Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ground War Day 1

As the time drew close for the start of the Ground War portion of Desert Storm we started to get some details about our part in the whole operation. Ahmad, our Kuwaiti augmentee, was assigned to my team at this point. As we started to get briefings on the expected happenings we were told we weren't allowed to tell Ahmad anything. I felt bad not telling him what was going on because I thought he might be more helpful if he was clued in. However, I did understand that from an operations security viewpoint that he was a foreigner about whom we knew very little.

Ahmad was great for giving us background information about the countries in the area. As we dialed around the radio dial he was able to tell us what languages we were listening to as well as what their country of origin was. For instance, the Persian Language programming by the BBC sounded very different to him than the Persian Language broadcast originating in Iran.

We weren't supposed to sleep on the ground and each one of us was assigned a cot to lie on. The regimental leadership had this as a policy dating back to when I had been a part of the 3rd ACR in the mid-80s. Ahmad preferred to sleep on a blanket rolled out on the sand. When we offered him a cot, he was almost insulted. "I used to sleep in the desert with my father like this as a child. I do not need a cot." He thought it silly.

As I mentioned in a previous installment, we were at the far western part of the operational area. General Schwartzkopf came up with what I describe as a variation of the Von Schlieffen Plan in order to drive the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. The idea was to drive an attack into Kuwait to overwhelm the Iraqi forces there while other coalition forces ran around from the west in order to cut them off from retreating back into Baghdad. Our part of this was to be part of the force to surround the retreating forces.

This plan was almost messed up. We understood that the Iraqis weren't supposed to know we were there. Colonel Starr, the 63rd Colonel (Commanders of the 3rd ACR are numbered in order of their command) engaged some Iraqi forces who had attacked a Saudi Army unit over the berm the Iraqis had piled up on the border. The Saudis called for help while the 63rd was out on a patrol with an armored platoon from I Troop, 3rd Squadron. According to the rumors we heard, General Schwartzkopf flew to the Regimental Headquarters to personally chew out the Colonel for possibly giving away our positions so far west. I don't know if that's true, but it was an interesting rumor.

Squadron Muster
Just before the ground was was to start, we had a Squadron Muster so the 63rd Colonel could come and give us a pep talk. Personally, I was just looking forward to getting the thing started. I wasn't so much looking forward to going into battle as I was to just getting started so we could get it over with. After sitting around for six months, I doubt I was the only one who felt that way.

Back at Fort Bliss, when we had a Squadron Muster, it was usually held at one of the theaters on post. We would sit and wait for the Squadron or Regimental Commander to arrive and he would give us a talk about one thing or another. When I was in the 66th MI Company, which was assigned to 3rd Squadron, the musters were usually somewhat interesting. In those days, in the mid-80s, it was rare to have women assigned to a combat unit. Because of that, the 66th MI was the only unit in 3rd Squadron to have women assigned to it. When the Squadron Commander would come into the theater, everyone would stand at attention until he reached the stage. He would always yell out, "Gentlemen," and then continue a little more quietly, "and ladies of the 66th Military Intelligence Company," and then yell again, "take your seats!" I always found that to be quite humorous.

This particular muster was a bit less formal. The 63rd stood in a big clearing in the middle of the Squadron's encampment, and we all gathered around. He delivered his speech:
Gentlemen, we are about to engage an enemy who has invaded a peaceful neighbor. We are going to oust him from that land according to the directives of the United Nations and the orders from our Commander and Chief.
I cannot tell you how this battle will go. I am sure that some of us will not be here when it's all over. However, keep this in mind: We have the best equipped and best trained army in the entire world. Our tanks can see and shoot at their tanks before they can even see us. So this is my battle plan, and it's simple:
We are going to get close enough and poke holes in their shit before they can get close enough to poke holes in our shit.
And, after we all shouted the Regimental Accolade, he left.

Now, I may not have remembered the whole thing exactly word for word - except for that last line. I will never forget that part.

And so the ground war began. Well, at least for the rest of the units. On the day everything kicked off we were stuck all day in a sand storm. We were grounded and left once again listening to the war on the radio.

It was heartening to listen to the stories of Iraqi soldiers lining up to surrender to anyone who wasn't on their site. One BBC crew was credited with capturing over 100 prisoners of war. We were quite happy things were going well. Night came and the sand storm abated. We knew the next day we would be in the thick of things.

This is part 13 in a series. Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 | Part 18 | Part 19

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