Desert Storm Photos, Feb-Mar 1991

I spent a couple of months deployed with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment during the war. I was stationed on Schofield Barracks in Hawaii at the time. I left a perfectly safe non-deployable unit for the wild and wooly Persian Gulf. Why? A sense of adventure mostly.

War can be viewed as the ultimate test of a person. Will you crumble? Will you cave in? Will demons and fears gnaw at you in the night? I went to the war seeking some of the answers to these questions and with the feeling that if I missed this war I might regret it for the rest of my life.

There is a certain amount of romanticism associated with war. Our culture and entertainment are full of references to it. I wanted to see where the truth was and the myth ended.

From Ft Knox to Riyadh

I left Schofield Barracks, Hawaii and went to Ft. Knox, Kentucky on 15 January 1991. I travelled with about 25 of my fellow soldiers from Hawaii. We spent A couple of days there being issued rifles, gas masks, sleeping bags, uniforms, and other implements of war. We also were treated to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" about a million times.

It was ironic to be in the snow in Kentucky when we were about to go to a Desert. From 82 degrees and rainy in Hawaii to 32 and snowing in Knox to 72, breezy and clear in Saudi Arabia. More about that later.

We got on a plane borrowed from Northwest Airlines for the war and headed off to Saudi Arabia via New York and Frankfurt. I spent 32 hours in that 747, something I hope never to repeat. We left Ft. Knox and headed to New York/JFK. I slept thru this portion.

When we got over the water and arrived in Germany there was snow everywhere. The inbound flight crew that was to take us to Saudi Arabia was delayed for 7 hours because of the snow. We tried to watch a movie, but the VCR was broken. So we sat. We couldn't leave the plane because they didn't want us to get "lost" so we had to stay in the cramped seats in full uniform with gas mask and rifle. The new flight crew finally arrived and we began the long flight across Europe and the Mediterranean to Saudi Arabia.

It turns out that one of the flight crew on the Frankfurt-Dhahran leg was from Kerrville, where my father lived, so I got to hang out with the crew for much of the flight. When we arrived in Dhahran they snapped my photo, and it ended up in the Kerville paper. Clock's ticking on that 15 minutes...

As we were flying over the Arabian penninsula, I looked out and could see smoke from gas flares on the horizon, and circles of irrigated crops growing incongruously in the middle fo the desert.

Naturally when we arrived it was the start of a new work day. I got off the plane feeling refreshed (not) and began the unloading process. Unload a couple hundred duffle bags (2 to a soldier, 350 soldiers) and rucksacks. This was something I got used to as the war went on. Being just an enlisted soldier, I was often detailed to do such grunt work, while the sergeants slacked off and smoked cigarrettes. On more than one occassion I suggested that they haul their own bags, and they just laughed at my impertinence. I would also ask for help from another enlisted soldier, and he would point to the rank on his collar, one rank above mine (almost nothing plus one still is not much) and decry that "I couldn't order him around" Get a grip. We all need to work together. I was to find this a problem as well. Selfishness is rampant in any human organization.

We stayed at the airfield for most of the day. We got a place to sit out in the open off the end of the tarmac, were served some food, and waited. Towards evening several NCOs came out and started calling off names, and we were broken up into 3 groups:

  1. Going to the XVIII Airborne Corps
  2. Going to the VII Corps
  3. Going to Headquarters at Riyadh
Naturally I figured I would go to Riyadh. That was where the most work for my sort of soldier was. Much to my surprise I found myself assigned to the XVIII Abn Corp and the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment (3rd ACR). I had never even heard of an ACR. But soon I loaded another load of bags onto a pallet and that night 65 of my closest friends packed into the jump seats of a C-130 Hercules heading off to the middle of nowhere, KKMC.


