Three more Scuds were launched today at Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, Patriots downed them all. While Baghdad was being bombed, twenty one F-117s attacked the supply pumps and distribution valves for the oil-filled trenches in the Saddam line, destroying Iraq's ability to fill and ignite the fiery trenches.
Iraq's location on the face of the earth is one of the least hospitable for U.S. Navy operations. Its only access to open waters is along a narrow strip in the northwest corner of the relatively shallow Persian Gulf. Even so, the Navy used every weapon system at its disposal to attack Iraq and the Iraqi army occupying Kuwait. From the opening moments of the war, they attacked targets throughout Iraq with their Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAMs). The Missouri and Wisconsin periodically pounded targets throughout Kuwait. The Navy's largest contribution was to the air war. They pressed every available aircraft from six aircraft carrier battle groups into service.
Carriers in the Persian Gulf even sent their anti-submarine S-3 Viking aircraft out on patrol laden with bombs. Over the course of the war, Aircraft from VS-32 attacked Scud missile launchers and RADAR installations in Kuwait. In what now seems to be a humorous incident, an S-3B Viking patrol aircraft from the USS America, commanded by Lieut. Cmdr. Bruce "Baja" Bole, dove out of the north Persian Gulf sky on Thursday and engaged in a high speed Zhuk class gunboat with three 500 pound bombs. Lieut. Cmdr. Bole mistakenly dropped his external fuel pod in his rush to release his ordinance and get away from the boat's antiaircraft fire. Nevertheless the "Weapons" hit their target and the boat was sunk.
For several weeks, Delta Force units had been roaming western Iraq in militarized dune buggies searching for Scud missiles. On the 21st one dune buggy, carrying Sgt. Maj. Patrick Hurley, Master Sgt. Eloy Rodriguez, and Master Sgt. Otto Clark, overturned, Breaking Hurley's back. The team radioed for immediate evacuation and a Black Hawk helicopter was sent in to rescue the Trio. The UH-60, piloted by Captain Charles Cooper and manned by Chief Warrant Officer Michael Anderson, Sergeant Christopher Chapman, and Sergeant Mario Vega Valesquez, raced into Iraq at very low altitude and picked up the Special Forces team. The helicopter darted south, hugging the ground to avoid detection. The UH-60 returned safely to Saudi airspace around 0300. The black Hawk made two attempts to land in the black night and dense fog. The third attempt, the helicopter crashed short of the airfield killing all aboard.
Ryder and I took several trips around to all of the positions to make sure all radar teams were well stocked and good to go. Although it was primarily a check of supplies, ammo, water, MREs, etc., it almost felt like we were going around saying our goodbyes. I had to shake that feeling off as quick as it overcame me so that I didn't dwell on the worst-case scenario. I kept a positive attitude and faith that I was going to make it through this, and that there would be minimal casualties, if any, among us. We were hoping for none of course.
The picture I've included here was of a convoy up ahead. Some units were still moving into their position as I was making my rounds to check on my teams. They were stopped for some reason so I stopped also. I stepped out of my Humvee to snap a picture. After about fifteen to twenty minutes, they were on the move again. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think this is where I had my first mirage. No, I didn't see a beautiful girl in a bikini bathing suit. As the road up ahead turned to the right, I could see the sky slicing into the road, a reflection or something maybe? I can't really explain it. All I know is it looked like a body of water, but when you continue to follow the road, the end started to go up into where the sky is. The sky that you actually see (or reflection of the sky) between the road and the ground that is near me, looks like water. Now I know why people think they are seeing water when they have a mirage.
With just a few days left until the Ground War begins, we linked up with Wolf and Pacman once again. I really don't remember which team we were visiting at the time but I'm pretty sure it was the one supporting 11th Marine artillery. Wolf and Pacman were already there. Wolf came over to us and sat in my seat after I got out so that they could talk. I got into Pacman's Humvee in the passenger's seat. After being the driver for so long, it felt very different sitting in the passenger's seat. We talked for at least 20 minutes about different stuff. I said to Pacman, "You know what you said about us making history out here?" He answered, "yeah." "Well, I'm thinking I might write a book some day," I said with a smile on my face. He said, "You should. And if you do, don't forget to mention me!"
The Eyes of the Desert
As you can tell from the picture I've included, we were dug in pretty good. We were so close to enemy positions we could smell them (like a sewer). We knew that we were within range of their artillery so we walled up our vehicles and dug fighting holes to sleep in, or dive in, if we started receiving incoming. We had cots but I never actually used mine once we left the port. It's a pain to put together on a daily basis so I just slept on the ground. Those who were fortunate enough to sleep in one position for multiple nights just placed their cots upside down just outside their fighting hole, as you see in the picture.
