It hardly seems possible that it's been nearly two decades. It was August 2nd, 1990 when word went out that Iraqi forces had crossed the border and occupied the nation of Kuwait. The world was outraged, the U.S was compelled to demand an Iraqi withdrawal. It didn't happen.
Within a week American forces started to deploy to neighboring Saudi Arabia. Soon a coalition of dozens of nations was formed and Operation Desert Shield was underway. U.N resolutions 660 and 662 condemned the invasion and demanded the withdrawal, and the restoration of Kuwait's government. On November 29th 1990, the U.N Security Council stated that if Hussein did not withdraw his forces by January 15th, 1991, the coalition could remove them by military force.
I was working at KSWO TV in Lawton, Oklahoma during all of this. Lawton is a nice small town best known as the home of Fort Sill. There were about 80,000 people living in Lawton at the time, about 10,000 of them were deployed as part of Operation Desert Shield. Fort Sill was home of the Three Corps Field Artillery, they operated howitzers and other big guns, including the multiple launch rocket system. That was a weapon so devastating the Iraqis would nickname it "Steel Rain".
I was slated to go to Iraq late that autumn to link up with Fort Sill Soldiers and report on their work in Saudi Arabia. The paperwork was done, permission granted, passport secured..then that January 15th deadline loomed too close and Fort Sill leaders told us that the Pentagon had declared no more local media crews allowed. The January 15th deadline passed. Iraqi forces did not withdraw.
Early on January 17th a Shield became a Storm. Remember seeing that night vision video on CNN? There were all those tracer rounds fired from the ground, all the explosions from bombs dropped on Baghdad. That was when CNN had all of us glued to our TV's. I was in someone's house doing an interview for a story on January 17th. Peter Jennings cut in on ABC (my station was an ABC affiliate) and announced that we were a nation at war. I remember how strange that felt. We had been at war in Vietnam when I was a young child, but it seemed like something that wouldn't happen again. Now it feels like we're all used to it.
I remember staying up all night and watching all the continuous coverage on all the networks. I remember going to work and doing non-stop stories with the families of men and women who were now fighting a war we were all able to watch. It was surreal. Luckily it was quick. Remember? Air superiority was declared almost immediately. On February 24th ground forces moved into Kuwait, and by February 27th, Kuwait City was declared liberated. The ground forces moved into Iraq, The U.S. decided to halt the war, and it was all but over.
In early March the Fort Sill soldiers started coming home. The first group arrived on what was, I believe, a Saturday afternoon. That day is one of my most memorable in 20 years of broadcasting. The crowd on post was huge and happy. Everyone was overjoyed that the warriors were headed home. When they arrived we broke into programming live for at least an hour. I remember talking over the live picture of the plane as it taxied to the greeting area. The joy of those families when soldiers were finally back in the arms of loved ones is hard to describe. I remember thinking about similar scenes I had watched as a child, of Vietnam vets running into the arms of their families on their return home. The mood of the nation was so different, so much better this time.
I interviewed several returning heroes and their families that day, and I was moved by their safe return after what they had all done for all of us. That evening I even convinced one young officer to let me report live from his living room, with his family, during our ten 0'clock newscast. That was one of my favorite stories.
There were many homecoming ceremonies to follow that spring, all of them were great to witness and to cover as a journalist. One of my best friends served in Desert Storm, I even got to interview him the day he left, as he got on a plane for the Middle East (he was stationed at an Air Force Base not far from Lawton). That was one of the best and hardest stories I've ever done. Maybe I'll write about that next year.
There are homecomings and deployments and memorial services now on an all-too-regular basis. The homecomings are still inspiring. Some may question the wars in which we're involved now, but no one can question the dedication and courage of the men and women who, then as now, leave the comfort of home for the war zones.
The first Gulf War was different, in and out with relatively few coalition casualties, and it all ended so quickly.
It all started with that invasion, on this date, 19 years ago.
We'll talk again soon.
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