People can be forgiven if they forget it’s the 30th anniversary of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Between the seemingly never-ending bloody conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that we endured and the current political and pandemic climates sweeping the nation, our country’s “Splendid Little War” in the last decade of the 20th century seems almost trite now.
But three decades ago, it garnered a lot of hoopla — much like the Spanish-American War did a century before it. And we all remember that war, right?
Public indifference notwithstanding, I, and many other veterans, remember our time in Southwest Asia 30 years ago. My Facebook and Twitter pages are replete with postings of fellow Desert Shield/Storm veterans showing pics of themselves during that time and now. One thing that has struck me is that all the women veterans seem to have aged a heck of a lot better than us men. Seriously, though, some of us have really not aged well since the war. Despite its brevity and relatively low casualty rate, Desert Storm was still a war and, like all wars, left physical and mental scars on many veterans.
I’d be lying if I said the conflict didn’t affect me, but it was, admittedly, a small, albeit dramatic, chapter in my 20-year military career of accumulated stress. It was a dangerous, scary affair. It hammered the final nail in the coffin that was my failed marriage. And it left me adrift in a sea of uncertainty for the rest of 1991 and 1992 as I partied and drank my way to near oblivion. Outside of that, it wasn’t all that bad.
Those few months in the Middle East were divided into three phases: Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Desert Boredom. Each had its own unique experiences for me. They were a mix of funny, sad, terrifying, annoying, and insane. There was the usual hijinx and military mischievousness that come with war. There were the periodic SCUD missile attacks that forced us to don our full chemical gear for hours on end.
When not ducking and weaving such dangers, we would be stirring and burning our own human waste. On occasion, we would take thousands of gallons of contaminated fuel, drive out into the desert at night, and dump it onto the ground — all while ready to shoot any interfering Bedouins. In a way, it was our way of giving the sand the finger. We hated the sand. It was everywhere. In our faces, our uniforms, our weapons, and our sleeping bags.
The Iraqis were the least of our problems. I was more worried about getting killed from American munitions or my own stupidity, both of which almost succeeded on a few occasions. Each time I’d pat myself on the back at my luck in avoiding death for one more day. It helped that I had a few bottles of Canadian whisky, obtained from some generous Kuwaiti black marketeers, to keep my spirits up.
Mostly, though, it was my fellow soldiers who kept me going. We supported each other through the ups and downs of our deployment. We shared misery and mayhem, laughter and liquor, hilarity and horror. Now we share memories.
It doesn’t take an anniversary for me to remember that time, but this anniversary seems more significant than, say, the 10th or 20th. Maybe it’s because I’m in touch with more of my friends who I served with. That human bond forged in the fire of our youth, it reignites the memories. It sparks reflection. It stirs emotions.
It moves me to write about that time, 30 years ago, when I was “over there.” So, we don’t forget.
Dave Boe is a 20-year military veteran and communications professional who lives in Duluth. He served in Company A, 9/227 Aviation Support Battalion, Aviation Brigade, 3rd Armored Division in Desert Shield/Storm. More of his reflections on the Gulf War can be found here.