Desert Storm – Valor, Sacrifice & Uncertainty

by Iron Knight 2

“Saddam Hussein resurrected the Armor Corps. He did more for tankers then St. George ever hoped”

“…If you are not having wet dreams about what we did here then you are asexual…” Phantom Brigade Commander

We were training when he invaded Kuwait, Stuttgart, an exercise,
in Germany you were always training, always waiting for the Soviet attack, Defending the Meinigan Gap, preparing to be rolled over by Russian steel. Most of us did not even know where Kuwait was, the news was unreal.

For us, SW Asia was still foreign, We enjoyed lunch at the Golf Course snack bar,  CNN always on, lots of talk about battle, where the hell is Kuwait? Janes, a world atlas and encyclopedias, Rommel in North Africa, most popular of all: Kahalani’s Heights of Courage
Jokes about the 82nd being speed bumps for Iraqi tanks,
not a joke to them.

September in Germany, festival season,
we trained for a fight we never thought we would join.
Desert Fighting techniques, Israeli against Syria how to invest a Pita defense

And our day jobs, planning for that mythical Soviet invasion.

On weekends I would drive to Rhine Main Air Force Base;
shopping in the Base exchange, with our Soldiers and Marines,
from contingency units, all in desert uniforms.
They ate fast food like a prisoner’s last meal,
and made teary last calls home,
Tense and exciting.

A quick drive by the active,
C5’s and C141’s, constant movement,
mountains of supplies, pallets piled high,
war is logistics.

03 October; Schienfurt’s local training area,
we called it “Area Mud.” tracks churned the earth,
sticky mud covered everything exposed
For Germany it was unity day, another reason to celebrate.
No time to party, too much to do,
Brave talk and quiet trepidation.
We traipsed across the Main Valley with the Scout platoon,
we worked together, talked and laughed,
Crew drills and reporting, practice for a serious future.
November in Germany, preparing for gunnery at Graphenweir
a cold, muddy and foggy place
a place to Soldier.

It was a Thursday morning, officers call
we gathered for breakfast and an update.
The SECDEF was preparing to announce additional forces.
My division did not get the call, we had not made the cut;
and were bitter sidelined for the big game.

That evening, an announcement,
the 3rd Brigade, 3rd ID was going to the show,
we were pulled off the bench.
Machismo and false bravado gave way to conscious thought
Alert called that evening, a weekend staff call;
unprecedented, a forward deployed brigade sent to an active theater.

The amount of work was staggering
For a week we burned hundreds of documents,
maps and contingency plans, the information used to plan a fight
with the Russians
The most painful, the destruction of the freshly compiled CONPLAN B, a year’s worth of work up in smoke.
That war was over and we did not even know it.
The middle of December the Advance Party deploys
The senior officer a captain from operations,
myself, four XO’s and the communications specialist
I have a faded color picture, we were young.

We landed in the middle of the night, undisclosed Saudi Arabia
bottles of water and a bus ride to the Initial Staging Area
Managed confusion, adapt to the situation,
basics secured, food and shelter, organize for camp life,
10,000 men doing the same thing,
hundreds of thousands across Arabia
Christmas Eve, time spent playing cards, down time
a traditional night of rest unless you are Hessian
BBC on the short wave,
we could have been listening to the Morrow Boys.
Silent Night.

Days and weeks, waiting and preparing,
we smoked cigars, gave each other bad haircuts and grew mustaches
waiting, boredom, tents and cots,
letters from home, timeless on any front.

We celebrated the New Year in the Initial Staging Area,
then moved to the port to link with the battalion.
We thought about the nature of our work, and the impending push
We tried to remember lessons learned,
exercises and training events, it all seemed so canned.
Here there were no answers, only best guesses and estimates.

What would he do? What would he risk?
What could be won or lost? and at what cost?
is there any chance victory on the battlefield?
what is the value of standing against the infidel?
The calculus is beyond comprehension.

Five days into the new year the battalion closed,
our Tanks and Bradleys still in the Gulf,
think Afrika Korps in Tripoli, we waited at the Port
good chow, dry and clean latrines,
foreign nationals, cooking and cleaning,
Almost civilization, soon we would leave that behind.

