As twilight approached on February 23, 1991, U.S. Marine Colonel James A. Fulks was getting desperate. Although the ground campaign of Operation Desert Storm would not begin for more than twelve hours, Fulks had nearly twenty-seven hundred U.S. Marines a dozen miles inside of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and had orders to move that night through the first of the two thick minefields the Iraqi army had planted just to the north. After days of searching, however, his scouts still had not found a path through the mines. Now Fulks was preparing to order a rapid and potentially dangerous effort to clear a way through the deadly obstacle belt.
At about the same time ten miles to the east, Corporal Michael Eroshevich was hunkered down in a small, hastily dug hole on the edge of that same minefield, trying to stay unseen until night fell. The twenty-one-year-old marine was tired, cramped, cold, and a little nervous about his unit’s exposed position.
Fulks’ marines, designated Task Force Grizzly, and Eroshevich’s unit, Task Force Taro, commanded by Colonel John H. Admire, had marched into Kuwait two days earlier. Alone, with no tanks and few heavy weapons, the fifty-three hundred marines were vulnerable to an attack by any of the five heavily armed Iraqi divisions waiting on the other side of the mines. Admire recalled that "We were essentially up there alone."
Admire and Fulks had orders from the 1st Marine Division commander, Maj. Gen. James M. "Mike" Myatt, to infiltrate through the first minefield well before the start of the ground war. They then were to march farther into Kuwait to shield the breach of those mines by Myatt’s two powerful mechanized regiments the next morning. In the midst of the most technologically advanced conflict in history — the so-called Nintendo War — most of the marines in the two task forces marched the twenty miles from the Saudi border to their blocking positions, carrying their gear on their backs.
According to Fulks, the risky infiltration "was part of our strategy in the division to be very aggressive." The idea was to mentally overwhelm the Iraqis, who had shown little ability to respond quickly to changing conditions. The Task Force Grizzly commander, who had conceived the infiltration plan months earlier while he was the division’s operations officer, conceded that initially "it was not a very popular idea." But it embodied the boldness that enabled two marine divisions to punch through the Iraqi minefields on “G-Day,” February 24th, jump-starting the Allied ground assault with the largest deployment of U.S. Marines in history.
In the 2nd Marine Division, very much of the same thing was happening to prepare our units for the early morning attack. That evening, Company B, 2nd LAI Battalion, scouted the entrances to the six breach lanes through the minefields. Captain Martin T. Wolf led his company's 1st Platoon and provided security to the other platoons as they marked their lanes. Lance Corporal Lang was in B Company but I don’t know what platoon he was in. I said a prayer for him that God would keep him safe during the war; still uneasy about a feeling I had the day before.
The Marines of 2nd LAI, B Company was about finished marking the breach lanes when Captain Wolf then dismounted from his vehicle and went forward on foot to personally mark the last two lanes. These were further north than the others, and closer to the burning oil wells. The light from these great plumes of flame made discovery by Iraqi patrols very likely. But Captain Wolf calmly avoided obstacles and unexploded ordnance and despite the presence of Iraqi troops only 500 meters away, he supervised the marking of the lanes. With the successful completion of this work, the division had prepared its zone for the assault. Now some of the division's units started to occupy their assembly areas or firing positions in preparation for H-Hour, early the next morning.
"I can't say enough about the two Marine divisions. If I use words like "brilliant" it would be an under-description of the absolutely superb job that they did in breaching the so-called impenetrable barrier ... . It was a classic . . . absolutely superb operation, a text book, and I think it will be studied for many, many years to come as the way to do it."
