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(L-R) COL Mayo "Biff" Hadden US Army-SF (Ret) receives Georgia Military Veterans Hall of Fame Medal from Georgia Senator Ed Harbison (also a recipient)

1/16 Desert Storm (Persian Gulf) Began (1991)

     A Member Stories From Operation Desert Storm

MOAA Member Stories From Operation Desert Storm

Marines move out on a mission during the buildup to Operation Desert Storm. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. H.H. Deffner/Air Force)

(This MOAA staff article originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of Military Officer, a magazine available to all MOAA Premium and Life members. Learn more about the magazine here; learn more about joining MOAA here.)

They arrived in the desert far from home, and when the war was over, they carried with them memories to last a lifetime.

Here, MOAA members who served in Operation Desert Storm share stories of their service and experiences in this historic event three decades ago. The following recollections were edited for length.

The Blue Pickup Truck

Just before Desert Storm, I drove my sand-colored Jeep Cherokee back from the 1st Marine Division at the Kuwait border to Al Jubail with a young Navy rabbi.

To avoid heavy military traffic, I suggested we shortcut 35 miles across the desert, knowing we’d hit the paved Tapline highway crossing into Jordan. We had a full tank and water (but no GPS or iPhones back then).

The sand was trackless, no landmarks; a sepia moonscape. After an hour, I spotted a small cloud of dust at 10 o’clock. It grew bigger … and bigger … and became a rusty, blue Toyota pickup with a mattress and some bundles in the cargo area. In the front seat were two figures with headdresses and dark beards.

The truck never slowed down. I didn’t count on our having the right of way, so I calculated we’d collide. Would you believe? I had to stop — as this beat-up little truck sped 20 feet across our bow … the figures looking wide-eyed at us as they passed!

The rabbi and I collapsed in laughter. Unbelievable. Here in the midst of nowhere in the Arabian Desert, we had to come to a complete stop to let the only other vehicle in a range of most likely 50 miles pass in front of us!

— Col. Avery Chenoweth, USMCR (Ret)

 

gulf-war-jeep-internal.jpg

U.S. troops operate small, lightweight GPS receivers, or SLGRS, during Desert Storm. (Army photo)

First of Many

As a young Marine Corps first lieutenant, I watched the air war of Operation Desert Storm begin from an expeditionary airfield at Ras Al Mishab, Saudi Arabia, just south of the border with Kuwait. I was assigned there as a communications officer supporting a Marine air group.

Each night as I made the trek from my billeting tent to our combat operations center for my watch officer duties, I could see the lights of the Allied planes overhead. It was powerful to see, and to know that I was playing my small part in the vast force, in the air, on land and sea.

While on duty, we kept up with the latest news via Armed Forces Radio. Shortly before the ground war began, we displaced to another airfield where we were better able to support our ground units. At the time, I believed this would be the defining moment of my military service.

Little did I know, the second half of my career would include a terrorist attack on our homeland, and nearly constant military operations, including my two deployments in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

— Lt. Col. Daniel P. Coombes, USMC (Ret)

'Highway of Death'

I was an O-5 then. A Quartermaster LTC serving as the director of materiel with the 301st Support Group (Area), an active Reserve unit stationed at Fort Totten, (Queens) N.Y.

On Thanksgiving Day 1990, the call came down: “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag,” say goodbye to family, friends, and your civilian job, and report to your unit within 24 hours.

The unit spent about five weeks in pre-deployment exercises, weapons familiarization, shots, personal affairs updates and South West Asia orientation at Fort Dix, N.J. We loaded onto civilian contracted aircraft and landed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Dec. 23, 1990. We had a variety of missions from water purification, vehicle repair, and maintenance to decontamination of equipment for return to CONUS. We moved around a lot (Riyadh, King Khalid Military City, Kuwait City).

Our unit never got into Iraq, but we saw the devastation the A-10s delivered as we traveled the “Highway of Death.” We finally redeployed out of Dhahran on June 1, 1991.

— Col. Bill Nagy, USAR (Ret)

 

desert-storm-tank-internal.jpg

An M1A1 Abrams tank moves out for the ground phase of the operation. (Photo by Corbis via Getty Images)

Honoring the Fallen

I was in Riyadh, [ Saudi Arabia] on Feb. 25, 1991, when the Scud missile hit the building housing members of the Army Reserve 14th Quartermaster Water Purification Unit, killing 13 members [of the unit], and wounding several others.

I did not personally know any of the casualties, but they were from Greensburg, Pa., my hometown. On Feb. 25, 1992, I was privileged to represent the U.S. Navy at the memorial service and dedication of a monument on the grounds of the Army Reserve Center in Greensburg. The service was well done and was disheartening and uplifting at the same time.

— Capt. Lawrence D. Newlon, USNR (Ret)

Support From Home

In early 1991, Naval Reserve Fleet Hospital 23 was notified that our hospital was slated to be activated for Operation Desert Storm. 