The political process took center stage
ultimatums and dates on the front pages
of stale newspapers picked up two days late.

Sitting, soldiers are bored and unknown tomorrows
cast an emotional shadow,
fear of the unknowable, a Soldiers load.

In port, with no armor, we worked to stay busy
mock ups of enemy fighting positions
created as training aides.
We expected the breech mission, and prepared
Iran/Iraq was known for gas attacks; Mustard and Nerve,
perhaps 10,000 causalities then.
We did NBC drills, remembering Owen’s
“Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!-An ecstasy of fumbling”
Serious, deadly serious business.

Training at the base included discussions on trenches and wire,
weapons systems and ranges.
We did not talk Sunni and Shia, those details were little understood,
Time on our hands, Soldiers played chess and cards
Lots of working out, sand bag curls and wrestling
unchanging activities, apparitions of past wars.
Terrorism was a threat, it looming, if misunderstood,
we trained and equipped a QRC.
Information from higher was slow in coming,
And of little value when it arrived
At echelon we were only guessing.

National Guard Soldiers moved in with us
Viet Nam patches and war stories,
Older men, a different war a different time
The President had just extended their contracts another 90 days,
they seemed bitter.

Boredom bleeds the sharpest of Soldiers
We have been at the port 11 days,
The RORO Cape Inscription, still in the Gulf
We want to move north and get on with it
Anything is better than sitting here…maybe not.

On the 12th of January our ship made port,
my armored office, my M577 with overlays and maps,
acetate and markers, Je Suis Prest.
Flying across the desert in a Black Hawk
A day trip to our Forward Assembly Area, a feel for the terrain,
one day closer to the breech.

Congress blocked a UN resolution
36 hours and the ultimatum is placed.
DA Form 1155 (Witness Statement on Individual)
DA 1156 (Casualty Feeder Report)
folded neatly in the appropriate SOP mandated pocket.

0800 15 January time is up,
Tanks and Tracks painted sand color,
We huddled in small groups, spitting tobacco, smoking, very confident, ready.
Someone says “…we are going to grab them by the balls
and hold on so tight their mothers will hurt.”
Nervous laughter.

“The anvil was being tempered; the hammer was beginning to fall”

17 January, the war started with a massive air attack against the Iraqi Army.
0230 bedded, waiting for something to happen.
Orders from higher break open their “ice packs” and assume MOPP 2.
Ammunition was issued, a basic load
Sometime in that darkness, a SCUD alert,
No gas!
Reports of SCUDS until morning,
ineffective, but a fearsome weapon.

We rolled into TAA Thomson,
A drive up Tap Line Road, dark and foggy LIMVIS,
Guided in by a friend, we established at the forward CP.

The fighting characteristics of a battalion are a reflection of the character of the battalion commander. Bold and tenacious battalion commanders have bold and tenacious battalions” FM 71-2

A new commander took the battalion, hard and competent
a sense of humor, approachable, a leader to emulate.
He told us that we were going to participate in a significant operation the technology to decimate a people, subject them to our will and humble their leaders.
War is Hell, and the American Way of War, the destruction of will
our tradition since Grant.

On the scorecard, we were to face the Republican Guard,
The best they have-
Or had, until the USAF had her way,
BDA was flowing
10,000 Soldiers, 134 tanks, 220 APC’s 70 Artillery pieces
We were not even sure if the BUFF’s and F16’s
would leave any meat.

US CENTRAL COMMAND Reports

41,000 sorties, we lost 23 aircraft
Talakania Division has lost over 120 tanks,
options now limited, withdraw or defend.
Hamaraibi, Talakana and Madiniha,
proud Republicans Guard Divisions,
proud men and capable machines, all taking serious losses.
F111B’s B52’s and A6’s were doing their jobs.
4 Feb: With no air defense the Iraqi Army cannot survive,
they sit and are hit by heavy bombers,
they move and our fighter jets bounce,
their government is sacrificing her best.
Supplies running out, mass defections.

We are next in the fray.

7 Feb: Breakfast on the hood of a HUMMVE,
MRE and Army Coffee.
Look up, three B-52’s, a couple of fighters and a KC-135.
Some pity for the front line Soldiers, you feel the concussion,
miles away the earth quakes,
powdered creamer swirls into coffee as the hood shakes.