King Khalid Military City really is in the middle of nowhere. Truly BFSA. I got to catch a catnap overnight in a tent and then early the next morning we got up and moved bags (Again!) so we could head out on the bus ride of a lifetime. It was quite the trip as it took us 3 buses before we got one to work. We loaded one but it never got out of the compound before developing trouble. So we unloaded all the duffle bags and moved them to the new bus. The next bus got us 1/2 way there before the clutch started to fail and we turned back. More bag switching. I suggested we park the buses side by side and just pass the bags (loaded on the roof rack) from one to another to save the effort. Finally we got a good (?) one and headed to Log Base Charlie. Here I switched to 2.5 ton trucks and headed north. We ended up out in the middle of the "Neutral Zone" diamond that used to appear on maps of the Iraqui/Saudi border. As you can imagine, it was a rather dusty trip to be out in the back of an open truck.

Welcome to the Cav!

I was assigned to the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. We were out west, as the reconnaisance and eastern flank element of the XVIIIth Airborne Corp.

Look for the little [3] symbol!

A Cavalry Regiment has around 7,000 troops compared to an Armored Division's 20,000, yet they have the same number of tanks. A cavalry regiment also has its own helicopter, air defense, Intelligence and artillery battalions as well. What Cavalry Regiments lack are infantry and many of the support troops. The shooter to clerk ratio is very favorable in the Cav. Almost no infantry and fewer support troops make for a faster and more efficient force to find the enemy and pin them down, until the heavy divisions can lumber up and squash the enemy like a bug.

We were equipped with 125 of the latest most bad-ass piece of armor in the world (as voted by all participants in the conflict) the < ahref = "">M1-A1 HA Abrams Main Battle Tank. 72 tons of depleted uranium, steel, and aluminum. 1500 horsepower from a gas turbine. A 120 mm main gun that could shoot through BOTH sides of an Iraqi tank. 4 men made it go and the rest of us tried to keep up and keep them fueled. They use around 300 gallons of diesel fuel each per day.

M1-A1 HA Tank

Along with the Abrams tanks we had 125 of the M3 Bradley Cavalry Fighting Vehicles a generally unloved and badly engineered vehicle (and subject of a humorous Kelsey Grammer movie "The Pentagon Wars". They are equipped with a 25 mm chain gun capable of firing 300 rounds a minute of explosive or armor piercing ammunition, which is only effective against light armor or helicopters, not a full blown tank, and also sported a TOW rocket launcher for shooting tanks as well.

The Bradley is hampered because it is too lightly armed or armored to be a tank but too tall and noisy to be a stealthy personnel carrier. It truly tried to be everything and ended up pleasing noone. We had monumental failures of the fuel filters (three of them, thw most commonly plugged one was of course the one hardest to get to) and transmissions in these machines. One was in such bad shape we simply blew it in place with explosives and thermite grenades rather than trying to recover it.

Repl Depl

I was assigned to a replacement detachment to await my chance to take the spot of a fallen comrade. As we didn't "belong" anywhere we were generally left alone/neglected. 3 MREs and a canteen of water a day and lots of nothing to do except clean the latrines. That was a load of fun, truly a barrel of laughs. The latrines were pluwood structures, and in the bottom was about 1/3 of a 55 gallon oil drum. The excrement fell into the drum, and we then hauled them out of the back oif the latrine, dumped in about 5 gallons of flammables (usually Mogas or Jet A4) and burned out the excrement. The ashes were then buried in the sand. Truly crappy work.

One day a Specialist poked his head in the tent where I was staying and said "Hembrook come out here" He introduced me to a pair of Captains. They worked as liason officers and they needed an enlisted guy to drive them back and forth to other units so we could share our maps and plans. Woo Hoo! I had a job.

Liason Driver

I spent the week before G-day driving one of the aforementioned Captains around as a liason driver in a Mitsubishi Pajero. You might know it as a Dodge Raider. It was Blue & Silver Grey with a bit of green tape in the shape of an inverted "V" on each door and the hood for identification. Since the Japanese constitution (rammed down their throats by the Allies after WWII) forbade them sending troops to serve in combat (they did send some support troops), they sent money and equipment.