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, press briefing, 27 February 1991
Ready & Willing
When we had moved into position along the border, we had to be ready for anything. Needless to say, we were in dangerous territory. We were well within range of Iraqi artillery and mortar fire. And if Saddam had decided to pour down his remaining Scud missiles all along the Saudi/Kuwaiti border, he would have taken many of us out. That's not a lack of confidence in our Patriot missile defense system. But the number Scuds versus the number of Patriots we had armed and ready outweighed any confidence we had. Let's just hope Saddam isn't a very smart man. Nothing he's done so far has proven otherwise. I included a better picture of our troop transport five ton truck while it was still attached to the generator trailer. You can see a .50 caliber heavy machine gun mounted on the top. Similarly, I had a M-60 mounted on my Humvee. "Doc" rode with us from this point on and he and I took turns driving and manning the machine gun.
Final preparations were made for the division’s assault. One of the tasks given to the 2nd LAI Battalion, when it moved across the berm, was to protect artillery survey parties for the 10th Marines. Artillery units had their own survey guys, and we had our own. We usually referred to it as an advance party, a group that went ahead of the main unit to prepare for their arrival, in this case, surveying the area and providing that data to the radar computer so it knows where on the map it is positioned. Me, Doc, Ryder, Wolf, and Pacman were the advance party sent forward as far as possible to survey the future positions of our radar teams. After conducting the survey of the areas, we would drive a stake into the ground of each position with an orange (or maybe it was red, I can’t remember) flag to mark the spot where the teams would need to position the radar antenna. The antenna trailer had a plumb bob underneath it that a team member could lower over the stake to make sure it was positioned exactly right. One inch off the mark and you could lose the war. That’s not an exaggeration either. That goes for the surveying work as well as the positioning of the radar antenna. An inch could make the difference between killing enemy forces or the Marines just south of them that are calling in artillery strikes on enemy positions when they are pinned down. An inch on a map was a thousand meters. And I’m not in the business of killing my fellow Marine infantry men.
An important part of the division's plan called for four of the six artillery units to move forward of the berm on G minus 1. Their firepower would be critical to a successful breach by conducting radar directed counter battery fire or in breaking up enemy armor counter-attacks. After we were finished surveying the future radar team positions, Wolf radioed back to Romeo Four to make their move up north inside Kuwait where we were. At the same time, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Marines; the 3rd Battalion, 10th Marines; the 5th Battalion, 10th Marines; and the MLRS battery were making their way into firing positions east of the berm (the berm at this point along the border ran north and south), inside of Kuwait itself. The 6th Marines' own direct support battalion, the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines, would be moving with that regiment in the assault, and taking up its firing positions beyond the second breach, which is where Ryder and I along with Romeo Six, would be positioned for the night. The 1st Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery, had taken its position on the west side of the berm and would move through with the Tiger Brigade along with Romeo One, Two, Three and Five. During firing missions today against the enemy minefields with Marines positioned just south of the enemy, we successfully took out two enemy bunkers and four enemy artillery guns...with pinpoint accuracy. No doubt, after being so well trained at what we do, confidence was at an all-time high.
This positioning of artillery units forward of the maneuver elements which they were to support may seem, at first glance, to violate all doctrine on the employment of artillery. It made proper tactical sense, however. Intelligence had reported that the Iraqi brigades to the division's front and flanks could reach the area of the breach with about 500 guns. Many of these out-ranged the 10th Marines' M198 155-mm howitzers, whose range was a little over 30 kilometers using rocket-assisted projectiles (RAP). To ensure that the assault elements had the timely, accurate, and responsive fire support they would need, it was worth taking the calculated risk to move the artillery ahead of the rest of the maneuver units. A measure of security would be provided to them by the 2nd LAI Battalion, and the 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines, in screening positions to the division's flanks.
Because the enemy artillery so greatly outnumbered and outranged that of the division, three days of clear weather were needed to allow the Coalition air forces to attack and destroy these prime targets. Fortunately, just days prior to G-Day, the meteorological section reported that a weather system known as an "Omega High" was developing in the eastern Mediterranean, and would ensure the fine weather so urgently desired.
At 1600, another group which had to be in place by the eve of the ground assault had left the area of the division's main command post. The breach control group, a small party of officers and enlisted Marines from the division’s operations section and Headquarters Battalion's Military Police Company, was responsible for controlling and monitoring unit flow from the assembly areas through the second breach. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Howard Shores, this group arrived at 1700 at the cut in the berm which started lane Blue 3. The group dug in, established communications with the division main command post, and prepared for the work of the coming day.