Saint Valentine’s day we Jump to a forward position,
Fast moving, a quick morning update,
read the traffic, war game, listen to the BBC,
Eat MRE’s rest, read, try to understand.
We crossed the Wadi Al Batin,
clouds of dust form under a thousand sets of tracks,
Our VII Corps a modern nod to Willoughby XXXth
and the move up to Sidi Rezegh.
Pressure on the Iraqi General Staff
Line of Departure soon.

Oil Wells set alight,
SCUDS hit Hafar Al Batin, lucky shot, devastatingly lucky,
rumors of nerve agent.
The desert is on fire,
I see dust and smoke, mostly dust,
kicked up by man and machine.

21 FEB. NEW YORK TIMES HEADLINE

“U.S. – IRAQI CLASHES GROW FIERCE AS A LAND ASSAULT SEEMS NEAR; SOVIETS AWAIT BAGHDAD’S REPLY”

We sat a few days prior, anxious waiting for the hour.
The staff studied the problem and published orders.
Soldiers sat on their tanks, played cards and wiped sand from tired eyes.
Night then morning.
At 16:20 we crossed the berm,
In silence we shifted Marne patches left to right.
Our commander broke squelch, he spoke of history, courage and combat.
30 KM an hour across an empty desert,
So intense and meaningful, black lines, blue circles and triangles;
ink on acetate for weeks transformed to patches of dirt, and road intersections.
O&I reports large amounts of unexploded munitions in sector,
scouts must have rolled through an ammo dump.
Tanks and men, unstoppable, pass through the 26th Infantry Division,
Command push reports flank units breach unopposed.
Sporadic Artillery and sniping but NSTR.
Dark now, the wind picks up, heavy haze, light rain, moonless, a dark dream rockets streak, and scream.
Late into early morning staffs plan and prepare for a dawn attack.
We took our Malaria pills and doze, a precious hours rest,
FM crackles, RTO’s take notes.
Massive artillery prep before morning twilight, rockets and rounds,
concussion shakes the ground.
Sunrise now, Objective Bear, overwhelming combat power,
secure within hours.
O&I reports
Republican Guard 78 KM to the east, real business just beyond the horizon.
Al Busayaha between us and the Republican Guards,
Two infantry battalions a tank company and a Division Command post.
...1st CAV continues its feint, IID completes its breech
Desert Rats pass through and attack the 12th
2ACR is on PL Smash, in contact with the Talakana
Our Marines are on the gates of Kuwait City.
It is windy and rainy in sector,
Massive prep on Al Busayaha, it looks like war.
Tankers in their tracks, waiting to roll
some killers play cards on the back deck.
At 0630 prep shifts off and the infantry and armor roll through the town,it is over in three hours, 600 EPW’s.
Tawalkana and Medinah, much depleted are next.
Our battalion stages near PL Libya, DIV Recon develops the situation,
DIV Arty (Gunner) closes in range.
The target, the ADNAN Division, and Medinah Brigade logistics site.
Blawk Hawk reports a tank battalion (40 T-55’s) dug in along the round of march,
this is not Republican Guards.
Division Attack Squadrons called in,
27 Vehicles and crews destroyed in less than an hour.
Second BDE was called forward to finish the job.
Change of Mission, our 1st Armor was ordered to push
beyond PL Libya and develop the situation.
Iraqi Armor was fleeing, situation unclear.
We continued to attack.

We were pausing at AP JAT to ROM,
MRLS fires intense.
We were set to attack the best equipped Light Infantry BDE in their Army, with the most modern and best equipped Heavy Division in the World,overmatch, it did not last long.
DIV Fires massed against a 200 square meter log base,
explosions seen across the front, concussion takes your breath.
A kilometer away ramps down, TOC back to back,
We see the fires, hear the radio, feel the blast,
on that windy, overcast dusty day.|
18 EPW, 1 destroyed T-55, 8 dead Iraqi’s

27 Feb: PURSUIT: Black is on Phase line Spain.
The Division plan is for two Brigades lay a base of fire,
and one conducts the attack.
We wait; it’s early in the morning on the 27th.
No one has gotten any sleep.
I just finished plotting newly reported positions of a Medinah Brigade.
Confusing, no real formations, reports of company positions behind our lines.
No one had a clear vision of the battlefield.
We are attacking, we are not worried about the front line trace,
Targets will be dealt with as they pop up.