I was head of patient administration for our hospital, and we had been preparing for three years to be ready as a fully functioning hospital, if mobilized. The question that became the competing challenge was — were our midwestern civilian healthcare employers prepared to lose large numbers of medical professionals throughout our region?

I was vice president of a 400-bed, full-service community hospital operated by a large Catholic hospital system with a significant number of hospitals in Wisconsin and Illinois. The sisters were anticipating losing a large number of staff and in some instances creating shortages.

I was relieved that our hospital system and communities/families were in full support of those mobilized and their families.

— Capt. Rex D. Conger, USNR (Ret)

 

'Trojan Horses'

I was the supply officer of NMCB-74 [Naval Mobile Construction Battalion] supporting the First and Second Marine Divisions in Desert Storm. Our camp was located 28 miles south of the Kuwaiti border. Our Seabee battalion built a barn-like structure [that] was our dining facility, known as “Nomad Galley.” All branches of our armed forces stopped there to enjoy a fabulous meal on their way to or from Kuwait. Our galley became well known as serving the best meals in the desert.

At the beginning of Desert Storm, the Iraqis would launch rockets at our camp about 1900 [hours] every night. After special forces went up to where the launch sites were, the rocket attacks ceased. Shrouded in secrecy, Task Force Troy “Black Det” was a 21-man detail tasked with producing and assembling tank and artillery decoys in a deception operation with the Marine Corps Recon Force. The decoys were made of plywood and PVC pipe. They proved successful as the post-war inspection of the “Trojan Horses” indicated most had come under fire. The experience in Desert Storm was rewarding and uplifting since we won the war decisively and quickly.

— Lt. Cmdr. Michael J. Moore, USN (Ret)

 

gulf-war-leaders-internal.jpg

Desert Storm leaders Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, left, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of coalition forces in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, attend a news conference in February 1991. (Photo by Thierry Orban/Sygma/Getty Images)

Oil Fields Ablaze

I remember riding in a vehicle with several other soldiers with the 321st Materiel Management Center from log base Bravo in Saudi Arabia up to Kuwait City. This was a day or two after we drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait.

A bright, sunny day turned into complete darkness when we came to the burning oil fields.  The air was heavy with oil, and it was difficult to breathe. Tornadoes of fire spun up from the destroyed oil wells and reflected in pools of oil in the sand as far as we could see. 

The blazing infernos were the only light in the desert. We could hear some explosions in the distance. That may have been some bombs going off. Destroyed Iraqi vehicles were strewn everywhere. Dead Iraqi soldiers and camels were scattered along the highway.

— Lt. Col. Stephen A. Raymond, USAR (Ret)

Pilots Get a Closer Look

I was an Air Force public affairs officer who arrived in Kuwait City the day before the cease-fire to help create a Joint Information Bureau-forward to support the throngs of press soon to arrive. One day, two F-16 pilots found their way into our JIB. The two captains were based in the UAE, but had hopped a C-130 to see from the ground what they helped do from the air over Mutla Ridge, aka the Highway of Death.

Full of vim and vigor they were as I drove them west for an up-close look. Afterwards, the drive back to the airport was very quiet. I have long hoped that they both became general officers just so they could pass along their own personal reflections.

— Maj. Joe Davis, USAF (Ret)

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1/27 Vietnam War Cease Fire (1973)

Rogers Signs Paris Peace Accords

 Secretary of State William P. Rogers Signs Paris Peace Accords. Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Working for Peace

With the failure of the 1972 Easter Offensive, North Vietnamese leader Le Duc Tho became concerned that his nation could become isolated if President Richard Nixon's policy of détente softened relations between the United States and his allies, the Soviet Union and China. As such he relaxed the North's position in the ongoing peace negotiations and stated that the South Vietnamese government could remain in power as the two sides sought a permanent solution. Responding to this change, Nixon’s National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, commenced secret talks with Tho in October.  

After ten days, these proved successful and a draft peace document was produced. Angered at having been excluded from the talks, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu demanded major alterations to the document and spoke out against the proposed peace. In response, the North Vietnamese published the details of the agreement and stalled the negotiations. Feeling that Hanoi had attempted to embarrass him and to force them back the table, Nixon ordered the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong in late December 1972 (Operation Linebacker II). On January 15, 1973, after pressuring South Vietnam to accept the peace deal, Nixon announced the end of offensive operations against North Vietnam.

Paris Peace Accords

The Paris Peace Accords ending the conflict were signed January 27, 1973, and were followed by the withdrawal of the remaining American troops. The terms of the accords called for a complete ceasefire in South Vietnam, allowed North Vietnamese forces to retain the territory they had captured, released US prisoners of war, and called for both sides to find a political solution to the conflict. To achieve a lasting peace, the Saigon government and Vietcong were work towards a lasting settlement that would result in free and democratic elections in South Vietnam. As an enticement to Thieu, Nixon offered US airpower to enforce the peace terms.

