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My Gulf War: 25 years ago this month

By MIKE GLENN | Houston Chronicle | Published: March 1, 2016

HOUSTON, Texas (Tribune News Service) — On Feb. 23, 1991, President George H.W. Bush stepped before a television camera to tell an anxious America that Saddam Hussein had no intention of withdrawing the Iraqi military from Kuwait, even after a crushing month-long air campaign. Bush then ordered Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf to use American and allied ground troops to finish the job.

"The liberation of Kuwait has now entered a final phase," Bush said.

"About time," I remember thinking. "I'm tired of waiting."

A short time later, I led my platoon of cavalry troopers across a sand berm that made up the border between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. I was going to war. Finally.

I was too young for Vietnam. And when Army Rangers parachuted into Grenada, I was in Germany, painting drip pans – metal drums placed under notoriously leaky armored vehicles – as a private first class in our battalion motor pool. But I had become "an officer and a gentleman" by the time Iraq went into Kuwait. I was assigned to the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss in El Paso.

It seems strange now, in the Never Ending War on Terror, but 25 years ago, Americans didn't know much about Iraq. When we got word that our regiment would deploy, we scrambled for any kind of information. I "borrowed" a map of the Middle East from a National Geographic magazine in University of Texas at El Paso library. (Sorry about that, UTEP. I lost it somewhere in transit.) I bought an Arabic phrase book. And I even watched an execrable 1980s-era Dudley Moore/Eddie Murphy movie called "Best Defense" because it featured an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as part of the plot. As a piece of military intelligence, it was not particularly illuminating.

About six months later, I rolled into Iraq as the fire support officer for Eagle Troop. My job was to call in artillery and air strikes to support the mission of our M1 tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. I wasn't worried about getting killed or wounded – I've always been a gambler and was confident I would emerge unscathed – but I was afraid that one of my soldiers could get hurt because of some failure on my part. (Thankfully, the 100-Hour Ground War created no widows or orphans in my platoon's family back home.)

During our waiting period on the border, we were finally issued maps, but in a desert with few terrain features like mountains or rivers, they were mostly numbered lines on paper. Instead, an early version of your smart-phone GPS, called the Small Lightweight GPS Receiver – or "Slugger" – proved to be one of the most critical pieces of hardware of the entire campaign. It was about the size of a Tom Clancy novel and yielded only flickering map coordinates, but we regarded the device with awe.

It allowed our regiment to move more than 300 kilometers through the desert, leaving the shattered remnants of three Iraqi Republic Guard Divisions in our wake. During peacetime, we 'd always bagged our trash while training in the field. But during the ground campaign in Iraq, we left a trail of garbage behind our columns that would have allowed anyone at all to follow us: Just follow the discarded MRE boxes and cans of Skoal.

My regiment was part of the "Left Hook" that you might remember from CNN. We didn't rumble into Kuwaiti as conquering heroes. Our mission took us straight into Iraq, then we made that dogleg turn and eventually slammed into Hussein's fleeing troops.

The first time we came up against Iraqi soldiers who didn't immediately surrender, my initial reaction was: "These guys are trying to kill me. I don't even know them!"

We swept them away quickly.

Those who surrendered survived.

It was as brutally simple as that.

Part of our regimental mission was to scout ahead, so we continued moving forward, deeper into Iraq. I don't remember sleeping during the entire ground war. I was kept awake by a combination of adrenaline, chewing tobacco and coffee grounds, which I ate like candy.

The regiment moved through the oil fields that Hussein had ordered set ablaze in a foolish attempt to hinder our movement. The skies were black as night.

Our last fight – the biggest one – actually occurred after the February 28 ceasefire. The Regiment attacked the Ar-Rumaylah Southwest Air Base near Basra. As our tanks continued their fight against the Iraqi armored units, I led my platoon in a mission to clear a series of tunnels surrounding the field. They were miserable affairs, dirty and filled with garbage and puddles of stagnant water.

Once again, most of the Iraqi soldiers who had been living in them gave up, but some didn't. Those who refused to surrender never left the tunnels.

We pulled the enemy soldiers out and began to separate the enemy officers from the enlisted soldiers. We also captured a trailer that a Republican Guard colonel had been using for his much more comfortable living quarters.

We handed over the POWs but kept the trailer. We tried to drag it back with us all the way to Saudi Arabia. It eventually broke apart during the journey so one of our armored wrecker vehicles flattened it like a pancake.

And that was the end of my war.

Bookmark Gray Matters. It's a combination of adrenaline, chewing tobacco and coffee grounds.

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