1st CAV in the Desert

I served as a Platoon Leader in the 13th Signal Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division during the first Gulf War. We deployed from Ft Hood, TX in October 1990 to Saudi Arabia and then Iraq for the short ground war in February 1991.

At age 23, it was strange and unsettling to spend Christmas away from my family and in the middle of the desert. The night skies were amazingly dark and full of more stars than I had ever seen. The occasional camel sighting did remind we of the three wise men headed to Bethlehem.

The last panel in Doonesbury cartoon below made me laugh. I found this newspaper clipping in my journal from 1990. I didn’t remember having it and probably haven’t seen it in over 30 years.

I was recently interviewed for the Rutgers Oral History Archives about my experience. Below is an excerpt from the transcripts.

KR:  At the end of your first interview, we left off talking about Operation Desert Storm.  What I would like to ask you about first today is, what are your recollections of Operation Desert Storm and the invasion of Iraq? 

BS:  I think the biggest memory and impact was in January of 1991.  We had been in Saudi Arabia since October, just sitting, waiting for the invasion.  We were in northern Saudi Arabia.  I just remember when the ground war kicked off.  We didn’t have any news.  We didn’t have TV or radio like have today, but I do remember seeing and hearing these–they were called MLRS [multiple launch rocket system]–these rockets, and they went off many at a time, and the lights, just watching these rockets take off, knowing they were going north into Iraq as we attacked, and just thinking, “Wow, how much destruction and/or death is occurring at the end of that?”  It was really bizarre and surreal, but that was the only thing I remember and I saw at the time.  It was scary that first night.  We didn’t know if we were going to get attacked with Scud missiles that had chemical or nuclear/biological weapons.  We were mostly scared of chemicals at the time, but it could have been biological.  [Editor’s Note: On January 17, 1991, U.S. and coalition forces launched Operation Desert Storm with a campaign of air and missile attacks on targets in Iraq and Kuwait.]

I do remember the first night, and that was really the only night that I slept in my mask, my gas mask, and the full protective gear.  It wasn’t too hot.  It was January, luckily.

KR:  Were there any religious services when you were in Saudi Arabia or Iraq?  Were there chaplains around to do religious services or counseling? 

BS:  In Saudi Arabia, we were told to not have any outward displays of religion, Christianity, Judaism.  We did, in our tents, have some Christmas [trees], but, again, it wasn’t [extensive].  There were chaplains, but, again, they were told to not put their insignia on their uniform.  As I recall, the officers that were chaplains would have their rank on one side and then you would have your unit on the other, but I think they had either a cross [or] Star of David, and they were told to cover those.  I don’t recall ever talking to a chaplain, seeing them.  I suppose, if it was needed and someone needed counseling, we could have called into the DMAIN, the centralized rear command, and asked for it, but we didn’t need it.  The same for doctors and nurses and medical.  I’m sure these support units were there if we needed them, but I didn’t interact with them either.  We were forward operations. 

For women, we were in the frontlines with our communication vans.  In fact, there were Iraqi soldiers surrendering to some of the units that were in my platoon, and it was a woman that they surrendered to.  She was the sergeant of this little remote radio tower.  It was her and three other soldiers who were men, but Iraqi soliders surrendered to them.  For me, I was like, “Wow, a Muslim man from Iraq just surrendered to a woman, an American woman.”  That was kind of interesting. 

KR:   My next question you have touched upon a little bit in some other questions that we have asked you.  Once Operation Desert Storm was being launched and the invasion of Iraq, what were your experiences like and the experiences of your unit? 

BS:  Once the big launch in January occurred, we left our base, where we had been for many months in northern Saudi, and we convoyed north into southern Iraq.  We left in the middle of the night.  I just remember driving in this huge–it was a deuce and a half–a two-and-a-half-ton truck, very, very uncomfortable, for hours just driving north (20+ hours), but it was pretty exciting, because we knew this was the big thing we’d been waiting for. We’re traveling, and it’s exciting because we’re seeing other tanks and units from Britain and other countries alongside us traveling in the same direction.  Then, we got to a location, and we stopped.  This was where we were going to set up our communications.  I only have one picture from the whole war.  There was a burned-out military–it looked like a tank and it was an Iraqi tank and there were dead Iraqi soldiers on the ground.  It was taken out by a U.S. missile or an Apache.  My soldiers had to call and get body bags and put them in.  I made a decision that I didn’t want to see the bodies, the corpses, because I didn’t want it to stick in my mind.  I didn’t go near it, but we set up camp maybe a hundred meters away from that.  It was kind of creepy to be there.  We were there thirty, forty days.  We stayed there, and it wasn’t long before we won the war decisively.  We were all told, “Okay, time to go home now.” 

More stories and memories to come in my next blog.

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