National Guard January 2011 : Page 34

G UARD R OOTS : D ESERT S TORM Memories of the Storm By Ron Jensen The first Persian Gulf War began 20 years ago this month. For many of the Guardsmen involved, it all seems very much like yesterday ADDAM HUSSEIN IN-VADED Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, and in places like Columbia, S.C., and Fay-etteville, Ark., the Middle East desert soon went from distant and vague to up close and personal. Not long after Iraq’s encroachment, President George H. W. Bush drew his famous line in the sand and when Saddam refused to retreat 20 years ago this month, the National Guard joined about 400,000 of its active-compo-S 34 | Na tional Guard

Memories of the Storm

Ron Jensen

The first Persian Gulf War began 20 years ago this month. For many of the Guardsmen involved, it all seems very much like yesterday<br /> <br /> SADDAM HUSSEIN INVADED Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, and in places like Columbia, S.C., and Fayetteville, Ark., the Middle East desert soon went from distant and vague to up close and personal.<br /> <br /> Not long after Iraq's encroachment, President George H. W. Bush drew his famous line in the sand and when Saddam refused to retreat 20 years ago this month, the National Guard joined about 400,000 of its active-component and Reserve brethren in war.<br /> <br /> A massive air war commenced early Jan. 17, 1991, Middle East time. About 700 aircraft were involved in the initial strike designed to eliminate Iraq's air defenses and command and control. The aerial assault continued on its own for more than five weeks.<br /> <br /> Shortly before dawn on Feb. 24, the ground war kicked off. It ended 100 hours later with Iraqi troops making a hasty retreat toward home.<br /> <br /> In all, about 75,000 Guardsmen were called to duty during Operation Desert Shield, the buildup of troops and war materiel, and Operation Desert Storm, the actual combat effort. Nearly 50,000 deployed troops served in the Persian Gulf region; the rest served elsewhere.<br /> <br /> LATE INVITEES<br /> <br /> But the Guard, which had been told it was part of the U.S. military's Total Force, was nearly left on the sidelines. Except for tasks such as aerial refueling, artillery, medical and a few others, the Pentagon took a pass on calling out the Guard.<br /> <br /> Retired Lt. Gen. John B. Conaway, who was chief of the National Guard Bureau at the time, says the Guard was treated like "third-class citizens," especially the Army Guard.<br /> <br /> "The mechanized brigades, they got yanked around," he says.<br /> <br /> For the first time in history, not one ground maneuver unit from the Guard deployed to the war.<br /> <br /> Mechanized brigades from Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi were eventually mobilized. Each was a roundout brigade (the third of three assigned) to a frontline active-component division. They were supposed to deploy and fight with their parent divisions. Instead, they were replaced with make-shift active-component units and left behind.<br /> <br /> The Pentagon claimed the Guard brigades were not combat ready and sent them for additional training. They were not certified combat-ready until the day hostilities ended.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, Conaway points out, the active-component units went to the Middle East where they spent the months waiting for war doing the same thing as the Guard units back home.<br /> <br /> "They needed as much training as we did to get ready for war," he says. Those Guard units might not have gotten that far had some powerful people like Rep. Sonny Montgomery, D-Miss., and Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., among others, appealed to the president, Conaway says, with the message, "We're a Total Force."<br /> <br /> The experience created a level of distrust between Guard leaders and Army officials that would smolder for several years.<br /> <br /> Still, Guardsmen did enter the fight and, 20 years later, some of them remember it clearly.<br /> <br /> Retired Col. Russell Altizer of the West Virginia Air National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing recalls a busy time flying C-130 cargo planes all across the Arabian Desert to build up the infrastructure for the war. A "camel run" would take them to "virtually every fighter base" in Saudi Arabia, he says, to deliver everything from cots to generators.<br /> <br /> He knew the air war was approaching, he says, when the loads switched from "niceties to bombs and bullets."<br /> <br /> When the ground war was near, the wing moved closer to the Kuwait border to supply the coming battle.<br /> <br /> "We were hauling troops and Humvees and trucks up there 24 hours a day for 10 or 12 days," he says. During one 10-day stretch, the wing flew 1,630 sorties.<br /> <br /> "That was an amazing, orchestrated thing," he says of the massive buildup. "You had to be on time at certain points. You couldn't be ahead. You couldn't be behind."<br /> <br /> Shortly before dawn, just a few hours after the initial air assault on Iraq's forces, Lt. Col. George Patrick and 2nd Lt. Scott Nottoli of the South Carolina Air Guard's 169th Tactical Fighter Wing, joined the first daylight raid.<br /> <br /> Patrick, now a retired major general, described his wingman as a "brand new brown-bar lieutenant." He had promised Nottoli's mother that he would bring him safely home.<br /> <br /> But after successfully hitting the missile site that was their target and heading for safety in Saudi Arabia, Patrick saw Nottoli's plane suddenly vanish in a blur of flame and smoke.