As these early elements were settling into their positions on the afternoon of G minus 1, an ominous change came over the sky. Until recently, the desert air had been clear and warm, with excellent visibility under a deep blue sky. However, by now the Iraqis had ignited nearly 700 oil wells in Kuwait. Now, a great, heavy black cloud of smoke began to move over the area, blocking out the setting sun. I included a picture taken of a group of Marines from 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marines, also from Camp LeJeune. In the picture to the far left is a Japanese American Marine I only know as "Saki." This is his picture on that day. A quote from him: "2/2 was the front and center battalion of this attack. The sky is black to our rear from the oil well smoke, while to our front, the sky is bright...hence, it looks like night but one can see all the way to the horizon. I am on the far left."
The smoke came from the burning oil wells in Kuwait, especially from the Umm Gudair and Al Manaqish oilfields, which were to the division's front. I also heard that we fired white phosphorus artillery rounds into the trenches that were already filled with oil to burn them out prior to the invasion. A strategy of springing the trap early so it couldn't be used against us in the early morning hours. However, I have yet to find any evidence to support this.
By evening, the wind had shifted, and a crescent moon shone through a light cloud cover. But this weather was not to hold. By early morning, the clouds lowered, the smoke returned, reducing visibility, and a cold rain began to fall. The three days of fine weather promised by the famous "Omega High" had literally gone up in smoke, and come down in rain. We Marines would be fighting the ground campaign in this dismal weather. The first activity of G-Day was the movement of the 6th Marines to its assembly areas. At about 2300 on G minus 1, the first units approached the breach control group.
Throughout the remaining hours of the night, elements of the regiment continued to take their places in their assigned assembly areas. During the night, there was little sleep, and each man was "counsel to his own thoughts." Yet, there was no tremendous anxiety evident as each Marine went quietly about his individual tasks or re-checked his equipment. The magnitude of the effort about to be undertaken and the importance of the role assigned to each Marine, sailor, or soldier had a sobering, even a calming, effect. All looked forward to the start of a day which would define the rest of their lives, and if some quoted familiar lines from Shakespeare's Henry V, they could be excused the affectation.
Weather Good or Bad
After maneuvering along the border for the past several days, we were now in position for a large scale assault, "G-Day," the Ground War. Originally, it was scheduled to begin on the 22nd, but weather was terrible and it was pushed back a couple of days hoping for improvements. Experts say that the winter weather in the gulf region during Desert Storm was the worst in 14 years. Records show that there was at least 25-percent cloud cover on 31 of the war’s 43 days, more than 50-percent cloud cover on 21 days, and more than 75 percent on 9 days. Also, there were occasionally violent winds and heavy rains. All of this has an affect on air support. The weather never got better, but there would be no more delay.
General Schwarzkopf in an exclusive interview on FRONTLINE/BBC had the following to say about the Ground War and the weather:
"Once the decision had been made to launch the ground war and once the forces had been allocated to launch the ground war, it was obvious that Washington wanted to get on with it, very understandable thing. In my case, I had to make absolutely sure that I had all of the troops in place, with the proper support, so that we could accomplish this. I think that, had all things been equal, Washington would have like to have seen the ground war started quite a while before we ultimately did do it. But they also understood why we didn't go and why we waited.
We finally adopted a time that I thought we would be able to launch the ground war, on the 22nd, then it shifted to the 23rd, then it shifted to the 24th. The exact time of the ground war, was predicated on several things, the ambient light level, weather conditions were absolutely critical, and the weather predictions that we were getting at the time were very mixed.
The Marines do not have a lot of heavy artillery and depend upon their aircraft to provide the close air support to replace their artillery. And Walt Boomer came to me and said he was very concerned about launching his attack when the weather was predicted to be so bad. So I supported him. I went to Washington and said that we have to delay the attack and again that met with some resistance again because of Washington's desire to do it sooner rather than later."
