Face of Defense: Guard Member Recalls Gulf War

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Feb. 25, 2011 — Twen­ty years ago, Nation­al Guard, reserve and active duty ser­vice mem­bers began ground com­bat oper­a­tions to lib­er­ate Kuwait, mark­ing the begin­ning of the end of the first Gulf War.
U.S. and coali­tion part­ners had been build­ing up in the region since August 1990 when the late dic­ta­tor, Sad­dam Hus­sein, ordered his Iraqi army to invade Kuwait. The next six months of oper­a­tions, known as Oper­a­tion Desert Shield, cul­mi­nat­ed with a crush­ing U.S.-led air war in Jan­u­ary 1991.

When the ground war, known as Oper­a­tion Desert Storm, began Feb. 24, 1991, few could have pre­dict­ed it would last only 100 hours.

Then-Pres­i­dent George H. W. Bush autho­rized the mobi­liza­tion of Nation­al Guard and reserve units to sup­port com­bat oper­a­tions in Kuwait.

With the mobi­liza­tion of reserve com­po­nents, the Illi­nois Nation­al Guard sup­plied 11 units and about 1,400 sol­diers and air­men to sup­port Oper­a­tion Desert Storm.

Army Capt. Brad Sin­kler, com­man­der of the 1544th Trans­porta­tion Com­pa­ny in 1990, was one of those sol­diers.

“It was a sur­prise,” Sin­kler said. “Aug. 2, [1990] Sad­dam [Hus­sein] had invad­ed Kuwait. We’d heard some rum­blings and were fol­low­ing the news. My oper­a­tions sergeant said we had a pret­ty good chance to get called up … and a week lat­er we got the call.”

The first Illi­nois Nation­al Guard unit mobi­lized was the 1244th Trans­porta­tion Com­pa­ny on Sept. 20, 1990. The 1544th Trans­porta­tion Com­pa­ny fol­lowed a week lat­er with a stop at Fort Camp­bell, Ky., and arrived in Sau­di Ara­bia by Nov. 6.

“We were ner­vous,” Sin­kler said. “We didn’t know what to expect, how long we were going to be gone. We just lis­tened to what the peo­ple in the states were telling us, mak­ing sure our fam­i­lies were tak­en care of.”

Once in Kuwait, the sol­diers of the 1544th were still uncer­tain of what they would do in Kuwait. They lat­er found out they’d be trans­port­ing troops and car­go, Sin­kler said.

The 1544th con­duct­ed trans­porta­tion mis­sions and moved sup­plies and peo­ple through­out the coun­try. They trav­eled more than 750,000 miles with no acci­dents.

“My biggest fear was los­ing one of my sol­diers,” Sin­kler said. “I made sure we did things as safe­ly as we could, made sure the sol­diers were get­ting the sleep they need­ed and that they con­duct­ed the prop­er main­te­nance on their vehi­cles.”

Life in Kuwait was a dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence for many of the sol­diers, he said.

“We real­ly didn’t have the things the sol­diers have today.

We had a TV, but we couldn’t pick up [Amer­i­can Forces Net­work tele­vi­sion],” Sin­kler said. “The only way we could watch any­thing is if we had a VHS play­er and VHS tapes. Nobody had a lap­top or Inter­net. Back then, it was main­ly just mail, and maybe once a week, a tele­phone call.”

A few of the sol­diers in the 1544th were Viet­nam War vet­er­ans and had the expe­ri­ence to take care of fel­low sol­diers who had nev­er been in war, Sin­kler said.

“The sup­port we had back home was just over­whelm­ing,” he said. “Real­ly, our nation hadn’t expe­ri­enced war to that lev­el since Viet­nam. It was hum­bling and we knew that no mat­ter the out­come, we were going to have the sup­port of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.”

Since ini­tial oper­a­tions moved so fast, Sin­kler said, spe­cif­ic details of the mis­sion were hard to come by.

“We were ‘in the moment,’ we didn’t know how the oper­a­tion was going — we were just doing our job,” he said. “We were call­ing home and talk­ing to our fam­i­lies, and they were telling us what they were see­ing on CNN. My wife told me about things that were going on in Kuwait that I had no idea about.”

The months cul­mi­nat­ed in ground war­fare Feb. 24 with a cease fire between U.S. and Iraqi forces March 3. After rough­ly four months in Sau­di Ara­bia and Kuwait, com­bat oper­a­tions halt­ed. As quick­ly as it began, the sol­diers returned home.

It was good to go over and help the peo­ple of Kuwait and Sau­di Ara­bia, Sin­kler said.

“It was being part of some­thing that was big­ger than you,” he said. “It had nation­al impor­tance; it was a part of his­to­ry in the mak­ing and some­thing we can look back on and say ‘I was there.’ It was an expe­ri­ence that gives you a greater appre­ci­a­tion for our nation and what it stands for.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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