Wednesday, November 23, 2016

DOD -- Desert Storm 25 years later: Gulf War veterans recall experiences

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Defense, Defense Video Imagery Distribution System (DVIDS), November 22, 2016, by Maj. Marnee Losurdo


Desert Storm 25 years later: Gulf War veterans recall experiences

Gulf War 25-Year Anniversary
Photo By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Labadens | Staff Sgt. Ronald Patton, 403rd Operational Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment... read more



Story by Maj. Marnee Losurdo  

403rd Wing  

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Sunday notes the 25th Anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. U.S. and coalition forces began attacking Iraqi military forces Jan. 17, 1991, to oust them from Kuwait, transitioning operations from Operation Desert Shield to Operation Desert Storm. 

More than 500,000 American servicemembers deployed to Saudi Arabia in response to Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait in August 1990. Almost 30 aircrew, maintenance and administrative members of the 403rd Wing, then the 403rd Tactical Airlift Wing, deployed in September 1990 in support of Operations Desert Shield and Storm. They flew by military aircraft to the 440th Tactical Airlift Wing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and deployed with 400 members from that unit to Saudi to support operations.

Most of those wing members are on longer assigned there; however, veterans of the first Gulf War conflict still serve in the wing, although they belonged to other services and Air Force units at that time.

In 1990, Senior Master Sgt. Jay Latham, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron loadmaster, was a 20-year-old Airman 1st Class weather observer assigned to the 3rd Weather Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. He joined the Air Force out of high school in 1988, and in 1ate 1990 volunteered to deploy in support of Operation Desert Shield, leaving in November. He was assigned to King Fahd Air Base, Dharan, Saudi Arabia, and stayed there until May 1991.

During Latham's time there, the Air Force flew over 65,000 sorties and destroyed more than 400 Iraqi aircraft, according to an Air Force White Paper, Air Force performance in Desert Storm. Of those, 68 sorties were flown by 403rd members, according to Wing historical archives.

As Desert Storm coalition forces advanced into Kuwait, the Iraqi military forces set fire to hundreds of oil wells as they retreated in January and February 1991.

"Oil fires were a huge issue for us since we were so close to the Iraqi border," he said.

The fires created huge smoke plumes, polluting the soil and air, creating a haze or overcast type effect. Oil deposit in the air would accumulate on aircraft and tents. Latham said they took weather observations constantly, especially prior to launching F-16 Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs.

"The fires caused havoc on the field, especially for the aircraft, which impacted the maintainers," he said. "It also started deteriorating the tents and impacting the air conditioning."

In addition to dealing with the fallout of the oil fires, King Fahd Air Base was in the flight path of the Iraqi scud missiles.

"As the Iraqi's would shoot the scuds, we'd see them go overhead on their way to Dammam," said Latham, adding that they were fortunate to have only been hit by a scud once, which landed off the end of the runway and didn't cause any damage.

Fellow wing member Staff Sgt. Timothy Pagel, 403rd Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsion craftsman was a lance corporal in the Marines at the time. He had joined the Marines right out of high school in 1988. He served at several locations during his deployment, but when Desert Storm kicked off in January 1991, he was assigned to an airfield near Kabrit, Saudi Arabia, eight miles from the Kuwaiti border.

Stateside, Pagel was assigned to a unit at Cherry Point, North Carolina. He found out he was deploying while on leave during Christmas, 1990, and arrived in Saudi Arabia by the end of December. As a fireman in the Marines, he spent time building up their bunkers and the base, and he worked 12-hour shifts sitting in a running fire truck on the flight line, ready to provide support to AH-1 Cobra, CH-53 Sea Stallion and CH-46 Chinook helicopter aircrews in the event of an emergency. The rotary wing aircraft provided front line support to coalition troops, and the crews landed at that location to have their helicopters refueled and rearmed.

The most challenging aspect of his deployment was the "just waiting and not knowing," he said.

"We didn't know how bad the ground war was going to be, how long it was going to take ... and when we were going home," he said.

In late January, Pagel and his counterparts were notified one evening about an Iraqi offensive movement near Khafji, a border town between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"We were expected to defend our position, so we sat there on that berm ready to take on what came at us," he said. "We heard this huge battalion of tanks coming at us, but they were ours, fortunately."

After five weeks of aerial bombing, the ground assault started Feb. 24, 1991. American ground troops declared Kuwait liberated 100 hours after the start of the ground war. There were 383 U.S. casualties; 148 of those occurred during battle, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. Pagel returned to the states in March.

While Latham and Pagel were supporting operations in the desert, Staff Sgt. Ronald Patton, 403rd Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment craftsman, was one of 4,500 sailors assigned to the USS Midway, the flagship for naval air forces in the Persian Gulf and longest serving aircraft carrier in the 20th century, according to the USS Midway Museum website. A petty officer second class, he was a member of VFA-151, stationed at Atsugi, Japan, when his unit was notified they were deploying to the Gulf. They arrived in November 1990.

The aircraft carrier transported 60 fighter/attack and support aircraft, and Patton served as a parachute rigger in aviation life support. He worked 12-hour shifts, 7 days a week ensuring that the fighter pilots' personal protective equipment, such as anti-G suits, fliers helmets, oxygen systems, survival vests and ejection style parachutes, were all in working order.

"You typically don't see our job unless something goes wrong, so we have to be 100 percent all the time," he said. "If a pilot has to bail out, they must trust that what we've done is right; it's a critical job.'"

While the days could be long and monotonous, one event stood out from his time there, said Patton.

"We came under attack by two Russian MIGs flown by the Iraqi's and their target was our Battle Group and the USS Midway," he said. "They were fully armed and had every intention on sinking us. We launched two planes in less than two minutes and within nine minutes those Russian MIGs were completely knocked out. The pilots came back in about 20 minutes and landed on the flight deck safe and sound. That gave us a real boost of confidence; we had such confidence in our trained pilots; they did their job well," he said.

The USS Midway launched 3,339 combat sorties during Operation Desert Storm, and the Navy launched more than 100 Tomahawk missiles from nine ships in the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, according to the USS Midway Museum website. Operation Desert Storm ended Feb. 27, 1991, and the Midway departed the gulf region March 11, 1991.

Latham, Pagel and Patton now serve in the 403rd Wing. Latham left active duty in 1992, went to college, and joined the wing in 1994. He became an Air Reserve Technician in 1996. Pagel left the Marine Corp in 1992 and joined the wing in 2004. He works a field service representative for a civilian aviation contractor in the area. Patton left the Navy in 1992, served in the Army National Guard and Navy Reserve between 1992 and 1996, left military service to become a preacher and overseas missionary, and then joined the wing in 2007. He was recently was hired as an ART.

Each one of them said they were honored to be part of Desert Storm operations. Patton said that, to him, being a veteran means many things.

"It means being one of many who have given their lives in defense of this nation for a cause that is truly international;" he said. "It means to serve along with some of the greatest men and women in the world. Serving has impacted me because it's helped me to look closer at who I am as an American, what I do, not only to help safeguard our nation, but to reassure our families and members of this country that we really are the freest nation in the world."

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