A Tribute To General Schwarzkopf and Memories of the Gulf War

( image found at http://www.history.com/topics/persian-gulf-war/photos# )

One of the defining times of my life happened when my unit, the 442nd Field Service Company out of Philadelphia, was mobilized for Operation Desert Shield in September of 1990. I had just begun my first post-college job at a local Christian school. Incidentally, as I interviewed for the school’s Bible teacher position in August of 1990 I was asked of the likelihood that I would be deployed.

Major movements had already begun at that time. Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait on August 2. United States ground forces were already being sent to Saudi Arabia as President George H.W. Bush announced that “this aggression will not stand.”

The chances were slim to none, I asserted confidently. My reasoning was that I was an Army Reservist. Certainly, they wouldn’t deploy many if any of those. I couldn’t be more wrong.

About a week or so after beginning my job, or ministry, as the school’s Bible teacher, our unit was called. We spent about a week in Philadelphia getting ready, including wills (how encouraging) and then moved out for further preparation at Fort Drum, New York where we were trained by the 10th Mountain Division. Since then, I have had a real desire to follow what was going on with the 10th Mountain Division and about their history.

I find it quite surprising that the president I served under is in intensive care with his family gathered around him at the same time that I hear that the general I served under has died. Of course, they are both very aged men but to think they both could die in such rapid succession without President Bush even being aware, I would suspect, of the general’s death is quite surprising indeed.

Schwarzkopf was born Aug. 24, 1934, in Trenton, New Jersey to the man who was appointed as the first Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, Col. H. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. His father was leading the investigation of the 
The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case, which led to the arrest and execution of Richard Hauptmann for kidnapping and killing Mr. Lindbergh’s 20-month-old son.

In 1956, Schwarzkopf graduated West Point, earned a master’s at the University of Southern California and became an instructor at West Point. His war service began in 1966 when he volunteered for service in Vietnam and served two tours of duty. His first tour was as an adviser to the South Vietnamese and his second as battalion commander. Schwarzkopf’s awards included three Silver Stars for valor, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and three Distinguished Service Medals.

What many do not know is that after Hussein invaded Kuwait, it was Schwarzkopf who persuaded King Fahd to allow U.S. and allied troops to set up a staging area on Saudi soil in the event that diplomacy failed to dislodge Iraqi troops from Kuwait. His father had trained Iranian police and was an adviser to the Shah of Iran. Therefore, Schwarzkopf had some insight into and background in the world of the Middle East.

The Gulf War, as it has come to be known, was a remarkable one from the onset. Troops such as yours truly had plenty of time to acclimate to the desert climate as negotiations labored on, being instructed to drink lots of water. It was a wild sight to see the sea of Arabian tents set up for us as we began our Saudi odyssey. Latrines were like chicken coops with big pots underneath mere holes and toilet seats set up on wood platforms. Showers were wood construction as well, with three stalls, three doors and water containers on top that you released cold water upon yourself to shower. The sinks were funny as they looked like real sink tops but were set up on wood platforms and you shaved and washed your face with cold water that was in nearby containers or from your canteen.

In time, we set up our own camp, with U.S. issued G.P. (General Purpose) large tents that housed many soldiers. We slept on cots and had to deal with the occasional scorpion. Our unit specialized in field showers and laundry* so we set up shop and our standard of living dramatically improved as did the lives of those we served, the 101st Airborne Division. Then we and they had hot showers and clean clothing that dust storms and wind gusts gladly coated with sand.
 *note that machines shown are up-to-date rather than 1990-91 era machines

As we waited, a shell game commenced. We found ourselves moving from west of Kuwait to west of Iraq and back again. At one point we were told by one of our sergeants (I believe it was the First Sergeant, stupid me) that we were taking on flak as we flew in a C-130 transport. That was the closest I came to being disciplined as I dared to upbraid my superior, the non-commissioned officer, who surely couldn’t have known, saying that we were mere Reservists and our families are concerned enough about us without making up dangers we experienced. More than likely it was turbulence but hey, even the military has its drama queens.

God was able to use me within my own unit. While at Fort Drum, I was asked to lead a service. 75% of the unit must have showed up. This was unprecedented in my experience and it had nothing to do with me. Before we entered the war zone, we were told on our nation’s news that tens of thousands of body bags were being ordered, that chemical weapons were going to be used and thousands of us would die. Too many of my company had signed up for the college benefits and were scared to death. I spoke of God’s will and His sovereignty, encouraging my fellow troops to make sure they were right with God but also to trust in Him for safety as we deployed. On Saudi soil, I led a Bible study in which several participated.

After we arrived, the story was far different. The military commanders stated that the Republican Guard was a joke and that we would easily vanquish them. They proved to be right as the order was given to launch an air war that lasted for six weeks on January 17, 1991. We weren’t far from the airport so we heard the buzz of the squadrons of planes as they took off that first time. That was followed up by a shockingly short 100 hour ground offensive from February 24-28 that expelled Hussein’s troops from Kuwait and led to a cease fire and the withdrawal of victorious U.S. and allied troops.

As the ground war began, I was a part of an advance party into Iraq for my unit that went in under the cover of darkness in a military convoy that stopped and started over and over again. We were following the 101st into Iraq. Finally, we were told to set up camp and it became uncertain if we would remain there, go further in or even, surprisingly that early, head for “home” in Saudi Arabia. We had no idea what was happening because our infantry and armored troops were doing so well and going so quickly that it was uncertain what would happen to us next.

We did return to Saudi Arabia soon after. Back at home base, while we were away, a helicopter crashed on the horizon.*  Many of our fellow Reservists raced across the sand to the site and at least one held an occupant of the U.S. military helicopter until he/she died in her arms. They told us that the crash was so violent, M-16’s were shorn in half. For days my fellow Philadelphia area Reservists displayed evidence of PTSD, walking around like zombies as they performed their duties. Ironically, I wasn’t supposed to go with the advance party into Iraq but when I mistakenly showed up to get on the truck, they decided to send word back to company headquarters and got the okay for me to go. *I believe this may be the crash since the general location, timing and the fact that there was a female casualty all match.  The day after the cease fire would be Feb. 29.

General Schwarzkopf was an amazing general and will be sorely missed. His legacy was a good one. The only stain on it that I know of is that he permitted the use of Iraqi helicopters, something we didn’t initially want, post-war and that helped Saddam Hussein’s government crush the revolt of Shiites and Kurds.

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