Everyone who deploys during a holiday makes a special effort to feel as if they aren’t really missing it. No matter how short the war is, no one wants to miss one of those crucial days. Even if the entire buildup and fighting lasted just a few months, you still want that piece of home. The Louisiana National Guard was no different in the Gulf War. No way were they going to miss Mardi Gras.
So the celebration may not have been as raucous as it is on Bourbon Street. Nor was it a family affair as it is in other wards and and cities in Louisiana. Still, it was important to the men and women who deployed to Saudi Arabia during operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Mardi Gras isn’t something to be casually missed, so the unit threw their own version: Saudi Gras.
In 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, sparking off a huge U.S. military buildup in Saudi Arabia call Operation Desert Shield as a bulwark against further Iraqi aggression. It was part of a larger plan to go on the offensive and expel Iraq from Kuwait in an operation known as Desert Storm. The forces required to execute Desert Storm and secure Saudi Arabia took a while to arrive. From August 1990 to January 1991, American and Coalition troops began arriving in the Saudi Kingdom.
One of those units called to action was the Louisiana National Guard, who arrived in late January and early February. Their only problem was that Mardi Gras began on Feb. 12 that year.
(Louisiana National Guard)
Mardi Gras is a Christian tradition, a celebration that begins on the Feast of the Epiphany and runs through Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. While Mardi Gras may not be a big deal in the rest of the United States, for the French-descended people of Louisiana, it is. For them, it’s more than beads on Bourbon Street – it’s a time of celebration, good food, parades, and family. Some 8,000 miles away from the French Quarter, the members of Lousiana’s National Guard deployed to Saudi Arabia decided they wouldn’t let the holiday pass them by.
Saudi Arabia saw its first-ever Mardi Gras celebration, dubbed “Saudi Gras” by those who were a part of it.
(Louisiana National Guard)
The beer was non-alcoholic (by necessity and general order), the parade queen was a Lt. Col. who volunteered to dress in drag, and the Saudi Gras King, a member of the 926th Tactical Fighter Group and native of New Orleans, was given the title “King Scud.” Elsewhere, Louisianans formed ad-hoc krewes, those celebrating Mardi Gras with the pledge to form a group that hosts a party, builds parade floats, and attends social events all year long.
You can take the troops out of Louisiana, but you can’t take Louisiana out of the troops.