Gulf War veterans share wartime experiences



    Thirty-two thousand United States soldiers are stationed in the Middle East — nearly double the forces normally amassed in the area — awaiting word on whether Saddam Hussein will follow through on his agreement with U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan, according to the New York Times News Service.

    Less than eight years ago, Major Cortney Brewerton of the United States Air Force, currently an instructor at the BYU ROTC, also found himself stationed in Saudi Arabia as the United States and allies beefed up forces during Desert Shield.

    Brewerton said the soldiers stationed in the Persian Gulf are likely to face the same challenges soldiers in Desert Shield faced — a lot of waiting and thoughts of home.

    Brewerton was among the first to arrive in the Gulf, he said. His plane landed Aug. 26, 1990, to nothing more than a few tents and cots set up on the desert. He watched during the following months as reinforcements arrived and the site became fully operational.

    Brewerton said the men he served with felt confident in their training. However, it was unsettling not knowing what was happening at home.

    “It’s the uncertainty of what’s going on back home with (the soldiers’) families, their wives, their kids, their husbands,” he said. “And they have some time on their hands” to think about them.

    Brewerton, who served as the chief of intelligence for the 23rd fighter wing, said he spent much of the time filling sandbags alongside other soldiers.

    During the first couple days in Desert Storm, the stillness turned to frenzy with nightly scud attacks, he said.

    “After the first couple days of the war, you just got into a routine just like you do in peace time, with the knowledge that now lives are in your hands.”

    Like Brewerton, Army Captain Richard Root served as an intelligence officer during Desert Storm, providing information about the terrain and enemy positioning to the unit. As a second lieutenant, Root worked the night shift of the 24-hour watch.

    “As it got closer to the time of the war … we moved our operations center every two to three days,” he said. “As it got closer to Feb. 28, we moved it every day or twice a day.”

    Root, also an instructor at the ROTC, said although he was getting little or no sleep, he had been well prepared. The push-ups, sit-ups, endurance running and sleep regimen of pre-combat training ensured the troops’ physical preparedness, he said.

    Root said it was more difficult to prepare for the emotional stress.

    “Only a fool’s not afraid of combat,” he said. “As I was putting on my equipment and getting ready to get in the vehicle to go (the first day of the war) … it did cross my mind that `today’s a good day to die.'”

    Root said most of the soldiers in his unit felt they were doing the right thing.

    “We were there for the right reasons. We were supporting the president. We don’t make policy, we just enforce it. (But) it’s not something you wish for.”

    Captain William Boucher, also an ROTC instructor, said the soldiers are not the only ones under stress during wartime. Boucher, who worked with the civil affairs psychological operations command at Fort Brag during Desert Storm, watched over 340 families who had a family member serving in the Middle East.

    Boucher said people don’t realize the amount of trauma the spouses and families of soldiers undergo.

    “Mom has to be confident. Mom has to be the stabilizing force (when her husband is at war),” he said. “The kids are asking questions … and you can’t lie. You can’t push it off. They need answers.”

    Boucher watched as Fort Brag sent approximately 40,000 of their 50,000 to the Middle East.

    Boucher recalled one 19-year-old who had just completed training. After four days of processing at Fort Brag, he was put on a plane to the Persian Gulf.

    “Within a week, he was probing his way out of an Iraqi mine field.”

    Boucher said he was concerned for each soldier that was deployed.

    “For every soldier, there are parents who have entrusted them to your care and you just pray that you’ve done your job right.”

    Boucher, Brewerton and Root agreed that one of the most emotional traumas of war is dealing with death.

    Brewerton said the death of a friend, due to enemy fire, was his most difficult period.

    Crossing the Iraq border and seeing mutilated bodies strewn across the street was very emotional, Root said.

    And Boucher recalled the loss of one soldier whose four-month old daughter passed away while he was deployed.

    “The price a soldier pays is often overlooked,” Boucher said. “They go and do a job that is not necessarily a popular one — not everybody agrees with them — but they go and do it because they swore an oath to their country and their constitution to do that, regardless of the personal sacrifices that they and their families make.”

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