Remembering The First Gulf War, 20 Years On

Guests

Douglas MacGregor, U.S. Army colonel (ret.)
Jay Stout, U.S. Marine Corps lieutentant colonel (ret.)

In August of 1990, Saddam Hussein's army marched into Kuwait, prompting the launch of Operation Desert Storm. American and coalition forces crushed the Iraqi military, but stopped short of toppling Hussein — a move some critics say set the stage for the current war in Iraq. Two veterans of Desert Storm look back at the legacy of the first Gulf War.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Twenty years ago, American forces started a massive buildup in response to Saddam Hussein's invasion and occupation of Kuwait. Before it was over, more than half a million Americans found themselves in the Saudi desert or aboard an armada in the Persian Gulf, alongside large contingents from, among many other countries, Britain, France, Egypt and Syria.

After six months of military and diplomatic preparation, a U.S.-led air attack paralyzed Iraq's forces, which were then swept out of Kuwait in 100 hours of ground combat.

It's been called by several different names: Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm, the First Gulf War, the Mother of All Battles. In retrospect it's hard not to see it as the first part of a conflict that continues to this day.

Today we want to hear from those of you who served in the First Gulf War. What did you do, and 20 years on, how did that change your life? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, everybody expects the real estate market to recover - eventually - but will your house ever be the gold-plated investment it used to be?

But first, Gulf War I, and we begin with retired Colonel Douglas Macgregor. He's the author of "Warrior's Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting" and joins us here in Studio 3A. Colonel, nice to have you with us again.

Colonel DOUGLAS MACGREGOR (U.S. Army, Retired): Thank you.

CONAN: And when did you first land in Saudi?

Col. MACGREGOR: Well, it was November of 1990. We had finally been alerted that we would go at the end of September, beginning of October. It was formally announced in November, and then I and a small group of officers from my unit went on an advance party.

We flew to Saudi Arabia and began to look at where we were probably going to deploy and operate.

CONAN: And at that point did you have any idea what kinds of operations you were in for?

Col. MACGREGOR: Yes. We knew very, very early that we had one mission, which was ultimately to find and destroy the Republican Guard Corps.

CONAN: And this was how the then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, put it quite succinctly...

General COLIN POWELL (Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Our strategy to go after this army is very, very simple. First, we're going to cut it off and then we're going to kill it.

CONAN: And the heart of that army, the tip of the spear, was the Republican Guard. There were plenty of other units as well.

Col. MACGREGOR: Well, there were, but it was really the only truly battle-worthy force. It was about 80 to 100 thousand men, and another 25 or 30 thousand remained in Baghdad because they were also the regime's guardian, if you will.

They had the best equipment. They were the ones with some training that actually could present some resistance. The rest of the force was really conscripted, over the objections, in many cases, of the people living in the country.

CONAN: And despite the confidence you heard there from then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, there was considerable skepticism about military prospects. This was an army that was quite large. It had just emerged at least semi-victorious from eight years of conflict with Iran. So these were battle-hardened veterans.

Col. MACGREGOR: Well, unfortunately, there was a tendency to impute to the Middle East and to the Arab armies and to the Iraqis in particular a degree of capability that never existed.

We ignored the historical record. We pretended that they had fought on a scale of European forces when they hadn't. As one lieutenant that was with me at the time said: What are all these generals and politicians worried about? No European force has been defeated by an Arab force for at least 600 years.

CONAN: Yet one of the first things you learned in command school, I'm sure, is never underestimate your enemy.

Col. MACGREGOR: Yeah, but you should also guard against inflating him and spreading fear and concern when there's no real reason for it, and I am afraid that's what happened.

CONAN: And so there was great concern about casualties and great concern about the length of these operations. As I understand it, you guys stockpiled for 60 days' worth of operations.

Col. MACGREGOR: Well, we were very heavily equipped. I think, again, the generals and the politicians, their frame of reference has always been, and continues to be, sadly, World War II. We have a bad habit of treating every operation as though we're going to re-fight the Second World War. And that was true in 1990 and '91.

CONAN: We want to hear from those of you who were part of Desert Shield, Desert Storm, the First Gulf War, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Let's start with Ken, and Ken's calling from Vicksburg, Mississippi.

KEN (Caller): Actually, it's Vicksburg, Michigan.

CONAN: Oh, excuse me. I saw the MI and Vicksburg and leapt to a conclusion.