0315 someone is firing arty and its hitting the Black Hawk CP
Who the fuck is shooting? Phantom 6 responds not us,
Gunner says it’s not him…20 injuries, none serious, no idea what happened.
0327, Phantom 6 says move, “pick up and move 10 km” report when REDCON 1.
Gunner 2 over the O/I net…”You’ll never see a prep like this…”
0430 three Brigades on line ready to attack a single brigade of the Medinia,
we pass through the CAV at 0436.
0630 the attack begins after an intense artillery bombardment,
Some falls on Cotton, don’t know if it was 4-7 or 1-7.
Little enemy contact in the initial attack,
we destroyed 3 tanks, type unknown, and 2 BMP’s.
Pause to refit, fuel is called forward, support platoon working their butts off  while some of us wash the dust,
Nothing over the O/I, nothing over the Command Push:
then, from the southern flank,
a large number of enemy vehicles, all types running,
working hard to get north of Al Basara,
they slam right into the Brigade,
a duck shoot, outgunned, overmatched, within 10 minutes there were 35 burning Iraqi hulks,
surreal, managed chaos.

We were advancing quickly, than slowed to a halt as an engagement developed to our front.
Close quarters for armor, berms and wadies, a filthy, near abandoned ammo dump,
manned by a rear guard.
Monitoring two Fox Mikes and an AUX from the back of my M577,
the partial picture of a piece mill battle developed.
Confusing and hazy as it always is.
An M3 was hit by RPG fire, one or two rounds at close range;
“medic and evacuation required.”
The Scout Platoon Sergeant raced forward in his track, pivoted 180 degrees
ramp to ramp to execute the evacuation
A Fatal mistake, in haste to save his comrade he failed to rotate the turret
A flank unit, a sister battalion, 2000 meters left rear, observed the threat turret.
Fires cleared, then cleared again, no friendly’s in the reported AO:
“Your clear.” “Gunner, Sabot, Track!

A single 120mm Armor Piercing Super Sabot
designed with increased velocity and improved terminal effects screamed in locked on its target and penetrated the Bradley Scout Vehicle at 5700 feet per second.
ending the life of 20 year old Specialist Clarence ‘Johnny’ Cash,
removing the leg of the Platoon Sergeant, and badly wounding others.
Their battle is over, their fight just beginning.
Stunned activity on the net, orders given movement, in slow motion.
I watched from my hull the field ambulance rush forward from the combat trains’
and hurry back with the causalities.
Evening brought contemplation, the “quiet undertones of war”
Next afternoon, the battalion commander of our flank unit came into our operations center.
A private meeting with the commander, departure after quiet regrets.
The Iraqi fate of the engagement was staggering, 182 tanks, all types, 191 APC’s 21 Arty tubes, 10 bunkers and 40 trucks,
grease smeared in sand.

The next morning we moved to a new attack position,
prep continued all night
Some rest, not much,
0100 word of a cease fire, I woke the commander and read…

“Possibility exists of a cease fire. At 0500 units are authorized self defense but will not initiate ground or air actions. Stress security and safety of troops, there is still a danger of hostile action,” JAYHAWK 6

0200 resting, 0400 attacking,
0530 a battalion of AH-64’s striking well forward
0630 attacking again, with instructions to kill anything that moved;
we did.

01 Mar: The war is over.
100 hours from the time the ground war kicked off.
From TAA Thompson to our current location near objection Bonn,
5 km west of Kuwait, in the Radaif Ar Rahsi desert.
We traveled over 300 kilometers,
participated in operations as intense as any unit in the war,
as intense as any I ever thought I would see.

=59

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2 thoughts on “Desert Storm – Valor, Sacrifice & Uncertainty”

  1. Iron Knight 2 does an incredible job 25 years after the fact capturing the moment, the Soldier perspective and the uncertainty and challenges that faced the 4-66 AR as it deployed to a place it never envisioned fighting. An incredible, honest accounting of warfare but a true American hero he repeatedly sacrifed over the course of his career. I am proud, very proud to know him, and thankful to be his friend.

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