Something very tragic and very close to home happened on the evening of the 23rd and it has been on my mind since the very beginning of this blog. It's very difficult to write about but here it goes.
To start with, I found the following article that was written by Otto Kreisher and originally published in the Summer 2002 edition of MHQ:
"While Taro and Grizzly were making their difficult treks deep into Kuwait, the two U.S. Marine divisions moved toward the border, reaching their assault positions on February 23. That night, Boomer sent a message telling his marines that they would attack into Kuwait the next day. As night fell on the twenty-third, the marines and navy corpsmen in Taro and Grizzly climbed out of their holes, pulled on chemical protective suits, and checked their gas masks and weapons. Suddenly an explosion stunned the marines of Task Force Taro and destroyed their artillery fire-direction radar van, killing one marine and wounding another. A U.S. HARM anti-radar missile had caused the explosion, another of the friendly-fire incidents that were to blame for nearly half of the marines’ casualties thus far."
We all heard it, some of us saw it, but no one knew at the time what had happened or why. Initially, everyone dove into their fox holes for cover thinking Saddam was firing his Scud missiles at us or that we were spotted by forward observers and were getting incoming artillery. After the explosion, I heard sounds of multiple pops like dozens of fire crackers going off. Once I was able to get my wits about myself, I realized that it wasn't the sound of artillery that I heard. I wrote before that I have had artillery firing over my head on many occasions and know what it sounds like. Not to mention the flash of light that trailed behind the object that landed in the nearby position. It was definitely a missile. It was my first time hearing an incoming missile. It sounded almost like a lightening bolt or something. Another Marine described the sound as someone ripping a bed sheet. It was kind of like that, only very loud. It wasn't until much later that I learned what kind of missile or where it came from or what it hit.
In H.A.R.M.'S Way
In Chapter 1 I mentioned the function of the radar units. The radar antenna does its job well, but at the same time it present a problem. When in use, it projects beams of radiation; to give the unclassified version of how it works. This means that it is exposed to counter radar missiles. The H.A.R.M. missile, (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) was designed specifically for radar sites. One of these missiles, fired by friendly forces, took out one of our radars and 1 marine was killed while another was injured.
It pains me to say this, but the Marine that was killed was Corporal Aaron A. Pack, Pacman. He was with Romeo Four of the 11th Marines Counter Battery Radar. I had just left his position earlier in the day. The popping sounds I heard was the ammunition we carried in the back of our Humvees. We had just stocked up all the teams with water, ammo, MREs, etc. the day before and still had some with us. When the Humvee went up in flames, the fire caused the ammo to go off as well. No one could get near it until it was all over. Some sources say it was around noon when it happened, but I'm certain it was much later in the evening. Sources also say he was in the "radar van" but they are talking about his Humvee. He was monitoring the radio while the rest of the team was getting some hot chow. The picture I've included here shows the radar antenna trailer severely damaged at the motor pool just off to the right of another antenna trailer that was having some repair work being done.
Initially, we heard that the missile was a Chinese Silkworm but it turns out that was a cover up of a very negligent mistake. I recently read a book online titled Into the Storm, written by a Marine named Philip Thompson, a graduate of the University of Mississippi. At the time of the war, he was a Captain in the Marine Corps and assigned an artillery battalion, 1st Battalion, 12th Marines. In his book he wrote about this event.
"When I looked up, I saw a huge ball of fire about 50 yards behind my vehicle. Our Q–38 counter battery radar was completely engulfed in flames, along with the Humvee next to it. I swiveled my head around, thinking for some reason that we must be under attack from tanks. The thought didn't make sense, but it's all my mind would register. It sounded just like tank fire. I heard Marines screaming near the burning radar and saw silhouettes dashing around the flames. Somebody said there had been a Marine in the Humvee when the radar exploded."
