are and that is how we roll.
Since I can now celebrate Christmas for what it is and since I am in a country that is given the freedom of religion as well as the right to speak without fear of retribution; I will continue to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas at every chance I have. Merry Christmas is spoken here and I plan to celebrate the holiday to the fullest.

 

Growing up in rural America in the 50s and 60s, a young boy was exposed to the wonderment of the Boy Scouts of America.  Scouting in Union Parish was a way of life for many of the young men and helped to mold them into good citizens for the future building of our great nation.  As a young man we had two scout troops in the parish.  One was in Bernice and one was in Farmerville and each year the troops would go to summer camp at camp KiRoLi in Monroe.  Named for the three civic organizations that built and supported it, Kiwanis Club, Rotarian Club and the Lions Club, the camp helped the scouts hone their outdoor skills.  This camp was closed in the mid-1970s and moved to property donated by the T.L. James Company and this new camp bears that name.

Scouting originated in England by Lord Baden Powel in 1907.  A couple of scouting type programs in the United States had been started at the same time that Powel had launched the Boy Scout program.  In 1909 a Chicago publisher, was visiting London.  He became lost on a foggy night.  From out of the fog came a young British Boy Scout and provided guidance to help the publisher find his way in the foreign city.  This scout is referred to as the “unknown scout”.  When the American publisher offered the boy a tip the boy denied, explained that he was a Boy Scout and he was doing his daily good turn.  The publisher was so impressed that he met with the English Boy Scout staff.

In 1910 the Boy Scouts of America was incorporated and was later turned over to the YMCA for development.  One of the early ardent supporters of the Boy Scouts was Theodore Roosevelt.  He had been vocal about the decline in the manhood of the American male and saw the Boy Scouts as a means to ensure that manliness would stop its’ decline.

Anyone possessing very old Farmerville High School yearbooks, the Pine Knot, will see pictures of boy scouts in their uniforms.  It was a way of life for the boys of our area.  Farmerville had Troop 16.  Several years ago it was noted that this troop was the longest active chartered Boy Scout troop in Louisiana.  At one time the scouts met in a very unique cedar logged scout hut on the edge of Farmerville. This was built by the citizens of Farmerville after World War II.   Located in the woods, people visiting the hut were greeted with two large totem poles.  A connected garage housed the crown jewel of any troop in the state, a trailer that carried six aluminum Grumman canoes, the only set in the area.  After a half century these canoes are still in use.

As dynamic as Troop 16 was with its material holdings, the true gem of the troop rested in its’ leadership, its’ scoutmaster and the person considered to be one of the best in the country was Larce Holder.  Affectionately referred to as ‘The Big L”, Mr Holder instilled a love of the outdoors, respect for nature and our fellow man while reinforcing the tenants of the Boy Scouts.

Troop 16 was very organized and those that went into the military had an advantage over the other recruits.  Self-discipline and dedication to cause had been instilled into the psyche of these young men. Camping trips were planned a year in advance and each one had a theme.  Canoe trips were a yearly event.  As a child I remember watching on KNOE TV, news footage of f Troop 16 landing their canoes in Monroe after paddling from Farmerville to the Ouachita and on to Monroe.

Many a good citizen came from Troop 16.  Soldiers, sailors and airmen were forged in the hearth of Troop 16.  Bank executives, doctors, lawyers, engineers and even a Federal Judge had their roots with Troop 16.  Good citizens from across the state were members of Mr Holder’s troop.

When I arrived in Saudi Arabia, it was quit gratifying to watch the yearly Halloween parade in Dhahran.  Leading the parade were four Boy Scouts and being carried by one was the flag of the United States of America; the only place the American flag would fly in public outside of American government installations.

 

In 1978 I left the United States and moved to Saudi Arabia for a job with the Arabian American Oil Company.  That same year I read an article about a new extreme event had been launched by a handful of athletes on the island of Hawaii.  Three years later three people that I worked with journeyed to Hawaii to participate in what had become known as the Ironman Competition, a triathlon of Biblical proportions.  While we may ride bikes to get or stay in shape we may occasionally wear out a tire or even a chain.  These guys were in continual training and wore out bikes instead of tires.  I remember driving through the camp one evening in the middle of a shamal.  A shamal is a dust storm that blows in from the north west and usually is hot, blinding and choking.  That evening there was Todd Marlatt running through the camp training for the event.  I asked one of the three if he was close close to winning.  He said, “Tom you don’t understand; it’s whether you finish that really matters.”