The 3rd ACR sat on the eastern edge of the XVIIIth Abn Corps. The unit immediately east of us was the 2nd ACR, which was stationed in Germany at the time. The 2nd ACR was the western most unit of the VIIth Corps. As a liason driver, I drove a Captain back and forth between the headquarters of the 3rd ACR and the 2nd ACR. This was about a 50 km drive through featureless desert. The general navigation technique was for us to drive about 5-10 km, stop, get out, and use a compass to get a landmark on the horizon. Then I would drive towards that landmark for another 5 km or so, and we'd check and find another landmark, and so on. Little bunny hops.

Driving across miles of featureless sand could be an adventure. Supply routes had been delineated across the desert by driving a road grader across the desert with the corner of the blade dropped in the ground to dig up a trench of sand along the route. One grader cut the left margin while a second several yards away cut the right margin. As long as you stayed between the two margins you were on the "Main Supply Route" or MSR. For a small vehicle like the Pajero, crossing over the MSR trenches was an adventure. Too slow, and you would hang. Too fast and you beat the vehicle up badly. As in many adventures in life, balance was the key.

We routinely drove the vehicles out there in 4WD mode, because the surface was loose enough to warrant it, and there was little worry about damaging the vehicle. This came in handy when you came to the occasional dust puddle. What's a dust puddle? Well, for millions of years the sand in this region has been kicked around back and forth by the winds. Eventually some of it gets ground down into dust finer than flour. This dust can accumulate into low lying areas. You don't know it until you hit one. Your front axel pops over a little ridge, adn suddenly you are awash in fine pink dust. Your best advice is to floor the accelerator pedal, straighten out the steering wheel adn hope that you have enough inertia to keep from bogging down. Windshield wipers do help a bit...

After a couple hours, we got to the 2nd ACR. We found their TOC (Tactical Operations Center, where the maps are drawn and plans made) and we would trade information, tracing their lines of battle onto our map and vice versa. After some discussions, we drove back. By this time it was getting dark, and we would drive by moonlight. Headlights were forbidden, so we would make do on our naked eye's night vision abilities. No NVGs (night vision goggles) or GPS sensors for us, just dead reckoning with the compass.

The last ten miles were navigated in pitch dark by our ears and noses. We could hear the hammering of diesel motors, generally generators, sometimes vehicles. We could also smell the tobacco smoke, diesel fuel and the smell of cooking food and garbage from quite a ways downwind. When we arrived at the edge of the base, we were stopped by a guard. The challenge/password was "Moisture" and "Packet". So the fellow asked me if I had any Moisture in my vehicle, and I replied that I had a whole packet. We were let through without incident. So many people were keyed up to get the first kill of the war, that fear of fratricide was a constant in the back of your mind. Driving a blue truck didn't help any.


G-day was the 24th of February 1991.

That's when we went thru the breaches in the berm and began a nearly 400 mile drive from the border to the Ar Rumayla oil fields and Basra in less than a week.

So did I get one of these spiffy pieces of heavy armor described above for my personal chariot to carry me to victory? Nope. When G-Day rolled around we didn't feel like getting shot for terrorists so we ditched the Pajero. I bummed a ride in a HMMWV and rode over the border in style.

The Captain I had done liason duty with was assigned to the Mapping and Plans section of the headquarters, so I ended up following him.

L to R: SFC Apgar, CPT Sprick, LTC Feil, PFC Hembrook, CPT Marshall; SPC Rook (Kneeling)

I took over driving the section's 2.5 Ton truck. The classic Army "deuce and a half." The truck was older than I was (Built by Kaiser Jeep Corporation, which merged with Nash-Rambler to form American Motors in the '60s) but worked well. Selectable 4x6 or 6x6-wheel drive with a transfer case (2:1 step down), 5-speed manual shift, and a 6-cylinder turbodiesel engine (no muffler, just a straight pipe coming up out of the front fender near the passenger's ear. You had to wear ear plugs to drive it, conversation in the cab consisted of grunts and monosyllabic words). Top speed was 56 mph in 4x6 or 28 in 6x6.

