Voices from the Sandbox

Looking back, by two veterans of Desert Storm: Feb. 24, 2016

U.S. military personnel arrive at a base camp during Operation Desert Shield. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Lee Corkran

The importance of technology was never greater than in Desert Storm. You can see a little of this reflected in the words of these two veterans of the ground war during Desert Storm, sometimes called “The 100-hour War”. That was literally how long it took. Next week, a look at the air war which made such a swift victory possible. At this link, you get a brief firsthand glimpse of the reality of “War in the Sandbox” through the eyes of two veterans of the war, one a tank platoon commander, the other a Marine intel officer.
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Then 2nd Lt. Mark Cassel, a tank platoon leader and former Nebraska Army National Guard soldier, was assigned to the 2nd Armored Brigade, 24th Infantry Division during Desert Shield.

Did you ever, as a kid, dream of getting a tank for Christmas? Lt. Cassel and the 2nd Brigade got the real thing, in time for real war:
They didn’t go home for Christmas, but did get welcome Christmas presents: brand new M1A1 Abrams tanks out of Fort Stewart, Georgia, to replace their weary M-1 tanks.” (See why the M1A1s were better tanks at that link.)

But the air and naval bombardment had them sitting in the sand and the heat for five weeks, waiting, waiting, waiting … that’ll take the excitement out of any new toy. Finally, on February 24th, they got orders to cross over into Iraq. The Brigade’s 56 tanks found out what a sandstorm was like, and found out how important their thermal imaging sights were: without them, the tanks would have been blind in the sandstorm.

Their part of the war lasted … one half hour. In their first and only engagement, the Iraqis opposing them were using WW2 Soviet tanks. They wiped out the Iraqi tanks, refueled, rearmed, were ordered to take up positions in the Rumaili oilfields in southern Iraq, and … the war ended. “That’s it?” people said. “We thought we were still in the first phase of the operation.”


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From the halls of … Field Programs, U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) which is where he is now, Dr. Scott Moore, now the division director of CMH. During Desert Storm, Scott Moore was a Marine major with the 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. He deployed to the Kuwait border as the regimental intelligence officer.

But the only source of intel at that time was “observers at the border”. And in the direction of the enemy, there was only a sea of sand as far as the eye could see.

We had a sketchy picture of what was out in front of us. We kind of knew there was an Iraqi army out there. We didn’t know near what everyone thinks we knew.”

With all the surveillance satellites and aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, only ONE aerial image came into his hands. “We just went in blind.”

In two days, then-Major Moore said, they had “an idea of what was out in front of us“, which they achieved by interrogating prisoners and drawing on one “very useful captured map.”

For those who haven’t been to war, have you ever played “1st-person shooter games” on video? Remember an enemy bouncing up from nowhere with gun blazing? Remember how you just about jumped out of your chair? Think about doing that for real. Think about the kind of map you get with a video war game and how it compares to the 1st-person POV of actually playing the game. It’s enough to make your scalp tighten just to imagine doing that when the enemy is real, armed, and eager to kill you.

But of course, after that second day, as a gung-ho intel officer would do, Major Moore was working with a reluctant Kuwaiti resistance fighter unit while his regiment was operating “elsewhere.” The Kuwaitis were unwilling to go into a building until Major Moore had “certified” it as safe. Guess how he did that. He was armed with an AK which he found, since Marine officers aren’t issued rifles. Although I have to say, for war in the desert, the AK design is better than the M16. That’s my civilian opinion, having owned only the AK, but if you ask veterans, I suspect you’ll find they agree. The AK is an incredibly reliable weapon.

One 17 year old Kuwaiti kid did kick in doors for them. That was a kid who was either a real patriot, or whose family had suffered when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bet on it.

Moore reports that his unit “engaged the enemy several times”, and emerged with no KIAs and no one even injured. After the war ended, Moore said he “ended up by default being the liaison officer to the resistance.” Getting engineers to help repair war damage inside Kuwait and whatever other tasks came to hand.

You might get the impression from this that Desert Storm was an easy war. No war is easy, but this one probably was the easiest, at least since before WW1. Technology and soldiers and airmen capable of using that technology made it so. But that doesn’t mean we can dispense with the God of the Bible

Those of you who know me knew I was going to say that.  🙂

More first-person stories of Desert Storm next week, if I can find them. There seems to be a shortage.

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To all our Troops, and Remembering Everyone Deployed- God bless, be safe and Thank You!

Hope all have a safe and blessed day, and don’t forget to get your RED on.

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