KEN: Yeah, not a problem. It happens all the time. Yes, I was a military family physician in Fort Lewis, Washington. During the air war we were told that they needed a push package of 110 physicians to replace those docs they thought they were going to die in the first week of the ground war, and they needed two family doctors to be part of it.

I was picked out of a hat as one of those two doctors, rushed over there through training and actually arrived on the night before the invasion. It's - of course in that sort of situation your family doesn't know where you are and - but all she knew is that I was going through the war.

And fortunately, of course, we didn't have the casualties we expected, and I stayed on for the refugee operations over the next three months.

CONAN: Obviously the communications with your family, this - people forget it was the dawn of the age of the cell phone. They were just coming out, and there were satellite telephones that were also just coming out which could reliably be counted on to fail after about 15 minutes.

KEN: Yeah, we did not - I did not have any way to talk to my wife until 10 days after the 100-hour war, and she saw CNN reports of doctors stepping on landmines and spent a couple of nights waiting for the black sedan to show up. But fortunately after they set up a satellite phone session and four hours of standing in line, I was able to talk to her.

CONAN: And Ken, in retrospect, how did it change your life?

KEN: Well, you know, I could actually say I had seen what it was, although my experience is far less than many of my colleagues who are over there today who I keep up with by email.

Yeah, it's something you don't take lightly, but if you have to do it, I am very confident that we're capable of doing it. I still don't think that our media has learned that our military power is more than just bullets. I think we do a great deal more with the services we provide and showing people the love of the American soldier.

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much for the call, appreciate it.

KEN: All right, God bless.

CONAN: Also with us today, retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jay Stout, who flew 37 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm. He wrote the book "Hornets Over Kuwait." He joins us from the studios of member station KPBS in San Diego. Nice to have you with us.

Lieutenant Colonel JAY STOUT (U.S. Marine Corps, Retired): Thank you, sir.

CONAN: And Hornets, of course, a reference to the F/A-18.

Lt. Col. STOUT: It is.

CONAN: And you were a Marine Corps fighter pilot, and when you got there, did you expect to see combat?

Lt. Col. STOUT: I did. It sounds a little bit trivial, but nobody likes to prepare 10 years or more for the big game and never get to play. Of course once folks are starting to shoot at you, you start to reconsider that attitude.

CONAN: Indeed. What was it like the first time you had to fly into enemy air defenses?

Lt. Col. STOUT: I'll tell you, I was absolutely terrified. You'll remember the TV shots on CNN and the other networks of these great streams of anti-aircraft fire and surface-to-air missile salvos, and it was impressive to see on the TV.

Now, when you're up there, again, I was so scared my stomach was upset. But I'll tell you that being a first-rate air power, the training of the United States aviators was such that my hands took over.

The training was so good, I put the airplane where it needed to be, the bombs went where they were supposed to go, and I got safely back on deck.

So again, I think it's important to understand that then and now, the United States taxpayer is getting quite a bit of value for their defense dollar.

CONAN: You spoke about getting back on deck - obviously based on one of the aircraft carriers. I think there were six in the Gulf at the time?

Lt. Col. STOUT: Six. I think at one point there were seven. When I say back on the deck, that is Navy and Marine-speak for the deck of a ship, as well as back on the ground. I was actually based in Bahrain.

CONAN: In Bahrain. So you were flying out of one of the islands in the Gulf there, and obviously a state that was the target of Scud missiles. I wanted to ask you both: Have you ever been on the receiving end of a Scud?

Col. MACGREGOR: Oh no.

CONAN: That was Colonel Macgregor.

Col. MACGREGOR: No, no, the Scud missiles were really designed for large, fixed targets. And in fact, the largest single loss of American life in uniform occurred when a Scud warhead fell on over 100 people near an airbase.

So those kinds of weapons are not designed to attack combat troops in the field, who are generally too dispersed to make it worthwhile.

CONAN: Some of them were fired, though, at Bahrain.

Lt. Col. STOUT: Yes, they were, and I can tell you at Shaikh Isa Air Base we were the target of a few Scuds, and the sounds of not only the Scuds but the Patriot missile batteries that engage them woke me up one night to the point where I was up in the ceiling, dug in with my nails. It was atrociously loud.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Jack, Jack with us from St. Louis.

