My Other Life: Operation Desert Storm and Beyond
It was December 1988 and my wife and I had been married for four months. I was almost done with my AA degree at Rick College and we were tossing around ideas about how to pay for more school. In February 1989 I enlisted in the U.S. Army as a “Private First Class” – already three ranks from the bottom because I had an AA degree.
I thought I was rich. I will never forget going through Boot Camp in Fort Knox, KY and my drill sergeant telling us, “You just wait! Very soon you will find yourselves in a real-world conflict. So, NOW is the time to train!” I took the training seriously, but I did NOT take his prediction seriously. Not one year later I found myself in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert waiting for Operation Desert Storm to start. Yes, I also found myself thanking that Drill Sergeant for making us take our training seriously.
I was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division based out of Fort Stewart, GA. I was trained as a Personnel Administration Specialist in a Field Artillery unit. The 24th ID was a “Rapid Deployment” all-mechanized force with a desert mission. After about seven months of digging fox holes and waiting to see if any political strategies would somehow succeed in getting the Iraqis out of Kuwait, we got word that the Air Force had started to drop bombs on the Iraq forces occupying Kuwait, as well as along the Saudi border. This announcement came at 3 a.m. on January 17, 1991.
We knew that this was finally the beginning of the end. We were ready to do whatever we needed to do to get the mission accomplished so that we could go home to our families. After a few weeks of bombing, the ground units were given their orders to move in and finish the job. This order resulted in what is commonly referred to as the 100-hour war. The ground units moved so quickly, and performed so effectively that our objectives were met within 100 hours of receiving the order.
One of the most sobering but fulfilling experiences I during this time was an opportunity to help several Iraqi soldiers who had just been “hit” by our infantry and left for dead. My convoy was about 10 minutes behind the front lines as we were moving quickly towards the Euphrates River Valley to cut off the Iraqi Republican Guard. This was our primary objective. There was a large Iraqi supply convoy in our way and they were quickly destroyed. However, there were four soldiers that were still alive, although gravely wounded, by the time my convoy came upon them. In addition to my primary training I was trained as a Combat Medic. My convoy commander gave me permission to move in close to this huddled clump of Iraqi soldiers to assess the situation and see if there was anything we could do for them. As I approached with a couple of other soldiers to provide security, I could see that the situation was very serious.
We were allowed to get on the radio and request medical evacuation by helicopter. While we waited for our helicopters to arrive, we did a quick triage and started treating them. We applied bandages and tourniquets, started IV’s, and gave them water. The helicopters came quickly and “dusted them off” to the rear where our tented combat support hospitals were set up – about a 30 minute helicopter ride from where we were. We later got word that all four of these Iraqi soldiers survived after being evacuated and treated by our medical guys. I was given an Army Commendation Medal for my involvement in this particular event in rendering medical assistance to those Iraqi soldiers. It was a very satisfying end to a very emotional experience.
After the first Gulf War I was released from active duty and came to Utah State University were I received an ROTC scholarship and went on to complete my BA and MS degrees in Psychology. In 1993 I was honored to be recognized by the Psychology Department for “Special Achievement” for my military service. I am grateful for the experiences I had in My Other Life in the military. These experiences are a special part of me and have made me a better human being and a more qualified professional in my current life.
Norm Ames is the associate director of the Mountain Plains Regional Resource Center (MPRRC), which is administered by the Center for Technical Assistance for Excellence in Special Education (TAESE), a division of Utah State University’s Center for Persons with Disabilities.