Marines remember the 100-hour war known as Desert Storm

28 Jan 2001 | Sgt. Andrew D. Pomykal

Do you remember where you were 10 years ago? For three Camp Lejeune Marines, the memories are quite vivid. They were part of the first allied infantry force to enter Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm.

In the hours before the attack, 7th Marine Regimental Chaplain Lt. Cdr. Joseph Matoush quoted from Shakespeare's "Henry V."

"We few...we happy few...we band of brothers," then pausing, the chaplain added, "and if Shakespeare were alive today, he'd probably add, 'Let's go kick some

These rousing words bolstered the motivation of the Marines and Sailors of the regiment who had spent months training for the mission at hand.

It started May 3, 1990, as a routine six-month deployment to the Western Pacific for 3d Battalion, 7th Marines. Initially destined for Okinawa, Japan, they were summoned to the Philippines to defend U.S. bases in the area during uprisings in the country instead. They also assisted in earthquake relief efforts there that summer. They eventually flew to Okinawa and Korea where they participated in Exercise Valiant Blitz '90.

After their return to the "Rock" (Okinawa), they were notified that the deployment would be extended and they would join allied forces in Southwest Asia to take part in Operation Desert Shield.

The warriors arrived as a foot-mobile infiltration force in Al Jubayl, Saudi Arabia Jan. 13, 1991. They rehearsed for four weeks to breach known enemy minefields set before them.

"It was easy to train for foot-mobile ops because we're grunts and we didn't have any of our vehicles anyway," said an unidentified 3/7 Marine during an interview by I Marine Expeditionary Force Public Affairs in 1991.

After the battalion's vehicles and other equipment arrived, they were transported to the 1st Marine Division staging area at Al Qaraah Air Field, which was basically a dirt airstrip located in Northern Saudi Arabia.

The battalion established a defensive position near the airfield for about a week. Then Task Force Grizzly, comprised mainly of 2/7 and 3/7, moved to replace Task Force Shepard, which was along a berm near the Saudi/Kuwaiti border Feb. 16.

"We sat in our holes for about a month, conducting security patrols and listening to Baghdad Betty (a moniker given to a local radio personality by Marines)," recounted 1st Sgt. Gary G. Arnold of Headquarters Company, 8th Marine Regiment. In 1991, then Staff Sgt. Arnold was a Dragon section leader, Weapons Company, 3/7.

"Tobacco products were scarce," the Carthage, N.Y., Marine said. "Copenhagen was going for twenty dollars a can."

"We got mail regularly, but the care packages had been [rummaged through] by the time they got to us," said Staff Sgt. Scott R. Kerrick of Battalion Landing Team 1/8. The Paris, Ill. Marine was a lance corporal and one of Arnold's Dragon gunners at that time.

"It was easy to become complacent," Arnold said. He added they joked about the sporadic and seemingly errant, enemy artillery fire. "A round would occasionally drop some distance away, we'd laugh and say, 'There is our round for the week.'"

At that position, 3/7 had become the lead element of all U.S. forces, according to battalion officials. "We were the tip of the spear," said Arnold.

The battalion moved again three days before the ground offensive began and became the first allied infantry force to enter Kuwait.

"We weren't issued desert cammies until the night of the assault," Arnold said. " We finally got the (desert) boots right before flying out of Kuwait."

Task Force Grizzly was to breach the first of two minefields and clear out enemy resistance along the left flank of another assault element, Task Force Ripper.

From the border, a 20-kilometer hump (march) took them within five kilometers south of the minefield they were to breach when the ground offensive began.

"That was forty-five miles in three days in MOPP (mission-oriented protective posture) level two," said Arnold, referring to precautions taken against an Iraqi chemical agent attack.

This was part of an eight-day traverse over the rocks and deep, desert sand with heavy combat loads. Most of the Marines carried more than 100 lbs. of mission-essential equipment and weapons in addition to their personal gear, according to Arnold.

While reconnaissance elements of Grizzly probed the minefield for avenues through, forward observers were hit by enemy artillery fire while calling in air strikes on Iraqi bunker complexes.

Marines from the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion prepared line charges and were escorted by amphibious assault vehicles and tanks with mine plows to clear a lane for the battalion.

"It looked like an airport runway. They used Chem-lites to mark the sides of the path," said Arnold.

Iraqi soldiers surrendered without incident and their commander volunteered the positions of other adjacent companies. He also informed the Marines of another unknown minefield about one kilometer to the north. The commander said he believed its purpose was to keep his troops from fleeing when the invasion began.

Once through, Grizzly moved 12 kilometers further north and established defensive positions.

"We were physically exhausted from humping," recalled Arnold.

"In the beginning, when halted and given the word to dig in, we would dig deep positions. By that time, we'd just barely scrape in," said Kerrick.

Their mission wasn't over yet. After blasting through the second minefield, they headed deeper into Kuwait territory toward Al Jabar Air Base, which was thought to be the main command post for all enemy forces there.

Task Force Grizzly was transported March 25 to the base by trucks. They cleared the buildings of more than 200 enemy soldiers and found Iraqi armored personnel carriers and Russian T-72 tanks, which had been battered by allied fire.

The assault on the base was halted due to the noxious plume of black smoke emitted from the nearby burning oil field. It choked out the daylight and made maneuvering at night impossible.

"At night, it was so dark, I couldn't see my hand in front of my face," Arnold said.

"Night-vision devices wouldn't even work due to lack of ambient light," said Kerrick.

Even though critics hail the success of the assault, the Marines didn't secure the air base without suffering causalities.

Lance Cpl. Christian J. Porter of Headquarters and Service Company was killed by heavy machinegun fire while driving his 5-ton truck during the breach assault.
"Another five-ton and two amtracs were hit also," said Kerrick. '"The truck's axles split from the impact."

Shrapnel from enemy artillery rounds struck down India Company's Lance Cpl. Brian L. Lane during the assault on Al Jabar.

"Their deaths were hard to accept," said Master Sgt. Kevin D. Pettway. His friend, Staff Sgt. Keith A. Craig, who hailed from Pettway's hometown of Holly, Mich., was one of 11 Marines wounded.

When asked whether either ever feared for their own mortality, their answers were similar.

"We just stayed focused on the mission," said Pettway, now the chief instructor at Marine Combat Training Battalion, Camp Geiger.

"I was more concerned for my Marines," said Arnold.

Maybe it was a superstitious belief in a "Voodoo stick" the Marines created that kept their spirits high.

"We all put something on that stick for luck. I stuck one of my chevrons on the top of it," Arnold said.

The day following the attack on the air base, President George Bush announced the cease-fire.

"It was a a burden lifted off my shoulders," Pettway said.

The battalion prepared to return home and departed Al Jabar March 4.

"My count was fifty-three days without a shower," recalled Arnold. "We were all covered with sand and black soot from the oil fires."

During the hour-long refueling layover in Shannon, Ireland, the airport pub was opened for the Marines to quench their thirst.

"The reception was phenomenal," said Arnold of his March 9 return to March Air Force Base in California. "Thousands of cheering people lined the road from March to Twentynine Palms."

"They'd yell 'Congratulations!' and 'Job well done!' and hand us pizza, chicken and beer through the bus windows," said Pettway. "I felt really proud to be an American...a Marine."

Upon reflection on the events that occurred nearly 10 years ago, their answers were indicative of true Marine esprit de corps.

"I did what I had to do as a Marine. We had a mission to do," said Pettway.

"It was just our job," Arnold said. "I'm glad I came home."