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Commentary Search

Operation Desert Storm - 25 years have passed

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

(U.S. Air Force graphic)

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- Operation Desert Storm began 25 years ago--I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was ten years old sitting in front of the TV with my parents as the skies above Baghdad lit up like the 4th of July. Until that moment, war was an intangible concept--something that happened in text books and old John Wayne movies.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, the rumblings of war filled the adult conversations around me.  My uncle, an Air Force F-16 crew chief, deployed and couldn't tell us where he was going; all of the adults seemed to understand what it meant.  Still, the belief that war would be a part of the world I lived in did not settle in until I watched the sheer dominance of American airpower obliterate the buildings below. That was a pivotal moment; one that would ultimately lead me seven years later to raise my right hand and swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.

For those on the front lines of Operation Desert Storm, it was also a moment of transition.  Col. (ret.) Thomas Schiess, former 173rd Fighter Wing commander, was an Air Force Captain flying F-16s out of Hill Air Force Base.  After the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Schiess's squadron immediately deployed to the Middle East.  "We went not knowing if we were going to go to war that day, or how long it was going to take."

Schiess talked about how this changed his mindset about the reality of war.  "It is very different than today.  For those signing up today I think they know the chances of going to combat are very high; and when I signed up you felt like, gosh, we haven't been at war in so long, the thought of it was kind of surreal; that you didn't think it was really going to happen. Then we deployed and there was the realization that it was not if it was going to happen, but a matter of when." 

After 25 years, many of the Airmen involved in the campaign agree that it is one of the times in their lives that stand out and they are quick to share their stories. 
Tech. Sgt. Gary Langdon of the 270th Air Traffic Control Squadron was a 20-year-old Soldier in the 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.  His unit was one of the first with boots on the ground in Iraq and it was Langdon's first time in combat.  "I cannot believe it has been 25 years," he said.  "I can remember like it was yesterday."

When asked what stands out in his mind the most, Langdon said, "I remember when we took our first objective and we were standing there on flat white sand, and a few miles in the distance all we could see was a black wall.  It was the Iraqi soldiers running towards us wanting to surrender."  Langdon speculates that it was the use of advanced military technologies that in part spurred this mass surrender.

Desert Storm brought about many changes to the way the military approaches conflict.  This campaign was the first conflict in history to make comprehensive use of stealth and space systems.  Multiple new weapons made their debut on that battlefield, including stealth aircraft, global positioning devices, and precision guided technologies such as the MIM-104 Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

173rd FW F-15 crew chief Tech. Sgt. Michael Hernandez was an F-4G Wild Weasel crew chief during the conflict.   He has a very distinct memory of the Patriot missile.  "We had two Scud missiles come at us.  And I remember I was on top of an F-4 working...and I thought it was low flying jets, but it was one of the Patriot missiles being launched, and next I thing I knew I was on the ground running.  I don't remember getting off the jet or anything.  I just remember hightailing it into a shelter and looking up as the Patriot missile impacted the Scud.  You know on the 4th of July when you see those big ones...that was exactly what it looked like," said Hernandez.

Technology employment during Desert Storm revolutionized the way we fight our wars today.  However, as we look back at our history and the way modern combat has been shaped, it is important to remember that we need to continue moving technology forward.

Ironically, most of the pilots stepping through doors of the "Land of No Slack" today are younger than the F-15s they are learning to fly. "A lot of those airplanes we were flying in Desert Storm, we're still flying now," notes Schiess. 

I imagine that for these young pilots, 9-11 stands out as the event in their lives that altered their perception of war and conflict and perhaps propelled them to serve their country.  For many of us with a little more grey in our hair and a few lines on our faces, Desert Storm was that event.