Operation Desert Storm Marks 30-Year Anniversary

Operation Desert Storm began on Jan 16, 1991, which this year marks the 30-year anniversary of the largest military battle since World War II.  Over half a million multinational troops took part in Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

On Aug 2, 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, claiming that they had been stealing oil from them for years.  Immediate condemnation came from the United States and 35 nations of the UN Security Council, including Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Egypt. In late August of 1990, we got the call every Marine knows is coming.  Send in the Marines! We’re going to war!   One Marine Expeditionary Brigade from the East Coast and our Marine Expeditionary Brigade from the West Coast would marry up with maritime prepositioning ships (massive ships filled with equipment, motor vehicles, tanks, etc.)  to begin the massive buildup of troops and equipment.

I was a young sergeant in the US Marine Corps who had recently reenlisted and was married with two small children. The United States had not had a major conflict since Vietnam, so our military was rebuilt and at its peak readiness and fighting force. But no one really knew what was happening and very little was known about the Middle East, but we knew it was major.  Our mission was to get all that gear where it was supposed to go.   We also knew it was brutally hot. We were told to stand by and get ready.    We were on a plane and in country within a month.  I remember the heat regularly topping 120 and the terrain resembling a cross between the desert and a barren moon.  We were all carrying weapons and survived on coffee and pushups because no one slept.

Diplomacy was tried for months from the UN Security Council and troops and equipment continued to be amassed.  The Iraqis responded by regularly firing scud missiles filled with poison gas into Saudi Arabia, Israel, and at allied troops.  The Iraqis had used poisonous gas against their own people, so all precautions were taken.  I can remember hearing the siren that scud missiles were detected so we had to get into full MOP (chemical) gear including gas masks and waiting hours for the all-clear sign.

As the months-long build up began, we would get letters from back home and the entire nation (and the world) seemed to be behind us. How my wife survived the stress, I’ll never know. That’s something you rarely hear about. The stress that military spouses and kids have to endure during deployments.  My aunt’s second-grade class adopted me and would write me letters thanking me and asking questions.

In three long months, the buildup of troops and equipment hit its peak in November of 1990 and in early December of 1990, a massive multinational six week bombing campaign began in an effort to get the Iraqis to surrender. Finally, on Jan. 16, the ground war began.  In a slaughter reminiscent of the 1985 Chicago Bears against a high school team, against a huge, veteran capable Iraqi military foe, the military achieved a swift, crushing victory with a flawlessly run military campaign.

Retreating Iraqi troops were bombed so heavily along the Iraq/Kuwaiti Highway that it became known as “The Highway of Death and tons of enemy equipment was bombarded into shrubble. American, British, and French forces pursued retreating troops so heavily that they surrendered within a week. The Marines deferred the honor of recapturing Kuwait City to their Arab allies and none could forget the cheers of gratitude from the Kuwaitis.  Nearly 93,000 Marines took part in Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

America welcomed home their victorious troops with an outburst of affection not seen since WWII.  We came home in April of 1991, and every bridge and overpass seemed to have American flags hanging from them. In the summer of 1991, I was honored to march in numerous parades and will never forget Vietnam vets openly weeping and hugging me as they finally got the acclaim so unfairly denied them.

President Bush 1 was criticized for leaving Saddam Hussein in power, but the mission of Desert Storm was to free Kuwait and not overthrow the Iraqi government. Whether that was a wise decision or not, can be debated. Desert Storm was the beginning of the US involvement in the Middle East, which sadly is still going on. In the rich and honorable history of the Marine and the armed forces, Desert Storm stands as one of the great victories in military history.

Photo caption: Robert Puentes is on the far right.

Author’s note: I would like to acknowledge “The Battle History of the US Marines” by Col Joseph Alexander, in helping me write this article. I hope my memory depicts a true story. I believe my memory to be pretty good (??) considering it’s been 30 years. It is also a war story —and war stories are best told between combatants sharing a drink or a cigar.

Semper Fi

Image Sources

  • Robert Puentas in Desert Storm: Robert Puentas