Triathlons had been around prior to 1978.  California had several but it was not until a single event in Hawaii ushered in the extreme version of the triathlon.  Sports Illustrated ran an article that said that a Belgium Cyclist had such a high oxygen uptake that perhaps cyclist were the most fit athletes in the world.  Discussion of the article took place at the award ceremony of a Hawaiian relay race.  Present at the award contest were members of a local swim event so a debate ensued as to who were the best athletes.  No one at the event were bikers but it was decided that the only way to decide who the best athlete in the world was would be to combine all sports.  And so it began

The event was named for a local man that was called the “Ironman” for his intense workouts.  Fifteen men participated in the event and each was given three sheets of paper to record their progress.  On each sheet was hand written, “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life“.  The winner of the first Ironman was a United States Navy Communication Specialist.  The runner up was a Navy SEAL.  He was ahead at the second transition but while running the marathon portion he ran out of water so his support team gave him beer to drink.

The next year with no marketing, fifty athletes showed up.  A Sports Illustrated writer was in Hawaii for a golf tournament and wrote a ten-page story of the event.  This garnered the curiosity of hundreds of athletes.  In 1982, a female athlete was leading and fell feet from the finish line due to exhaustion.  Even though she did not win she crawled across the finish line and began the mystic that finishing is winning.  One elementary teacher that I knew in Arabia also participated in in the Ironman.  Nancy Pengally was loved by her students and was also a top softball player.  She participated in her mid-40s and was ranked as one of the top 10 female triathletes in her age bracket in the world.

By 1983 a thousand athletes participated and a thousand were turned away.  A lottery system was invoked to allow athletes to participate.  Today there are Ironman qualifying races around the world with the final championship being held in Hawaii.  The feeling that finishing is winning still permeates the event.  The training has evolved to a point that the original winning time of over eleven hours has had three hours shaved from the winning time.

Farmerville has its’ own Ironman participant.  Steiny Baughman, son of Mayor Stein and wife Anne Baughman has participated and yes, he finished.

 

 

 

 

Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to introduce you to people I met while living overseas.  You met Hans Kozienski and Loui Rotter who were friends but had flown against each other in World War II.  You were introduced to Tom O’Rourke, Chopper pilot in Nam, Bell test pilot and had to slip out over the mountains when Iran collapsed when he lived there.  Bill Sime was recently highlighted.  A member of the British SAS and French Foreign Legion, Bill was a legend within the offshore project organization.  As diverse and different these men were they all had one thing in common; adventurism.

Many people move overseas to live and work.  The reasons for the movement are numerous; salary, chance to travel, working conditions and experiencing something new are a few reasons to leave America to work abroad.  Many people go but the one common denominator that the true long term expat possesses is a sense of adventure.  Today we live in a world of instant communication and this reduces the anxiety of living abroad.  Prior to the Internet it really took a unique person to uproot and move overseas.  There was a story of a teacher that was relocating to Arabia to work.  She walked to the open door of the plan in the middle of summer, took one breath as the hot desert air hit her and returned to the plane and declared she is going home.  Some workers lasted from one to four years but that unique individual that is declared to be an expatriate would go on year after year and eventually experienced more culture shock when returning to the United States than when moving to a foreign country.

It was this sense of adventure that built our country.  This desire to explore, to build and to search for answers to unanswered questions is a part of the American psyche.  It is who we are and is a part of our genetic make-up.  People are individuals and this extends to the amount of adventure that a person is willing to pursue.  Of all the people I knew in Arabia none embraced the true nature of Adventurism as much as Todd Marlott.