JACK (Caller): Hi. I was just going to comment based on the earlier discussion, about the equipment that the Iraqis, the Republican Guards were using in particular.

I was in the 3rd Infantry Division, in the Seventh Corps, and I was an infantry lieutenant and a platoon leader, and I studied, you know, four years in college and a year at Fort Benning all about the equipment that the Soviets use, which was mostly what the Republican Guard had.

You know, and you're scared of it. You know, you hear about the ranges and the capabilities, and the first time I saw it in person, I was really surprised at how antiquated it was.

Their ballistic charts for the main guns were all kind of like riveted to the turrets, whereas we were using computerized laser range-finders, and everything in the Bradley and the Abrams tank was much more sophisticated.

So I just wanted to, you know, share that thought.

CONAN: Jack, thank you. And Colonel Macgregor?

Col. MACGREGOR: Well, I think that the caller makes a good point, but I would hasten to point out that we were facing equipment manned by Arabs, not Russians, not Ukrainians, East Europeans who are obviously infinitely more capable, better educated, more comfortable with technology.

The Israelis tried repeatedly to tell us that we had almost nothing to fear because they knew from experience that the Arab tankers couldn't shoot anything that was more than 500 meters in front of them and they could absolutely not hit anything that moved.

But again, we decided to dismiss - that is, at high levels - what the Israelis were saying, and that was a serious mistake. So again, we went into this on the assumption we were dealing with the Soviet Union. We weren't. We were dealing with an Arab army.

CONAN: If you were to take Jay Stout's comparison of, well, preparing 10 years to play the big game, you went in but you played the B team.

Col. MACGREGOR: Yes. Oh, I would say it was more like a high school team that was a championship team in the region playing basically second-graders.

CONAN: Yet the Israelis have had their setbacks from time to time with Arab armies.

Col. MACGREGOR: Ah, but they've faced a very different enemy now in Hezbollah. These were Shiites, not Sunnis, and it was very tribal, and they were extremely well-organized, well-equipped, and again, they defended very effectively after many years of preparation and training.

Very different entity from what we faced, because remember, these places, our notions of a national identity, a national consciousness, don't compare with anything in that part of the world.

So these armies that we faced under Saddam were by no means robust and capable.

CONAN: We're talking with Colonel Douglas Macgregor and Lieutenant Colonel Jay Stout, both retired. Both served in the First Gulf War. We'll talk more about the legacy of Operation Desert Storm 20 years on.

And we want to hear from those of you who served in the First Gulf War. What did you do? Two decades later, how did it change your life? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

It was January 16th, 1991, late afternoon in Washington, when President George H.W. Bush ordered U.S. troops to move against Iraq. He announced the start of Operation Desert Storm two hours later on national television.

The fighting war was brief on the ground, less than four days after weeks of airstrikes, but the legacy of that conflict continues to this day.

Today, we want to hear from those of you who served in the First Gulf War. What did you do? Twenty years on, how did that change your life? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor. He led the Cougar Squadron during Operation Desert Storm and the largest tank battle since World War II. He tells that story, among others, in his book "Warrior's Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting." And retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel Jay Stout, a Marine Corps fighter pilot who flew 37 combat missions during the First Gulf War. His book is titled "Hornets Over Kuwait."

And I meant to ask you, Jay Stout, after that first mission, you said obviously, you were extremely nervous. Given the lack of difficulty you and your mates had, did you start getting to feel a little more confident?

Lt. Col. STOUT: Yeah, I'll address that. Neal, the first few missions, it's nothing you've ever done before. They're shooting at you a lot. But after a few missions, you started to realize this wasn't World War II or Vietnam or Korea. You weren't coming home and there weren't empty bunks back in your room because buddies were getting shot down or killed.

In fact, because, as the colonel mentioned, the Iraqi forces were so second rate, third rate, just ill-prepared, ill-trained, we became very eager to go on missions. I like to characterize it, again it's trivial, but it turned into a great adventure safari. We couldn't wait to get out there and break stuff up and kill things.

CONAN: The Hornet is designed both as an air-to-air combat fighter and as a strike fighter. Did you have any experience with Iraqis in the air?

Lt. Col. STOUT: Sadly, from the fighter pilot perspective, no. My Air Force compadres, darn them, did such a great job of engaging the Iraqi fighters as they got airborne that I doubt an Iraqi aircraft got within 50 miles of a Marine Corps aircraft. So we had to satisfy ourself(ph) with tearing up forces on the ground.