We kitted the truck and its trailer up with plywood sheets to create an office on the bed of the truck so we were kept cool and non-sandy. It towed a trailer full of maps equipment and even a blue print machine! I was in the mapping and plans section so I guess all this would come in handy.

My M35A2 2 1/2 ton truck (built ~1965) with trailer and our HMMWV. G+5

Along in the headquarters was a neat little section of 6 M577 armored offices, which would park together and set up canvas extensions to make an "office away from the office"

Whenever we moved, we would form a mini-TOC (called a Jump Toc) close to the front, where the Colonel culd monitor the progress of the action near the front lines. When we approached that location with the rest of the TOC, operations for the night transferred back to us. AS they moved forward again, we would create another Jump TOC. The transfer of key prople and information was by UH60 Blackhawk helicopters.

The War

So what happened during the war itself? Maybe this map will help:

Map of the Kuwaiti Theatre of Operations, showing dispositions and movements of the major units.

The details of the war are recounted more accurately in many other places, but the rudiments are:

The 3rd ACR was responsible for keeping the right (Easternmost) flank of the XVIII Corps safe. We spotted concentrations of troops and shot the hell out of them, or pinned them down until the heavys could get there. We were involved in some serious fighting, including some of the "Turkey shoot" along Highway 8.

The Headquarters Troop that I was in stayed very close to the front, no more than 10-20 miles behind the lead elements. This meant we were in range of artillery and missiles for most of the campaign. In fact we know of one artillery strike called in against us. It was the British! They saw a concentration of troops in the desert, and called in the coordinates. We immediately scrambled and tried to get the hell out of there before steel rained down from the sky. The artillery tubes were loaded, and the guns ready to fire when we got the fire mission called off by identifying ourselves to the British. That was close!

There was a reasonable amount of confusion during the combat. We had a M88 Armored Recovery Vehicle (Tow truck for tanks) show up in our area.

We ended up at the Ar Rumaylah Air Field, which is nar Basrah, Iraq. This base got pretty beaten up by aerial bombardment before we took over. It was also an unfortunate scene of fratricide, where a Combat Engineer Vehicle from another unit was engaged as a foe by one of our tanks, resulting in the loss of the lives of the 3 men of the CEV's crew. But at least the men of the 3rd ACR's tank received Bronze Star medals for Valor for killing the innocent Americans.

Destruction at the Ar Rumaylah airfield.

As we were driving across the countryside looking for bad guys, we got to take in the natural surroundings.

The natural terrain of the area. Not much contour.

The obligatory Camel Photo. Saw him on the way in. G+2

More camel pics. These were raised by Bedouins. G+2

The low line off to the side of the photo is a Bedouin tent city. G+2

The Aftermath

Once the hostilities were over we had to take care of and inventory a lot of captured vehicles, weapons and equipment.

I was in charge of inventorying captured small arms. The captain I worked with identified the captured vehicles. Here's some of our haul:

A 12.7mm DShK Heavy Machinegun. Standard Soviet heavy machine gun used on tanks and other vehicles.

Fifty-Seven Millimeter Recoiless Rifle. Obsolete for the most part in the west, these are shoulder or tripod ired guns that shoot gas out the back to counter the recoil forces of the projectile fired from the muzzle.

Me in the hatch of an Iraqi BMP 1 Armored Personnel Carrier. I am wearing a Iraqi tank Colonel's jacket and a russian fur lined tanker's helmet that was still neew in the box. Items on loan from another soldier who helped clear the tunnels at Ar Rumayla.G+5

We also blew up a lot of captured ammunition and bombs. These went off fairly regularly. G+8

Leaving Iraq

Driving home was pretty challenging, because things had begun to dry up and the terrain got very dusty with all of the vehicles rolling along. G+10

Waiting to exit

Coffins waiting for troops to fill them. Luckilly they were not used.

RangeR BoB

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