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Commanders reflect on Gulf War lessons

By CHUCK WILLIAMS | Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga. | Published: February 27, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — Four retired commanders were on Fort Benning Friday to talk to current Army leaders about the lessons learned in the first Gulf War, which was fought 25 years ago.

Retired Maj. Gen. Walter Wojdakowski, a former commanding general of Fort Benning, summed up the fight neatly.

"To me it wasn't Desert Storm," said Wojdakowski, who commanded the 197th Infantry Brigade. "From my battalion's view, it was the 'Perfect Storm.'"

This is the third such leadership forum held under the direction of Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, commander of the Army Maneuver Center of Excellence. Late last year, veterans from the Battle of Mogadishu and the Vietnam War were brought to Fort Benning to talk to officers and noncommissioned officers about lessons learned in those conflicts.

Those battles were more bloody for the U.S. than the Gulf War.

"You are talking to the victors after the fight," Miller said. "What you don't realize is they didn't know how this was going to turn out at the time. They anticipated U.S. carnage on a grand scale."

It never happened, and U.S. forces quickly overwhelmed the Iraqi army.

It has been almost 25 years to the day since the U.S. declared victory in the first Persian Gulf War, also known as Desert Storm. U.S. and Allied Forces liberated Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion under Saddam Hussein.

An extensive air assault began in mid-January 1991 and, by late February, the Iraqi army was under siege.

The elite Iraqi Republican Guard mounted a defense in southeastern Iraq, but most were defeated by Feb. 27, 1991. President George H.W. Bush declared a cease-fire on Feb. 28, ending the Gulf War after four days of ground fighting.

One of the issues the commanders had to deal with that wasn't anticipated was the enemy surrendering in large numbers.

"We were woefully unprepared for enemy POWs," Richard said. "We were marching 300 or more POWs back through land mines. The confusion factor was a alive and well."

One of the critical components of the war was to integrate a Marine Division with an Army Brigade and make it one fighting force. That job fell on now retired

Maj. Gen. Ronald Richard, who commanded the 2nd Marine Division during the attack, and retired Army Lt. Gen. John Sylvester, who was a colonel who commanded the 2nd Armor Division, known as the Tiger Brigade.

The Marines had to learn to work with the soldiers and vice versa.

"You have got to work at understanding the other services' strong points and weak points," Richard told the active-duty troops. " Some of you out here are going to have lay down an Army organized division one day. That fell on me and I had no experience in that, and that is why I leaned on Col. Sylvester and Tiger Brigade."

Sylvester said when the Army "chopped" his soldiers under Marine command it was imperative to work together.

"They say that necessity is the mother of invention," Sylvester said. "Necessity is the mother of improvisation, especially when you get thrown into a strange situation."

Miller cautioned those under his command that the lesson of the 2nd Marine Division and Tiger Brigade was an important one.

"When you are integrating with other services, I have found that those other services – particularly Marines – are more accepting of us then we are of them," Miller said.

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