When I arrived in 1978 Todd had been there for a year or two.  He was polite, non-confrontational but very dedicated, focused and stern in his work.  We talked one day and he told me that he had been a marine in Viet Nam; not just a marine but a recon marine.  This was the counterpart to the Navy SEALS.  He had returned to his home state of Washington where he got his degree in Construction Management and then went on to get his Masters of Business Administration.  When he arrived in Arabia Todd would seek adventure outside of his normal work in a foreign country.  He was a runner and this led to him and two other to train for the Iron Man competition in Hawaii.  This was the original Iron Man and entrance was not as stringent as today.  He entered not one but several of these and finished in all.

He loved to SCUBA dive, was an authorized instructor and taught it in the evening in Dhahran.  His intense instruction method led people to caution potential dive candidates that they were not in for an easy ride to certification.  He would be on many dive trips around the world that originated from Dhahran and everyone enjoyed his free spirit on these adventures.

Todd also enjoyed trekking trips and pictures are around of his trips to the Himalayas and his ice clad beard while he stayed at base camps on Everest.  He was the true expatriate that embraced the spirit of the likes of China Gordon, Roy Chapman Andrews and Ernest Hemmingway.  Intense, fun loving, enquiring spirit and one who wanted to live life and not be one to sit back and observe other people living life.  He wasn’t one to sit on the porch.  He ran with the big dogs.

I had not heard from Todd since leaving Arabia but due to Facebook I was able to reconnect.  He never married and had no children and unfortunately a year ago he died without the love of a spouse next to him.  Like his life, his ashes were buried next to his family in a cemetery in Washington on a cold, wet wintery day.  His Facebook page said there would be a memorial sometime in the summer when the weather cleared.  A sad end for such an adventurer.

 

Coalition forces had been bombing Iraqi forces in Kuwait for over three weeks; twenty-five years ago this week.  America was glued to its’ televisions as was the majority of the world, including Iraq courtesy of CNN.  This was the first live coverage of a war and we all got to be friends with the CNN crew via the air waves.

At this time in the war I had been in Safaniya for about ten days.  Safaniya is just south of the Kuwaiti border.  February 1st I was in Abqaiq only occasionally coming under SCUD attack but for the most part safe and sound.  The television carried a couple of incidents that were sort of correct.

A week before February 1st we were watching television when a story broke of two Iraqi planes being shot down over Saudi.  Pictures of the radar screen were being shown to the press but large parts were blacked out due to security reasons.  I found that strange as the fight over the skies should pose no security problem as the planes came from Iraq, were intercepted and shot down.  Where the fight took place should have no real significance.

Another interesting item broke on television.  A story was told of American planes hitting a tanker at the Kuwaiti port that was being used as a spotter location for Iraqi troops to identify when raids were coming to Iraq.  Also, Saddam had ordered two huge lines be opened to allow millions of gallons of oil to flow into the sea.  The minister of environmental affairs addressed a press conference to discuss the ecological disaster of the oil in the gulf.  American planes had destroyed the facilitates and stopped the oil from entering the gulf.  The minister spoke of two oil spills.  The press jumped on this as there were to have been just one spill.  The minister stumbled on his words and soon exited the press conference.

When I arrived in Safaniya the two incidents were clarified.  A week earlier a friend in Abqaiq told me about being in the parking lot.  He said three fighter jets were flying at extremely low altitude at an incredible speed going south.  This is in a direction away from Kuwait and the war.  When I got to Safaniya a week later the contractor I had assigned to me told me what had happened.  He was on a job site one hundred miles south of Abqaiq.  He and his workers were looking up and saw two sets of planes coming together.  Two planes were shot down and all the workers jumped under trucks to protect themselves from the debris.  They clambered out to find the plane pieces had French markings on them signifying they were probably Mirage jets made in France.  Then the story of the blacked out radar screens made sense.  The planes identified in the press release were not Iraqi but instead originated in Yemen.  These planes were entering the war against the coalition troops.  The blackout parts of the radar screen probably showed ARMACO oil facilities in the middle of the desert and not something along the cost in the north of the country.  America did not want to bring Yemen into the fight and after the shooting down there was no more planes coming from that direction.