<br /> <br /> "I remember the first thought that went through my mind was, 'Hell, my promise to his mom didn't last long,'" Patrick recalls.<br /> <br /> Rather than being hit by one of the many enemy missiles that filled the sky, Nottoli had suffered an afterburner blowout and lost 60 percent of his thrust.<br /> <br /> "It felt like I hit a wall," remembers Nottoli. "I thought I'd been hit by a missile."<br /> <br /> The two men made it back to the base, just as they would do from more than 30 other missions that required them to fire their weapons systems and dodge missiles.<br /> <br /> Nottoli remembers another tricky mission that included anti-aircraft fire "like you wouldn't believe. They were shooting at us like crazy."<br /> <br /> Despite that, he says, "We rolled in and ruined their day."<br /> <br /> CHEMICAL THREAT<br /> <br /> Maj. Gen. William D. Wofford, now the Arkansas adjutant general, was commander of the 2nd Battalion, 142nd Field Artillery, during the Persian Gulf War. Two days after the battalion's 8-inch howitzers arrived in the desert, he says, the land fight began.<br /> <br /> "Once the ground war started, it was nonstop," he says. "We were moving and firing the entire time."<br /> <br /> At first, the 142nd supported the 1st Infantry Division, but it was shifted to support a British unit, the 4th Armoured Brigade. After the war, the British commander said of the Arkansas artillerymen, "By golly, they were good."<br /> <br /> The British officer said an Iraqi artillery commander told him that 90 percent of his crews were lost during the Guard's artillery bombardment that preceded the attack.<br /> <br /> But the ground war ended barely four days after it began. The 100-hour war went by in a flash.<br /> <br /> "It was one of the biggest surprises for us. I was shocked," Wofford says.<br /> <br /> Still, he was glad to have ended the war with no deaths in his command and only three soldiers wounded.<br /> <br /> Sgt. 1st Class Robert Lee of the Missouri National Guard was a young soldier with the 1138th Military Police Company when he headed off to war 20 years ago.<br /> <br /> "Actually, I was scared to death," he says. "I was a young kid, like, 20 years old."<br /> <br /> He recalls the famous Scud missile attacks and the fear that Saddam had armed his weapons with chemicals. It was frightening when the alarm sounded to warn of an incoming missile.<br /> <br /> "You relied upon everybody to keep you calm. They relied on you to do the same," he says. "You slept in your [mission-oriented protective-posture] suit."<br /> <br /> The MPs corralled prisoners and there was plenty of them, especially during the ground war. Sometimes an overwhelming number of them arrived at the camp, many just wanting to avoid the shellacking they were taking on the battlefield.<br /> <br /> "The prisoners were very cooperative. They were actually scared to death," Lee says. "They were trying to get in [the camp]. They weren't trying to get out. I'm serious."<br /> <br /> A Guardsman didn't have to be on the battlefield to be a part of the war, however, as Conaway discovered.<br /> <br /> His son was flying Navy FA-18 Hornets off the USS Saratoga. On the first night of the war, as the Guard Bureau chief sat in a Pentagon briefing room, word came that one fighter from his son's squadron had been lost.<br /> <br /> "I'm sitting there when they brief that," he says.<br /> <br /> There was no information on the pilot's identity, so Conaway returned to his office not knowing if his son was OK. His phone rang and rang.<br /> <br /> "We were prepared for everything in the Guard Bureau . . . except phone calls from the NGB chief's family," Conaway says.<br /> <br /> He soon learned his son was not the pilot who had been shot down. Those who went to the battlefield two decades ago say it left a lasting impression.<br /> <br /> Wofford, the adjutant general, says, "I think about it every time we have a farewell ceremony or a welcome-home ceremony."<br /> <br /> When troops return from war these days, he says, he has a hard time controlling his emotions "because I know what they're going through."<br /> <br /> Nottoli, who retired as a lieutenant colonel, says the wartime experience at such an early point in his career was "incredibly eye-opening."<br /> <br /> "It definitely gave me the big picture early on," he says.<br /> <br /> Altizer, too, says the experience helped him mark a box on his career checklist.<br /> <br /> "Everybody in the military wants to go to battle, but they don't want to get killed," he says.<br /> <br /> Plus, he says, he was able to take part in something that served "a greater good."<br /> <br /> Lee, who has been to Iraq and still serves in the Guard, says, "When it comes to the next deployment, you're like, 'I've done this before.'"<br /> <br /> His experience in Saudi Arabia gives him insight now as a senior noncommissioned officer, he says.<br /> <br /> Conaway talks about the speed with which troops and units were mobilized 20 years ago and how Guardsmen volunteered to serve.<br /> <br /> "Our troops, I couldn't be prouder of them," he says.<br /> <br /> And there's one more memory from that time that is relevant today.<br /> <br /> Conaway says, "It's interesting how Total Force works when they need you."<br /> <br /> Ron Jensen can be contacted at (202) 408-5885 or at ron.jensen@ngaus.org.<br />

Previous Page  Next Page


Publication List
Using a screen reader? Click Here