Nearly forty years ago, an octagonal city took shape in northeastern Saudi Arabia. It was called KKMC, King Khalid Military City. It is still there, an active enterprise, inhabited by diverse people living and going about a multitude of tasks. But I am thinking of the days before the owners arrived, the days when I was there, along with several hundred other Americans, when it was being constructed. The years 1976 to 1986.

During those years we lived comfortably, our families were with us; our housing compound included a dining facility, a movie theater, tennis courts, a gymnasium, a swimming pool, and an elementary school for our kids. We drove company cars. We had a small airfield where company planes would fly us to the big cities of Riyadh or Dhahran.

But we worked many long hours. Construction continued virtually every day, often day and night. The project dominated our thinking and our lives. Managers and their families would arrive, work for two years or four years or six, and then depart. But the project continued.

And while we were there, the sense of community we experienced was unsurpassed – for the newest newcomer to the most seasoned veteran. We never locked our house doors or took the keys out of our cars. We all knew each, helped each other, enjoyed each other’s company.

We had a singleness of purpose. When we attended parties at each other’s houses, conversation would inevitably include shop talk: night concrete placement, precast plant deliveries, construction contractor quality control, or the resolution of design problems by the home office in Virginia.

Our kids all knew each other, attended the company operated elementary school and went swimming after class in the company operated swimming pool. Everything was nearby. It was perfectly safe for them to walk home from school unattended, and to visit each other’s houses on their own.

On our vacations we travelled the world. The resort beaches of Thailand, the ski resorts of Austria, the wildlife reserves of Kenya, or the ancient ruins of Egypt, We saw the world. It was not uncommon for us to run across one another at an airport in London, or Hong Kong, or Frankfurt, and greet each other like family members. Because we were a family – the KKMC family.

By 1986 construction was coming to a close, and one by one, families departed. It was hard saying goodbye to friends who had been so close. We’d see them off at the little company-run airport, knowing as we waved goodbye that although we might meet again, it would never be the same.

Those were great days.


My 2010 book White Sky, is an account (with people’s names changed) of my first year in Saudi Arabia, at Tabuk. At the end of the book Mark Exner (me) is called by his agency to return to Saudi Arabia to work on a large project just starting up. That project was KKMC. I hope one day to write a book set in KKMC during the days I was there.


Note: if you search on-line for KKMC, you will find several. The one I am describing is King Khalid Military City Saudi Arabia during its original construction period, which was roughly 1976 to 1986.


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