Gulf War vet reflects on 30th anniversary of conflict through his photography

Soldiers with Bravo Company, 27th Engineer Battalion, march on Christmas Day, 1990 during Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia.


By STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 14, 2021

Three decades ago, Kirby Lee Vaughn prepared to cross into Iraq as part of Operation Desert Storm.

The Army sergeant had brought his Canon T-70 camera into the desert to capture the experiences of his unit, which would spend a week in Iraq during the U.S.-led invasion that destroyed the army of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.



“We always saw him with the camera,” recalled his commander, William E. Rapp, now a retired major general. The photos Vaughn took sat untouched for years, but recently he developed photo books to remember Operation Desert Storm, which started 30 years ago in Iraq's early hours of Jan. 17, 1991.

The following is an email from Vaughn to Stars and Stripes:

“Hard to believe it’s been 30 years. No better way to celebrate such an anniversary than with a photo essay featuring the best shots I took during my six-month deployment.

I first picked up a camera in the summer of 1985 shortly after reporting to my first duty station. Germany was paradise after winter basic training at Fort Leonard Wood. Now a driver of a 5-ton dump truck with tool-trailer and 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, and we would see the country.



I saw other guys taking pictures, and I was hooked on photography from day one. The idea to photograph my military service came to me like a close-up shot of a flash bulb in an (Oliver) Stone flick. I had the perfect view up high behind the wheel. I was surrounded by scenery, and a cool group of guys, and the newness of it all made it that more photogenic. I’ve been shooting ever since. After Germany, Fort Dix. Then Korea just in time for the ’88 Summer Olympics. Followed by Airborne School then (Fort) Bragg where I made 20 jumps.

The day after the invasion into Kuwait I approached my chain of command with the idea of me photographing the unit for posterity. With one camera, one lens and foot locker film I would take some of most epic photographs from the war as a sergeant in Bravo Company, 27th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade.”



Sgt. Kirby Lee Vaughn, of Bravo Company, 27th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps, takes photos during Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia in 1990.