King Abdulaziz Military Cantonment, Tabuk
The proposed site for the second cantonment, about three miles south of the town of Tabuk, lay in the northwest corner of the country on a sandy plateau about three thousand feet above sea level. The terrain was open and the atmosphere generally clear so that heat dissipated during the night, producing an average variation in temperature of 34°F between day and night. With the winter average just above freezing and a summer average of 103°F and highs up to 118°F, the region experienced a much wider range of temperatures than Khamis Mushayt. The wind was almost constant at about fifteen miles an hour.
The US Corps of Engineers prepared the basic design for the cantonment at Tabuk in 1966, at the same time that it drafted the design for Khamis Mushayt. It included almost identical facilities and was different only because it was originally designed to house two brigades and because the site already had thirty-two military warehouses and other shops and buildings. Designers incorporated the existing facilities into the new master plan by segregating them in an industrial area remote from the troop and family housing.
On 31 January 1967, the Americans briefed Prince Sultan on the design. MODA approved the design, and the division planned to make only minor changes to adapt it to the specific conditions at Tabuk. Months later, after Prince Sultan decided that Tabuk would contain only one brigade, the US Corps of Engineers prepared a redesign that nevertheless preserved sitings and utilities sufficient to support a second brigade.
Given the experience gained at Khamis Mushayt, the bidding process for Tabuk went more smoothly, but not without its own delays. In late October 1968, MODA approved a bidders list with the reservation that all other Saudi governmental ministries and agencies also approve all of the bidders. In mid-November, the division issued a request for construction proposals. It then learned that the Saudi Council of Ministers had not included funds in the coming year’s budget for the construction at Tabuk; money would become available only in September 1969. The US Corps of Engineers extended the cutoff date for proposals and opened bids on 23 April. It took another six months before the division arrived at a satisfactory $56 million contract with Philipp Holzmann A.G. of West Germany.
The volatile situation in Jordan, where the Palestinian problem erupted in open civil war in 1970 between supporters of the Palestine Liberation Front and the government of Jordan, further delayed the progress of construction because the normal routes of commerce between the eastern Mediterranean and Saudi Arabia were cut off by the extended closure of the Syrian border. By July 1970, the contractor at Tabuk had constructed a field laboratory and had completed family quarters for contractor personnel.
The Saudis continued to express dissatisfaction with the very low percentage of Saudi contractors or workers involved at Tabuk. The failure to hire Saudi subcontractors irritated Prince Sultan, Major Nassief, and the Saudi minister of labor. By April 1971, a project engineer visiting the site from Livorno reported that “concrete seems to be coming out of the ground all over the cantonment”; by late that year, the contractor had completed about half of the cantonment. By the end of 1972, several Saudi subcontractors had become involved in the construction and four of five new projects had been set aside for Saudi firms.
The Saudi government scheduled the dedication of the cantonment, known since early in the year as the King Abdulaziz Military Cantonment, for 22 September 1973. King Faisal presided at the ceremony, to which the chief of engineers sent Maj. Gen. George Rebh, director of military construction, as his representative. Rebh brought with him as a gift for Faisal a pair of ornately engraved six-shooter pistols. Over four days of festivities, the American engineers and their Saudi hosts celebrated the completion of a $75 million military city capable of accommodating a 7,500-man brigade complete with hospital, schools, family quarters, maintenance shops, community facilities, and utilities.
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