New York Post
Sunday, October 7, 2001


The World Trade Center disaster would have brought up old memories of another tragedy for former Army Lieutenant Heather Grayson, if she hadn't already brought them up herself.

     Grayson has been performing an extraordinary one-woman show called "After the Storm," based on her experience in the Persian Gulf war involving the death of three men under her command.

     The show, which was closed for a week because of its location near Ground Zero, at the Access Theater at 380 Broadway, was set to run through Sept. 22 but has now been extended to Oct. 13.

     Grayson says that before the 1991 accident, which involved the cleanup of a massive munitions depot, she was the kind of gung-ho soldier who went looking for the toughest assignments — at least, the toughest ones available to a woman in the service.

     And that's how she got into what's called "ordnance disposal."

     "It's a hotshot specialty, and I just wanted to be a hotshot," says Grayson. "It wasn't that I wanted to do something great for my country. It was that I wanted to do some cool [stuff]: blow things up."

     When an ammunition depot at Camp Doha near Kuwait City exploded in July 1991, Grayson begged to be sent there. The vehicle explosion that killed two of her technicians and their driver altered her attitude.

     The aftermath followed her professionally for the duration of the war — and psychologically for the last 10 years.

     "When I went to the memorial service of the 18-year-old [driver] who died, by the end of 'Taps' I was a bawling mess. I was able to cry for somebody I never knew," she says.

     "But in terms of my guys, I just couldn't go there. So when was I able to think about it? Years later, when I started writing this play."

     Grayson sees echoes of what she went through in the experience that New Yorkers have all shared in the last two weeks.

     "I have post-traumatic stress disorder, which now most of New York has," she says. "You just have to shut down, and I think that's what a lot of New York did. A lot of people were just walking around in a daze."

     When she sees military personnel patrolling the streets, she instantly reads their uniforms like a resume and can tell you what their jobs are here. She sees them as a reminder of the terrorist attacks, but also as a reassurance.

     "I had the same fear/elation when we were in the bunker the first night of the air war," she remembers. "You wake up to 'Gas attack, gas attack!' Everybody throws their masks on, you go down in your bunker and you're sitting there and it's cold.

     "You're shivering — sweating and shivering at the same time. You're cramped. And then at 4 in the morning you start hearing the F-16s flying — and that was kind of like an 'Oh [shoot]' and a 'Whew!' "

     Grayson had the disconcerting experience of coming home from the war after the parades were over, the yellow ribbons had faded, and few people were still greeting the returning soldiers at the airports.

     She hopes that if soldiers are sent to fight terrorists now, the public's reaction will be different — but she has her doubts.

     "You can't sustain that kind of emotion over a long time — that intense kind of patriotic feeling that we're feeling right now. We clap for the firemen now, but will we be doing that in a month?"

     "Maybe we'll achieve our objective within a week, but somebody's going to have to be there for a year," she says.

     And when the soldiers return, "I'll be there patting them on the back, but I don't think the masses will be."