Gulf War Letter (March 1991)
GULF WAR LETTER (March 1991)
After forty-one days and nights of aerial bombardment, the U.S.-led Coalition began its ground war against Iraq on 23 February 1991. Saudi and other Arab forces, U.S. Marines, and the U.S. Seventh Corps pushed directly into Kuwait. To their left, other Coalition units, spearheaded by the U.S. Eighteenth Airborne Corps and 101st Air Assault Division, made a wide flanking movement through the supposedly impassable desert, advancing north from Saudi Arabia into Iraq before turning east toward Basra to encircle and trap the Iraqi army as it attempted to escape from Kuwait. Already demoralized by the air campaign, Iraq's defenders were caught completely off guard by the surprise and speed of the Coalition attack. Although a few stood and fought, most quickly fled or surrendered. By the time of the cease-fire five days later, the Coalition ground forces had advanced hundreds of miles with less than twenty hours of sleep. It was the fastest and deepest advance made by any army into enemy territory in the history of warfare. Kuwait was restored to its aristocratic ruling family, but Saddam Hussein, managing to crush rebellions in the south and Kurdish uprisings in the north, held on to Iraq. This letter, by a teenaged enlisted man of the U.S. Eighteenth Airborne Corps, provides an ordinary soldier's perspective on speed and violence of the ground war. As the writer relates, not only the Iraqis were confused by the pace of the assault. The letter also clearly reveals the overwhelming ground and aerial firepower available to the Coalition. Indeed, estimates of Iraqi losses in the fighting range from 25,000 to 100,000 or more. In contrast, only 234 Coalition soldiers were killed in action, with 479 wounded and 57 missing.
John W. I.Lee,
University of California at Santa Barbara
Okay, the Soviets have just about approved a peace resolution with Iraq. The US hates the resolution and has decided it's time to start the ground war. We were told we'd probably leave today, but possibly tomorrow. I say tomorrow at the earliest. Whenever it is, it won't be very fun.
Randy just beat me for the first time ever at chess. I turned around and beat him back. Uh oh, Carlos is here. He's making me stop, so we can play. Be back in a few.
"Be back in a few"? Sure. That was written around 7 or 8 days ago. It is now the 1st of March and as far as I can tell, the war is over.
So, what was it like? This'll take awhile. On the first day we rolled out, nothing significant happened. We drove all night and I slept maybe an hour or two. It was the second day that things started happening. We started moving at first light after stopping at around 4:30am. We came to a position and dug in. We were there for maybe an hour when someone yelled, "There they go!" I looked up and saw a rocket streaking across the sky. That launcher fired six rockets. As soon as it stopped firing, another launcher started. It was Carlos' and it fired all twelve of its rockets. I was in awe. It was the first time I had ever seen one fired and it was awesome. All of us were jumping around and smiling and laughing. I looked at Mark and said, "Ya know, we just killed a whole lot of motherfuckers." He nodded and said, "I know." First platoon also fired 6 rockets for a total of 24. Our target was a field artillery command center. The forward observer who called in the mission said simply that we had annihilated the target. Our war had started.
Nothing happened again until 3:30–4am of the 3rd day. We fired a night mission and put a hell of a lot of rockets downrange at different targets. By the time the sky started to lighten we were done and preparing to move. Why were we moving? Well, it had been discovered that we were in Iraq and elements of the Republican Guard had been sent our way. We moved and we moved fast. As were hauling ass, we passed one of the targets we had fired upon. It didn't seem like anything had happened to them—the vehicles; I could see no people. You see, what makes our rockets so deadly is that each rocket has a payload of 644 submunitions that look and explode sort of like a grenade. The rocket comes apart over the target and the submunitions are spread over an area, falling like rain. Due to this, you don't really get the blown up vehicles and buildings that cannon-artillery has. You get a swiss cheese effect. The vehicles are destroyed, but from a distance, you can't really tell. Anyway, as we're moving away from the Republican Guard, we came upon about 20 Iraqi soldiers and took them prisoner. Processing them took about 4–5hrs. We started moving again—east towards Kuwait City or as the commander put it: "East. We're just going east. I don't have a grid [location], the colonel doesn't have a grid, nobody has a fucking grid. We're just going east and watching all these motherfuckers surrender." As we convoyed east, we saw dozens of blown and burning vehicles and hundreds of Iraqi soldiers walking west waving white material in their hands. This is still the third day. Okay, here's the exciting part.