CONAN: Let's go next to Elizabeth(ph), Elizabeth with us from Oklahoma City.

ELIZABETH (Caller): Hello, good afternoon.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

ELIZABETH: It's a pleasure to speak with you all.

CONAN: Thanks. Go ahead.

ELIZABETH: Well, I guess I'd first of all, anybody who's listening who's also a Gulf War veteran, it's nice to be remembered. I can't believe it's been 20 years. But I was especially struck when I watched the soldiers be rolling out, you know, and to finally ending the deployment and coming home. And I thought how I would never have imagined when I was there in 1991 that that we would have another war under the circumstances. But it was an entirely different war.

CONAN: And where were you in '91?

ELIZABETH: Well, I was in Al-batan. I was with a water purification unit from the headquarters 63rd ARCOM in Southern California, near Long Beach, and had gone over, and of course, we were left, we were sort of hung out in the United Arab Emirates, if I remember correctly, for quite a while, waiting for the war to be started.

And I was one of two women deployed in my unit, and there were I was also the only Jewish person. And I remember being a very you know, I was very young and thinking - it was my 24th birthday, I think, when we deployed and thinking this is an odd thing.

But I, as the result of that, have been utterly committed to Mideast peace in very practical ways. I raised a child who ended up going to a Quaker school that sponsored Palestinians, and he lived in a home that was half Jewish and half Palestinian students.

And I've been pretty much working to keep hope alive for the peace process there. And do see them all as interconnected.

CONAN: So it has changed your life quite a bit.

ELIZABETH: I would say it changed absolutely everything about my life.

CONAN: Elizabeth, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

ELIZABETH: You're welcome.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to this is Garth(ph), Garth with us from Denver.

GARTH (Caller): Yes, hello. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

GARTH: I was with the 1st and 41st Second Armored Division. So I was a mechanized infantry soldier who was connected with mostly tanks, and I know when people think about the First Gulf War, they refer to it mostly as a very low-casualty war, which it was short, and I think it was low-casualty.

My particular unit, my company lost a fifth of our company on the third night of the ground war to casualty. So I was in a spot where, although I think most people did not see much of that, I was in a spot that saw a lot of that.

And so and it was also, I want to mention it, it was from friendly fire from tanks, actually, from our own tankers, which I don't say that to knock any of that. I didn't understand friendly fire until I'd been in combat, and now I see how it can happen, and I'm glad to say that I think the Army has made changes that, particularly vehicle to vehicle, don't allow that so much.

But I think 20 years later, probably what's affected me the most is probably survivor's guilt. You know, I think any soldier that loses comrades like that and does come home that that's a problem.

And I'm happy to say that I have actually gotten help for this. So...

CONAN: Well, Garth, we wish you the best of luck with that.

GARTH: Yeah, no, I mean, days (unintelligible), I'm absolutely fine. Just when I do stop and think about those fellows like this, it is hard, and I think anybody who was close to somebody, it would be, obviously.

CONAN: Well, thanks very much again. Bye-bye.

GARTH: Thank you.

CONAN: Colonel Macgregor, friendly fire, obviously one incident is too many. There were perhaps too many in the Gulf War. When you have an entire conflict whose whole killed total is in the hundreds, obviously the incidents of friendly fire really stuck out.

Col. MACGREGOR: Oh, absolutely. And I think part of this was because most of the units that went in really were not trained for the kind of maneuver warfare in open areas that perhaps people 50 or 60 years ago would have understood better.

You know, we were cramming thousands of troops into a front of perhaps a mile in many cases. We did not, by the way, and we didn't have any friendly fire in my particular unit. We had one man killed by the enemy and six wounded. But I think one of the reasons was we understood that just for a small unit, because of the ranges of our weapons and their lethality, you needed a lot of space.

People that went into this war in most cases didn't understand that. There were too many people in too-dense formations.

CONAN: Jay Stout, friendly fire, if you're in an aircraft, shooting at people on the ground and dropping bombs, that's something you have to be very careful about, too.

Lt. Col. STOUT: It's a huge issue, and it brings to mind an incident during the ground war, towards the end of the war. Folks on the ground were moving so quickly, our units were advancing so quickly that it was difficult to keep track of them.

