Monday, July 5, 2010

Gulf War Veteran Recalls clearing land mines in Gulf War nearly 20 years ago

(Racine Journal Times, Racine, Wis.) - Col. Rick Kaiser was watching the news in August 1990 on a day that seemed just like any other - he'd had a basic day at work, fixing some military equipment in the summer heat at Texas's Fort Hood, and had come home to unwind seated on his couch like always.

But then a story on the TV screen showed the then-first lieutenant that his life was about to change drastically. Iraq had just invaded the free nation of Kuwait.

PHOTO:  Richard G. Kaiser, COL, EN, Commander, 20th Engineer Brigade, Fort Bragg, NC 28306/submitted photo

"I was just recently married and I turned around and looked at my wife Heather and I said, ‘I'm out of here,'" said Kaiser, who grew up in Racine. "I knew right away (my) 1st Cavalry Division would go. We got our alert and deployment orders. I ended up on the ground very early October (1990)."

Kaiser left his new wife for his first Army deployment in the deserts of the Middle East where he spent the next six months clearing land mine fields, work that often had him driving in extremely small convoys through the countrysides of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Kaiser's work prepared safe roadways for future U.S. troops, who would run the Iraqis out of Kuwait in the Gulf War, which lasted from January 1991 to a cease-fire Feb. 28, 1991. Though those are the war's official dates, American troops were involved in missions as early as Aug. 8, 1990, six days after Iraq invaded Kuwait over oil disputes.

Nearly 20 years since that initial invasion, Kaiser, now 45 and a colonel on active duty at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, looked back at his role in the Gulf War.

"We would lead the way through the mine fields to clear paths to get people through," Kaiser said, explaining how they would use good intelligence to find the mine fields and then use rockets and a bulldozer-like machine to detonate the mines and make a safe trail. "You really have to make sure once you clear the mine field you mark it so people can't get lost" and get hurt.

During that process, Kaiser served as an executive officer of the 8th Engineer Battalion within the 1st Cavalry Division. His rank and position meant he'd spend most of his time coordinating materials like tanks and explosives.

"I found myself all over the battlefield making sure people had everything they needed," he said, describing his role as more proactive. "I was all over Saudi Arabia and Kuwait carrying parts, supplies and explosives to the guys that needed it...I drove all night. I would go get whatever I knew the men needed or thought they'd need and I'd get it to them."

Kaiser, a Park High School graduate who joined the Army through ROTC at Marquette University, said though the mission was dangerous he and his men believed strongly in the reasoning behind it.

"Kuwait was a sovereign country, an ally of ours," he said. "The invasion of Kuwait and some of the brutality shown on TV really steeled everybody's resolve and we knew this was a fight that was worth doing."

Entering the Gulf War

The Gulf War, also called Operation Desert Storm, was an armed conflict in the early 1990s where the U.S. and many other nations fought to remove Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait. Though U.S. involvement in the Gulf War officially lasted from mid-January 1991 to a cease-fire on Feb. 28, 1991, American troops were involved in missions as early as Aug. 8, 1990, six days after Iraq invaded Kuwait and annexed the sovereign country over disputes about oil production and pumping.

U.S. soldiers said the Gulf War was relatively quick because at that time the Iraqis fought like Russians, which American forces had been training to fight for years during and after the Cold War. Despite the short length of the conflict, there were still casualties and prisoners of war on both sides. Some U.S. soldiers returned home with physical and mental conditions as well.

In the end, the U.S. and other United Nations coalition forces effectively fought Iraqi soldiers back into their own country, though they lit fire to Kuwaiti oil wells as they retreated, creating huge oil blazes and taxing Kuwait's economy for years. Aside from that problem, Iraq's then-leader Saddam Hussein remained in power and the region remained troubled with a "second Gulf War" occurring about a decade later and continuing in today's war in Iraq.

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