We're moving east behind a "maneuver brigade" of infantry. They're armed with Bradley fighting vehicles, Apache helicopters, M-1 tanks and other various armored vehicles. We, for some reason, caught up with and started to pass the maneuver brigade—something we aren't supposed to do. They halt us and we stop at the front of their group of vehicles. As we're waiting, we're watching the fighting around and to the front of us—all you can see and hear are the explosions. I'm near the front of the convoy and I see the Bradley at the front open fire. I thought he was firing at something far to our front. Suddenly, everyone yells take cover and "hits the dirt." I lock and load my M-16 and watch as the turret of the Bradley begins to turn as it continues firing. "Something is coming at us," I say out loud. Across the street, on the right side of our convoy, I see a truck. Tracer rounds are streaking from it and it's taking hits from the Bradley. Everyone opens fire on it. Someone fires a grenade at it and the truck rocks with the impact. It is now taking fire from about 40 soldiers and the Bradley's 25mm machine gun/cannon. The truck fish-tails, swerves to the left, and flips twice. It isn't more than 30 meters from me. I lift my rifle and put it from "safe" to "semi." An Iraqi soldier jumps out of the truck and into my sights. I take careful aim, but don't fire. He's confused and shaken, has no weapon, and is trying to surrender. Sorry, I can't shoot someone under those circumstances. A lot of people around me thought different and continued to shoot at him and the truck. Luckily, he wasn't hit. Another guy jumped out of the wreck with a rifle and kneeled down behind a wheel. He didn't last long. He probably got hit more than 40 times. I didn't fire a single round. We captured 4 and killed 8. The driver had no face and his chest was full of holes, one Iraqi had to have his foot amputated with a bayonet and died anyway, one had a mangled leg, one was shot down, and the other 2 were uninjured. About 10 minutes after we had ceased fire to take prisoners, we looked up and saw a large number of Iraqi vehicles and foot-soldiers coming at us. We turned around and retreated, leaving them to the infantry. We didn't go too far—about 5 kilo-meters. We turned into an area, set up, and started firing on the forces coming at our front. We fired nearly a hundred rockets. It was dark by now. After firing, we set up a perimeter and started to catch some sleep. Five hours later, we were up and preparing to move—it is now day four—when fire missions started coming up "over the boards." Karen, it was incredible. The next group of fire missions was just incredible. We fired from about 4–5am. Over a hundred rockets were fired. The only reason we stopped was because the cease-fire came down from the president. It turned out that we wiped out 80% of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard who had come out of nowhere. If we hadn't been there, we were told the battle would been one of the worst battles the American forces had encountered yet. Our rockets thoroughly ruined their last offensive. It is now the 6th day and we're waiting to go to Kuwait City. We were told that we can expect to be home within 3–5 days of arriving there or 2 weeks from today. Cheney has stated nearly all American forces will be out by April 1st. As far as we know, Saddam is agreeing to all 12 UN resolutions, though there is still limited resistance from elements of his own forces. An Iraqi colonel stated under interrogation that he wished we would "stop the rain." He was referring to us—MLRS. I believe it's over and that I'll be home soon.
It is now March 5. A lot has happened and a lot is waiting to happen. I just read what I'd written on the 1st. It sounds like I enjoyed what happened. I didn't. I can't explain what I feel about what happened. My battery was responsible for thousands of Iraqi casualties (dead and injured). Thousands. We fired 350+ of the 550+ rockets that were shot by my unit. Everyone is saying that MLRS and the Apache helicopters won the war for us. I just want to go home. I've seen combat. I've seen dead soldiers. It's time to go home. I'm not proud of what I took part in, but I am glad of the fact that my efforts had a lot to do with the absolutely incredibly small numbers of American dead. Mixed feelings. Also, upon rereading the beginning of this letter, I realized that I left out a whole day of fighting. We moved so much and slept so little in those 4 or 5 days that everything is blurred. It's very weird.
Well, the "war" is over. I survived.
Peace and love,
SOURCE: Aiello, Tony. Previously unpublished letter, dated 22 February/5 March 1991.