And we got up, my wingman and I, and absolutely savaged a column of armored vehicles along an area of Northern Kuwait, came back, were very excited, high fives all around, went to debrief intelligence.

And the room got real quiet because there was a Syrian unit that was moving up there, and the Syrians, of course, used Soviet equipment just like the Iraqis did. And there for a short afternoon, we were concerned that we had obliterated a friendly unit.

As it turned out, that wasn't the case. It wasn't the Syrians. It was Iraqis. But it was a very difficult afternoon for us.

CONAN: We're talking with that was Jay Stout, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, a fighter pilot. Douglas Macgregor is also with us. He's the author of "Warrior's Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting."

If you're not familiar with the term 73 Easting, well, you may remember the mother of all briefings. Well, back in the Gulf War, everything was the mother of all somethings - Saddam Hussein's term, which was barred by the U.S. military.

This was Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander, the allied commander, at the mother of all briefings, talking about a tank battle that was underway at that moment.

General NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF (Former Commander of Coalition Forces, First Gulf War, Retired): (Unintelligible) fight that's going on with the Republican Guard right now is just a classic tank battle. You've got fire and maneuver.

You've got they are continuing to fight and shoot at us as our forces move forward, and our forces are in the business of outflanking them, taking them from the rear, using our attack helicopters, using our advanced technology.

I would tell you that one of the things that has prevailed, particularly in this battle out here, is our technology.

CONAN: Well, that battle was at a place called 73 Easting on the maps. That's why it has that title.

Col. MACGREGOR: Well, 73 Easting is a north-south gridline. And remember, you're operating in a flat, open desert. There are no villages to point to, no hills that you can speak of. So the only thing that you could call something that people might remember was by the north-south gridline where the battle occurred.

And what General Schwarzkopf didn't tell everyone is that by the time we finally caught up with the rear guard of the Republican Guard Corps, the body of the Republican Guard had already escaped. We'd been held back for so many days, for so long that the enemy was largely gone.

Now, the brigade that we attacked, and we attacked it with two cavalry troops in the lead, which is where I was, coming out of a sandstorm, so the visibility was very poor, and we ended up fighting at extremely close range.

And we devastated this unit. The battle was effectively over in a few hours. But within about 45, 50 minutes, we had destroyed, you know, dozens and dozens of tanks and armored fighting vehicles and killed at least a thousand people and we had broken the back of this defense. But once again, we were halted. There was no willingness to let us pursue the enemy, and so the opportunity to do what Colin Powell said at the beginning - to cut it off and destroy it - was missed.

CONAN: There was also an assessment at that time, in that same briefing that the Republican Guard was no longer capable of serious offensive military operations. Shortly after he spoke, rebellions broke out in the southern areas of Iraq by the Shias, and then later in the northern areas of Iraq by the Kurds. And the Republican Guard was reconstituted well enough to crush both of them.

Col. MACGREGOR: Absolutely. The Republican Guard escaped with most of its formations intact, contrary to popular belief, and they were re-equipped in some cases, but we know they got out with almost 700 armored fighting vehicles - tanks and other equipment. They got out with over a hundred helicopters, and so they went into action.

By the way, General Schwarzkopf came back in March when he was interviewed later - this is after the tickertape parade and the suggestion of great strategic victory - and admitted that most of the enemy had actually left before we finally attacked. And it was very shortly thereafter that we began having more and more trouble with Saddam Hussein, leading all the way up to an actual offensive that he launched towards Kuwait in 1995, in the fall.

CONAN: And indeed, the aircraft carriers, Jay Stout, did not leave the Persian Gulf - well, I'm not sure, for another 10 years at least.

Mr. STOUT: No. Certainly, we maintained a presence, not only in the Gulf with aircraft carriers, but also in the region aboard - or - on several different land bases as well.

CONAN: The aircraft were there to enforce the so-called no-fly zones, one over northern Kuwait and southern Iraq. So as the - Saddam's helicopters could not pursue the fight against the Shia rebels, no longer kill their own people or pose a threat to Kuwait, and then in the north, to protect the Kurds. And this was an operation, well, probably the Navy - the Marine Corps and the Navy's principal operation for the next 20 years.

Col. MACGREGOR: Well, by the way, Neal, you're saying something that's very important for the American people to understand: The war never ended. In other words, we didn't win in 1991. It was a strategic failure. There were tactical successes, but no strategic victory because the Republican Guard, which was the basis for Saddam Hussein's survival, survived, and he survived. And so we ended up, essentially - at a huge expense to the American people - spending hundreds of billions of dollars for the next 12 years.

