Written by John Hall \ El Paso Times
(FORT BLISS – El Paso Times) -- Twenty years ago, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Harold Howell's unit was the first Patriot missile battery to intercept and shoot down an Iraqi Scud missile in the Gulf War.
Howell was among the several Gulf War veterans and former members of the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade who attended a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the start of the war on Thursday at Fort Bliss' Centennial Club.
"We got a hostile Scud missile coming in our direction, in our grid that we were defending, so our (tactical control assistant and tactical control officer) did what they were supposed to do. After they verified it was a hostile missile, they fired," Howell said. "It wasn't to make history; they just fired to do the right thing, doing their job."
The next morning they verified that they'd brought the missile down. Two days later, Howell said, they found out that their battery had been the first to bring down an enemy missile when journalists started showing up and asking how they felt.
"There was jubilation realizing that missile we trained on at Fort Bliss actually worked the way they were supposed to work. Everyone was thrilled," Howell said.
A first sergeant at the time, Howell said he did what he could to counsel soldiers who were facing combat for the first time.
"It was the first time they'd been in combat, so everybody was upset, so I tried to do what I could to assure them that everything would be all right, even though I didn't know," Howell said.
Hundreds of current soldiers from the brigade attended the luncheon, which featured retired Maj. Gen. Joseph Garrett as the keynote speaker and a 30-minute documentary produced by the brigade.
Garrett recalled deploying to the Middle East for Operation Desert Shield with a Patriot missile system, then brand-new and largely untested.
"That was a new technology. If the war had started six months earlier, we would have had no capability against incoming missiles. Our soldiers trained and learned the system while they were over there," Garrett said. "In many ways I think 11th Brigade's work with the Patriot missile in the Gulf War plus the work of other Patriot units stationed in Israel really showed there was a great potential for the United States to develop effective systems against these kids of threats."
Also a Vietnam veteran, Garrett said that the amount of support his soldiers received while serving overseas was incredible.
"The outpouring of support from the community and the general public was fantastic," Garrett said. "They knew that the American people and the El Paso community was behind what they were doing and that means an awful lot when you are deployed and facing combat like we were."
For retired Command Sgt. Maj. William Doctor, who served as the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in the 11th Brigade during the war, the commemoration was an opportunity to reconnect with soldiers he served with.
"To gather again with friends, soldiers you served with, is just outstanding," Doctor said. The event gave him the chance "to renew old friendships after 20 years, to see those you admired 20 years ago and still admire them to this day and forever, really, because that's the kind of family atmosphere we had."
John Hall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6371.
Source: El Paso Times, http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_17153319?source=rss