Saudi Royalty and a Goat Grab

Heroes Remember

Saudi Royalty and a Goat Grab

Interviewer: Did you have an opportunity to meet any people who lived there? Normally, regularly, I don't like to use the term native but... Yes. Met a quite a number of Canadian and Americans that were living there as civilians, as teachers, nurses, that type of employment that were there. Met a number of Canadians that worked at the embassy in Riyadh. Met a number of Saudi people, they were very appreciative of Canada's involvement and even more so than the Americans. I have my own story about meeting one of the Saudi princes, well prince, not princess. But, did, and was invited to one of their meals that they call a "goat grab" that I went to, and it was rather unique. It turned out as I found out afterwards that the gentleman was one of the prince, princes, and I was one of the first ones of the coalition forces during Desert Shield to be invited to a goat grab. It's a pretty significant thing to them, I had no idea what it was at the time and didn't find out until afterwards and fortunately hadn't embarrassed Canada too much at that time. Pretty much routine when we'd be walking around the Riyadh base and a Saudi military person would see us with our Canadian epaulets on and the Canadian flag on to really make a point of talking to us and thanking us for being there with the coalition forces. A lot more than they did the American forces, very seldom would you see that happen with them. They certainly did with the Canadians, they certainly made us feel welcome, if you will. Interviewer: Did your American fellow soldiers that were there, fellow airmen, how did they feel about that? It's a feeling that they pretty much accept throughout the world if you will, they, there's places in the world that the Americans are not very well liked. Canada, fortunately has always enjoyed a good reputation, we always have, our military has always enjoyed that same type of reputation, and we're treated accordingly. That's not to say that the Saudi's mistreated the Americans at all, I don't mean that, I mean, I simply mean that they would go out of their way to welcome a Canadian and make a Canadian feel appreciated if you will. Interviewer: You mentioned a goat grab, what's a goat grab? You probably don't wanna know unless you've already had your lunch. They in the morning and in afternoon when they have their break, their tea and crumpets if you will, great long tables on the Saudi squadron, and they have rice and pita bread and pieces of chicken, that sort of stuff as their lunch, if you will. At the end of the table is a goat's head, a cooked goat's head with the eyes in tact. And I was walking down the corridor one day and this Saudi colonel had, turned out to be a Saudi prince had stopped me, welcomed me as a Canadian, hadn't realized that there were that many Canadians around and there were four or five of us walking around at the time. And asked me to join him at this goat grab. I had no idea what it was so I said, " Sure, glad to." We were walking through the head of the line and everyone was waiting until we went through and again I had no idea of what he was, who he was. And when we get to the end of the table with the goat's head on it he's picking pieces of the goat's head off and putting it on his plate and offers me first choice on the eye. And, "I don't think so". And he took one, and I turned to the gentleman standing behind me which was another Saudi colonel and you know, "If you want to, go ahead." He sort of encouraged me to take it but I was quite reluctant to. He did, and it's a delicacy I guess. And I found out what a goat grab was. My American boss, the colonel told me afterwards exactly what it was and exactly what I should have done if you will. But in hindsight I still don't think I would have plucked out that eye and eaten it. It just didn't seem very appetizing.

Mr. Johnston describes how the Saudi locals made the Canadians feel welcome, and being invited to a traditional buffet by a Saudi Prince.

Alonzo Johnston

Mr. Johnston first served with the HSR cadets in Sussex, NB, and joined the regular forces before finishing high school. He joined the air force, but transferred to the navy after his trade as a data processor was closed and contracted out to civilians. In 1981, Mr. Johnston returned to the air force as an air weapons controller, commissioned from navy ranks. After a promotion, Mr. Johnston was posted in Bangor, then Oklahoma with a joint Canadian/American AWACS force. This force was eventually posted in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, where Mr. Johnston served as a mission control commander on Northern Watch and Provide Comfort missions. In 1996, Mr. Johnston was reassigned to North Bay, Ontario, where he remained until his retirement in 2002.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Alonzo Johnston
War, Conflict or Mission:
Canadian Armed Forces
Saudi Arabia
Air Force

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