CONAN: That's Douglas MacGregor, a retired colonel. His book: "Warrior's Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting." Also with us, Jay Stout, retired Marine Corps fighter pilot. His book: "Hornets over Kuwait." You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And let's go next to Venus(ph), Venus with us from Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts.

VENUS (Caller): Yes. I'm calling because I'm looking back 20 years from the time that I was in Dhahran. I was (unintelligible) was the United States Army. My previous training was as an international law specialist with Central Command. And I remember on one evening, when I was sent to a secondary assignment as a guard, checking barracks, that I heard the Scud alarms go off. And in one warehouse building that was being used temporary as the barracks, the Scud hit behind the buildings, set us ablaze. And that's where the National Guardsmen from Pennsylvania...

CONAN: From Montoursville, Pennsylvania, yes.

VENUS: Yes. And I approached the structure to offer first aid, and that evening is seared in my mind.

CONAN: I was in Dhahran as a reporter at that time and rushed to the scene and saw the ambulances leaving the site. And you got a much better or worse - depending on your point view - view of that, Venus, I'm sure, but it's seared in my mind, too.

VENUS: Yes, because communications in that area, even Central Command was out of touch for several hours on making personal calls, and my family thought I was pushing paper in Central Command when I was actually moving and giving first aid in Dhahran. But today, I've been working because there's been 135,000 of our Gulf War vets that still have an undiagnosed MS and other unusual health problems that they need to continue to follow-up with the VA all these years later.

CONAN: And that's another legacy of the war. Venus, thank you very much. We have to - thank you very much for the phone call.

VENUS: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Now, let's see we get one more caller in. This is - go to Chuck, Chuck with us from Grand Rapids.

CHUCK: Hi. Thanks for taking my call. Yeah, I'd just like to say that in 1989, I graduated high school to join - later on joined the Army Reserves. So I did all my basic training, did my advanced training, got out and got home. And I believe it's like three months after that that we got called up. Being in a Reserve transportation unit, we hit ground fairly early. It was interesting to me in that I was a recovery mechanic, when we first hit ground, we had no equipment. So we had nothing to do. We stayed at the Half Moon Bay Resort area. We got bused in to chow twice a day and ate MREs for lunch. So that was kind of interesting.

One of the big things I remember is - yeah, the previous caller with the water purification unit. We got to sleep on the water purification bags that they had. If you can imagine a hot water bed about, oh, I think it was, like, about 30 by 30 feet square, about three feet deep. It was kind of interesting sleeping on those.

Eventually, our equipment arrived, and we helped everybody else get to where they were going. So my experience with the Gulf was one of, well, discovery, really. I got to meet a lot of interesting people. Being a Reservist, we had more autonomy, I think, than the regular Army did. So we were able to, hey, there's a gas station. Let's pull off and see what they had to eat or see if they have some cold soda pops. So we got to meet a lot of interesting people in that regard.

When the actual war hit, we had a mission, I believe we were supporting everybody else. I think we were attached to the 5th Mountain - I want to say it was - at that point in time. That got blown to heck. We were getting shanghaied left and right - basically, drop everything you have in your trailers, come up here, get POWs and haul them back in this area. So that was kind of interesting.

CONAN: Hmm.

CHUCK: We had, really, no clue what was going on. And if you had bars on your shoulder, well, I'm doing what that guy says.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Chuck, you've just told the experience of, I think, many military personnel for thousands of years. Thanks very much for the phone call.

I wanted to end with this email we have from Chris in Rangely, Colorado. I served as a medic in Germany with the 3rd Infantry Division during Desert Storm. We had constant alerts, getting ready to go over, then we'd stand down. One squad of our medics, three men did go with C Company and stayed the duration. Morale plummeted when we heard we got to Baghdad and then stopped and turned around. Why didn't we finish it then and there? I am still disappointed with that decision.

Douglas MacGregor's book is "A Warrior's Rage: The Great Tank Battle of 73 Easting." Jay Stout wrote "Hornets Over Kuwait." We thank them both for their time.

Col. MACGREGOR: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And when we come back, we're going to be talking about the investment value of your home. For half a century, great. In the future? Eh.

Stay with us. This is NPR News.

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