"I walked to the impact site. The destruction was sickening. About 15 yards from the Humvee, I had to pick my way through the equipment that had been shredded by hundreds of 5.56-mm rounds that had cooked off following the explosion. An upturned Kevlar helmet demonstrated the effectiveness of its armor. Scores of bullet strikes covered the outside of the helmet, but none had penetrated. I studied the helmet, looking for a name, but found none. From the bottom of the 3 foot deep crater, I pulled the remainder of a tail fin from a H.A.R.M. missile, an American anti-radar missile. Holding the piece of American hardware was like holding a hot coal as the confirmation hit me - Corporal Pack had been killed by an American."
At this point Pacman's body was still in the vehicle. The Corpsman was ordered to retrieve the body. Once he was removed from the vehicle he was identified from his dog tags. The missile was a H.A.R.M., which was fired by a Marine A-6.
The Prayer Service
I don't know exactly when Ryder was aware of Pacman's death, but no one told me he was the one that was killed until later. All I knew at the time, was that one Marine was killed and another one was injured. I had intended to hold a prayer service anyway for the start of the Ground War, so I thought it would be good to also include the Marine that was killed. I asked Ryder if I could hold a prayer service for all of the Marines. Without turning to look at me he said, "I think that would be a good idea."
In a letter I wrote my grandmother just before the prayer service I wrote: "Hi grandma just wanted to write a few lines to say hi. I also wanted to let you know that I may not be able to write for a few days. I don't want to worry you anymore than you already are, but I have to let you know. Tomorrow morning we're moving into Kuwait. Of course, it should already be known worldwide by the time you get this. Until now, all we've been doing is airstrikes, raids, and artillery battles and we've been very successful so far. Tomorrow the actual ground wars starts. I know the danger ahead of me, and have faith that God will keep me safe. I intend to get a group of Marines in my unit together today so we can have a prayer service. Hopefully by the time you get this letter, I'll already be out of danger. Maybe the war will even be over with. Whether I am here for three months or a year, I know I'll come home safely. Tell the rest that I'll write the next available time and that they're in my thoughts and prayers. Please don't worry about me. Keep your chin up. I love you all very much."
After I finished my letter, I quickly put the word out to everyone in the area that I would be holding a prayer service in 30 minutes. Dozens of Marines gathered together. I began the prayer service by explaining to everyone that we are gathered together to ask God for His blessings as we embark on this great mission of ours. I then turned in my Bible to James 1:6: "But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." With this Scripture I stressed the importance of having a strong faith in God and believing that He would hear and answer our prayers. Perhaps I was speaking as someone who had learned the lesson of doubting my own prayers. I now had a rejuvenated faith.
I then went around the big circle that had formed around me and asked for any specific prayer requests. The requests were simple; be with our family back home, especially the family of the Marine who was just killed, keep us all safe during the Ground War, and give us a quick victory.
The whole thing only lasted about 30 minutes and everyone went back to their vehicles or fox holes. It was then that Ryder broke the news to me. I went from a complete high on the highest cloud just coming from an uplifting and inspiring prayer service, to the lowest point of my time in the Gulf. I then went from one emotion to the next in quick succession. From complete sadness, to anger, and to fear. I was sad, of course, at the loss of Pacman. He wasn't exactly my best friend, but he was a friend and fellow Marine, and I hated hearing that it happened to him. I had heard the news of other Marines being killed and it was sad, but this one was personal because it was someone I knew.
Then my feelings turned to anger. I was angry that this happened. I was angry that somebody messed up real bad. I was angry at the Iraqis and ready to get revenge because it was their fault we were here in the first place.
Then my feelings turned to fear. I sat in the same Humvee that Pacman was in when it was destroyed. If we had still been in Romeo Four's position, I might have been killed or injured. In fact, if I had been assigned to drive for Wolf instead of Ryder, that would have been me that was killed.
Needless to say, I hardly slept a wink on this night. Yet, I had to remain strong. I had to stay focused. Pacman would have wanted it that way.
“That though the radiance which was once so bright;