Once everyone was in position, we did not wait long to set the invasion plan into motion. On the evening of the 21st, we began cutting through the Saudi berms in numerous locations. As soon as the breaches were cut, we conducted reconnaissance-in-force operations across the border in four separate locations. By the time we were done, we had captured five hundred Iraqi prisoners.
Meanwhile, elements from two brigades of the 2nd Marine Division, moving at night, began taking out the minefields and first line of infantry at the main breach. They intentionally provoked Iraqi artillery attacks so that their artillery batteries could be exposed by our radar teams from Counter Battery Radar (CBR). Once they were exposed and their grid coordinates were captured, our gun batteries returned fire along with overhead air strikes. I remember one Marine from one of the radar teams mentioned getting target requests from pilots. Up to this point, I didn't even think about the target acquisition process involving air strikes. I always thought of them only involving tanks and artillery pieces. We were getting requests from multiples sources.
On a side note, although we had trained in deserts back in the U.S., the sand in the Persian Gulf area was different. We had problems because of the sand blowing everywhere. Equipment was malfunctioning all the time. I don't know who, but someone came up with the idea of using pantyhose to cover certain things like an air filter. I'm not going to ask where the pantyhose came from, but it sure worked well. By the time we had conducted our first artillery raid back in January, everything was working like a charm. It was a good thing too, because top brass was beginning to think that our AN/TPQ-36 FireFinder radar system was a waste of money if we couldn't get it working. Everyone was now looking to us as their eyes in this vast desert for more and more targets.
After picking a fight with the Iraqis, two marines narrowly escaped injury when their Humvee took a direct artillery shell hit. It was Lance Corporal Robert Grady and Lance Corporal William Noland. They were thrown against the windshield, but were protected by the gear they had stuffed behind their seats. Neither of them had a scratch on them. We later examined the damaged Humvee and everyone wondered how they could have escaped death or injury of any kind. They inscribed on their helmets, "LUCKY AS HELL." They then requested another vehicle so they could return to the fight.
In the days to follow, there was a lot of artillery battles and small combined-arms raids along the border. The Iraqis were beginning to think that the ground offensive had begun. It was getting so intense that Iraqi radio had announced that the Ground War had begun. General Boomer's response to the Iraqi announcement was: "That was just my 2nd LAI. Wait until he sees the rest..."
2nd LAI Battalion
The 2nd LAI Battalion continued to cross back and forth across the border for several days. 2nd LAI scouts probed the enemy lines to find an alternate breach point for the Tiger Brigade in case the primary breach became impassable. As the days progressed, and the other Marine recon teams completed their missions, 2nd LAI shifted its operation to the southern sector to screen the movements of the 2nd Marine Marine Division artillery battalions and our radar teams so that we could position ourselves for the assault. Lance Corporal Lang was among them in B Company. We had some chow together and talked about the weather turning real cold and rainy. We joked about how this was supposed to be a dry and hot place. Neither us really knew what to expect weather wise before we came here. Lang was from Maryland where it's nice and beautiful but gets pretty cold in the winter so the cold doesn't really bother him that much. I seem to recall that his family originally came from Guam or something like that. At the time I had no idea where Guam was and he explained it was in the Pacific west of Hawaii. I remember telling him that I would love to visit Hawaii some time. Lang was a crewman in the Light Infantry Division and got to ride around in one of those cool Light Armored Vehicles (pictured here). I took a peek inside. It looked a little cramped but it's not a luxury vehicle. It's can drive on land or in the water and has a 25-mm cannon and an M240 machine gun. It also has smoke grenade launchers. It's main purpose is to provide security, reconnaissance, and screening. It typically carries a crew of three: the driver, the gunner, and a crew commander.
We both knew that the Ground War was to start soon. Although he didn't say it, I detected some concern in him. Marines typically don't like to show any fear or worry. I know I don't show my true feelings very often. Even if I'm worried about something, I'll keep a happy face on. Even if I'm nervous about something, I'll try not to show it. And I'm not afraid of too many things, but if I ever feel frightened of something, I'll try to appear brave. I don't know if Lang was putting up a front, or not but I remember getting the sense of anxiety and uneasiness about him. I asked him, "Are you ok?" He answered, "Yeah, I just wish this was all over so we can go back home." "Me too," I said. "But we're going to be all right, you'll see," I added.
When it was time for 2nd LAI Battalion to move out, we said our goodbyes. I couldn't explain it at the time, but I felt a level of sadness like I wasn't going to see him again or something. I watched as they fired up the LAV and drove off into the sunset. It would indeed be the last time I would see him.
“I wonder how you say goodbye to someone forever?”