Home from War, With New Resolve

By Douglas Clark
Daily Hampshire Gazette 
May, 7, 1991

Southampton-She had warmed to the possibility of becoming a nurse months before she set foot on foreign soil.  War drove the idea home.

Three months of military service at a Naval Hospital in Saudia Arabia has convinced Michele Paige of Southampton she prefers helping people to fixing medical machines.

On Saturday, Paige, a petty officer 3rd class in the Navy Reserves, was treated to the same hero’s welcome the town has shown other Southampton Veterans of the Persian Gulf War: a ride down College Highway in a fire truck,  followed by a gathering of residents and family at the fire station in the town’s center.

But when Paige, 24, joined the Navy Reserves 4 years ago, she had no idea she’d be going to war.  Instead like a lot of others, Paige joined in part to further her education.  

“It’s a special program. They give you two years of school.  I got a lot of free training,” said Paige.

While attending Springfield Technical College, Paige, …learned through the Navy Reserves how to repair medical equipment used by hospitals.  

That training was put to telling use after Paige was transported to Saudia Arabia on Jan. 29 shortly before the ground war began against Iraq.

At a 500-bed Navy fleet hospital near Jubail, where Southampton’s Todd Perry also served as a Navy corpsman, Paige maintained the medical machinery and helped make sure the oxigen supply was constant.

The war experience was instrumental in helping Paige resolve whether or not to train to become a nurse. “The idea materialized more while I was over there.  I liked the people aspect of the work.  I like people better than machines.” said Paige.

Next fall she may embark on that nursing study.

But before any commitments to future work could be made, Paige had to endure the rigors of war.  “The worst part was the air raids.  To hear that siren does a number on your psyche.”

Paige and her comrades could hear Iraqi Scud missles flying overhead on their way to targets elsewhere in Saudia Arabia.  At one point she and others felt the ground shake when a Scud was knocked down by a Patriot missle fired by Allied forces.

The jitters were made tolerable by friendships that developed among the servicemen and women Paige worked with.

“When you get people together in a situation like that, there’s a lot of camaraderie.  I don’t think you’d experience anything like it except in a war., ” said Paige.

“And the presence of American servicewomen was a boon to the war effort, ” said Paige.

“It eases the tension to have women around.  Men talk more openly about their fears with women.  But the men still did their bonding.,” said Paige.

Paige did not have a lot of opportunity to explore the cultural differences in Saudia Arabia.  She did, however, visit Bahrain several times, and found it interesting – and bizarre.  

“They have the same technology that we do, but their culture is like living 2,000 years ago,” said Paige.

Returning home has been no less bizarre for Paige, who still has not adjusted to the fact that she does not have to wait in line to get lunch.  “I’m still not used to being alone.  I’m sure the shock will eventually wear off,” said Paige.

From here Paige has two more years of service with the reserves.  She does not know if she will re-enlist, but has no regrets about signing on four years ago.  

“I think the victory massaged our consciences a little bit.  If it weren’t for the kind of support we (the veterans) have been getting,  I think we’d see a lot of people getting out of the service.” said Paige.