I was in Safaniya to fight the oil spill that came from Kuwait.  We had several water desalination plants in the area and the coalition forces were taking 32,000 gallons of fresh water from us every day.  If any oil got into the desalination plants they would be ruined we could no longer the fresh water to the troops.  When I first arrived I heard of not one but two spills.  Apparently when the planes hit the ship being used by the Iraqis in Kuwait harbor it was realized that it was a tanker full of oil and it formed the first spill.  Then a few days later Saddam opened the valves and poured more into the gulf and combined the two spills made up the largest oil spill in the world dwarfing the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

The strangest part of my mission to Safaniya was that when I was traveling north I kept passing military vehicles going south.  Very few were going toward Kuwait.  When the war was over the story come out about this.  The Americans and other coalition forces had a huge military presence on the Kuwait border.  The Iraqis knew this force was going to invade directly into Kuwait.  Under the constant bombardment of the Iraqi forces, the Americans packed up and redeployed to the west and re-setup on the Iraqi border.  Those were the troops that I had witnessed and when the ground attack began the Iraqi’s were caught totally by surprise when they had been outflanked and invaded directly into Iraq.

It seems just like yesterday.  Americans, Canadians, British and other nationalities were living in Arabia and in an unprecedented show of support they brought into their homes members of the military for a small break from the Arabian Desert.  Never in the history of the world has there been such an outflow for military men and women from civilians near the pending front line.

The Dhahran Clippers was the undisputed softball champion of the Middle East. With an average age of 39, the players were at a point in life that competitive softball should have ended years earlier.  If would be years in the future before the players finally hung up their spikes but not before dominating the sport.  At the time of the war the team had won 11 Mid-East Softball Championships and six Saudi Arabian Championships and the only Bahrain championship.  The team had various former military members to include members of the Nuclear Navy, Navy Seabees, A Navy Pilot, Navy surface warfare officer, Army National Guard and other branches and units.  Patriotism was present and every Wednesday night the team hosted a softball team from the Navy Seals, played softball and treated them to a home cooked meal.

In early November, Curt, the senior NCO SEAL approached Loren Schoenholtz and asked if he could arrange for Thanksgiving lunch for the elite special forces team.  The work then began.  Instead of a large single meal Loren arranged for members of the community to bring the men into their homes for a smaller more traditional meal.  Pete Hawkins would stop people in the parking lot of ARAMCO Dhahran, ask if they would host a SEAL, take their names and pass it on to Loren.  Finally it was all set.  There would be a softball game at the Hills  Complex, at a certain time the hosts would arrive and pick up their guests, meals would be served and the SEALS would be returned to the SEAL Base at Half Moon Bay.

The SEALS arrived; all 85 of them.  Others went to Jubail to see the President speak for Thanksgiving.  Immediately a communications specialist climbed a light pole, attached an antennae and the unit was in world wide communication.  The game ended and everyone left for Thanksgiving Lunch.

Rich Hunter, a Mormon from El Paso, 42 years old and perennial tournament MVP and I cooked a Turkey and took it to Loren’s for lunch.  At the meal was Curt; a Lt Commander that brought the first SEAL unit into Arabia; another officer and Captain Ray Smith, commander of SEALS on the West Coast and later Admiral Smith, the King SEAL. It was a wonderful lunch.  While Hunter and I pulled the turkey apart, Smith asked to take our picture.  He said that no one in the States would believe how he spent Thanksgiving in Arabia.

It was also there that I discovered that we had a couple of mutual friends.  Carl Swepson, SEAL at Navy Memphis and I knew each other and these men were new in the Team when he was famous for his abilities.  The Lt Commander gradated from the Naval Academy with Rock Hammerick, a member of the Academy Football Team and a person I played ball with at Navy Memphis.  I also learned the bad news that Pappy Reynolds, WWII Frogman, part of the first SEAL Team formed, NCO of Curt’s early Seal Team and retiree had taken his own life after leaving the Navy.

This was my experience with the military during the first Thanksgiving for American troops in a war zone since Viet Nam.  This was isolated. This open generosity and appreciation for the American fighting man and woman was repeated throughout Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone around the world and thanks to all those that will be taking the fight to ISIS.  God Bless