Standing Alone, South Vietnam Falls

With US forces gone from the country, South Vietnam stood alone. Though the Paris Peace Accords were in place, fighting continued and in January 1974 Thieu publicly stated that the agreement was no longer in effect. The situation worsened the following year with the fall of Richard Nixon due to Watergate and passage of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 by Congress which cut off all military aid to Saigon. This act removed the threat of air strikes should North Vietnam break the terms of the accords. Shortly after the act’s passage, North Vietnam began a limited offensive in Phuoc Long Province to test Saigon’s resolve. The province fell quickly and Hanoi pressed the attack.

Surprised by the ease of their advance, against largely incompetent ARVN forces, the North Vietnamese stormed through the south, and threatened Saigon. With the enemy nearing, President Gerald Ford ordered the evacuation of American personnel and embassy staff. In addition, efforts were made to remove as many friendly South Vietnamese refugees as possible. These missions were accomplished through Operations Babylift, New Life, and Frequent Wind in the weeks and days before the city fell. Advancing quickly, North Vietnamese troops finally captured Saigon on April 30, 1975. South Vietnam surrendered the same day. After thirty years of conflict, Ho Chi Minh’s vision of a united, communist Vietnam had been realized.

 ​​​​​​Ken HickmanHickman, Kennedy. "Vietnam War: End of the Conflict." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/vietnam-war-end-of-the-conflict-2361333.

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  • 1/31 Panama Campaign Ended (1990)

 

Colin Powell Remembers Desert Storm 25 Years Later

DoD photo

For exclusive photos, view the full featured article from the January 2016 issue of Military Officer. MOAA Premium and Life members can access the magazine's archive here (login required).

Retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, 78, was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in early August 1990 when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein ordered his army to invade Kuwait. Within days, then-President George H.W. Bush vowed that Saddam's aggression “will not stand.”

The president and then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney tasked Powell and the then-commander of U.S. Central Command, Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., to launch Operation Desert Shield to protect Saudi Arabia and begin to build a powerful military coalition. Six months later, that coalition, which included forces from Britain, France, Italy, Egypt, Syria, and other states, liberated Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm.

U.S. casualties in the Persian Gulf War included 148 battle deaths and 467 wounded. A total of 694,550 Americans deployed for Desert Shield or Storm and 235 died in theater of noncombat injuries or ailments. Many more thousands later died or became disabled from Gulf War-related illness linked to a variety of environmental and chemical hazards.

Q: As a military power, how did America view itself in 1990?

A. I'll start with the invasion of Panama in December 1989. Military dictator Manuel Noriega long had ignored warnings against harassment of American citizens and then one American was killed. President Bush authorized what our commander there, [Army Gen.] Max Thurman, and I had been thinking: a full coup de main. We sent in 13,000 troops on top of 13,000 already there and took down the whole [Panamanian Defense Force]. It was a good operation. Not a huge war, but it worked. We got rid of a dictator and put in the elected civilian president who had been in hiding.

It was a first test for me and Max and the Joint Chiefs. We did it well. It showed what combined operations were like these days. So we heard from the American people: “Hey, you guys can do something.” They've had peace in Panama with no American soldiers present for the last 26 years.

       MOAA Contributing Editor Tom Philpott interviewed General Powell.

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Career Transition 2022: Tips to Kick Off the New Year

Career Transition 2022: Tips to Kick Off the New Year

JANUARY 06, 2022 | 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EST

Online Event

REGISTER NOW

ADD TO CALENDAR

Can’t make the webinar? No problem. Register now and we’ll send you a link to the recording. 

Jump right into 2022 with a quick start on your career transition as Capt. Pat Williams, USN (Ret), MOAA’s program director for engagement and career transition services, highlights tips and tools of the trade for your next career move.

Despite an uncertain economic environment, employers still seek the myriad skills servicemembers, veterans, survivors, and military spouses bring to the workplace. Whether you are transitioning from the military or transitioning from career to career, this career webinar is for you.  
You'll learn:

  • How to begin your search with an all-important personal assessment -- a way to make sure you'll be combining your skills with a career you'll really enjoy in a sector that's right for you.
  • How to market yourself in a new career field.
  • How to translate military skills and accomplishments into language the private sector understands.
  • How to expand and leverage your network to find positions outside your current industry.
  •  How to complement your transition toolkit with a well-crafted résumé and LinkedIn profile.
  • Plus, much more!


Let MOAA help you explore what career options come next!
MOAA Premium and Life members have access to all recorded MOAA webinars at any time via MOAA’s Webinar Archive. Want to join MOAA? See MOAA.org/join for details.

EVENT SPEAKERS

                                        GOD BLESS AMERICA

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