August 2, 2015
25 years ago, I got the most unusual birthday present. I was born on the first day of a war (Vietnam), and once again my birthday was the start of another.
Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and my unit was activated to help to make them give it back. (Kuwait was originally part of Iraq, and they had tried three times before to retrieve it).
I had just joined these guys the month before, and I was surprised I was chosen to go (lots of guys were left behind or got deferments). I found out later that my Army experience and 8 years of studying WMD made me a high priority.
We spent months training in Gulfport, MS and arrived in Saudi Arabia December 1st.
The families had come to visit us twice during those months of training. I saw the wives and girlfriends and the little ones who missed their daddies and wondered when they would come home. I had no special person, just my parents. For me there was no tear stained face, no words of eternal devotion, nor pleas for me to return safely and spend forever with them. I went to war with the absolute knowledge that no one in the world was in love with me.
I made some good friends, but my constant companions were a helmet, 40 lbs. of body armor, an M16 with grenade launcher, and a gas mask. I still have a gas mask exactly like that one.
I served as the WMD officer. They gave me 2 guys, 8 manuals, a huge pile of equipment, and the freedom to do anything I felt necessary. It was the perfect job. Our WMD training up to this time had been minimal, so I had my work cut out for me.
My days were 20 hours long, filled with training classes and improving defenses, along with engineering projects. I trained thousands of troops, from all sorts of branches and nationalities. I would crawl into bed (if I had no night duty) only to be awoken each day by the sound of the Adhan, sounded from minarets by the meuzzins calling the locals to prayer. It is a haunting sound, but one known to me from childhood.
I got lots of mail, and I still have every piece in a special bag. Lots of children wrote me regularly, and I visited each one at school after the war; in uniform with gifts.
One time we got a video from home, with all the families from our detachment on it. It was full of I love you and miss you, new babies, and renewed pleas to be safe. When it came my parents turn, all my mom did was read a letter I had gotten six weeks earlier, and my dad said “Stay away as long as you can.” He didn’t mean it the way it sounded, but I and all the others took it literally.
On the night of January 19th we had our first wartime crisis, and I volunteered without hesitation. I had no one to return to, and I thought about all of those little faces. At one point, I had to make the choice between my life and the thousands of others waiting for me to accomplish my mission. Later, many said that I deserved a medal, but all the best awards went to our commander. In fact, the only unique recognition I earned in the entire conflict was a Letter of Commendation from another unit for doing custom inspections on their 500 containers going home. Everyone did agree that it was the single greatest act of courage by anyone in my unit.
As the air war intensified, many of us were moved to the border. Smokey oil well fires filled the day and lit up the night. 1st Marine had some special duties for me, and 100 hours after the ground war started (February 24, 1991) itwas all over. We came back with thousands of Iraqi prisoners who wanted nothing more than to go home to their loved ones.
We stayed a lot longer than many units, missing the parades and celebrations (except for a select few sent home). We still worked projects and kept our weapons and armor until our last week. Other units partied, became tourists, and mocked us for our commander’s paranoia. My days were still 20 hours, as leaving units gave us their gear and I had huge stockpiles of masks and suits to clean, inspect, and load for shipment. I was also put in charge of shipboard loading, and signed off on several vessels of equipment going home.
We were back home in May and I was in Tennessee by mid month.
I was deeply involved in the health investigations of Gulf vets, supplying hours of testimony over the phone and reams of reports, again without formal recognition. I never got to testify before the committee nor was my application to join it accepted.
Vietnam made America war shy, but Desert Storm put its ghost to rest.
Despite all of the bad things, the war is still a very special time in my life. Many times, I still look up and see those burning oil wells on the infinite horizon, and wish I was there again.