The Catholic Defender: The Night of the Patriot
On August 2, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait deposing the Emir of Kuwait and systematically took over the Country. Five days later, President Bush responded along with the UN Security Council demanding Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait.
A total of 34 Nations formed a coalition against Saddam Hussein who at the time boasted of having the fourth largest Military which showcased Russian made weaponry and weapons of mass destruction. In the 1980's Hussein had used such weapons against his own people.
President Bush launched Operation Desert Shield calling this "the line in the sand". In early August 1990, the 3rd Battalion 187th Infantry arrived in Saudi Arabia being escorted in by F-15 Fighter Pilots. As we approached the runway, we noticed the thousands of body-bags reminding us this was not a joy ride.
Outside King Fahd airport, the Army built "Tent City" where we would stay when not on the front line at the border of Iraq. The next several months we were part of Operation Desert Shield, we were that "line in the sand". Summer in Saudi Arabia is hot, like about 130 degrees in the shade, we had to drink lots of water.
The biggest threats we were facing at this time was clearly environmental. We had many combat casualties taken off the front line due to dysentery and heat exhaustion.
Our Battalion Commander and practically the whole Battalion caught disease and was in the Aid Station being treated requiring many IV's. I was 66 out of 67 first time IV sticks during this crucial time. This affected just about everyone it had seemed, even most of the Battalion Aid Station.
I was one of the few that did not get sick which was interesting because I was exposed to this all the time. As Medics, we were very important keeping the fighting force going. I remember late at night, while keeping radio watch in the Aid Station, I would pray the rosary.
I had my trusty New American Bible which had great pictures. Using my flashlight, those pictures would seem to come to life, as I meditated on them. Everyday we continued to work on our defensive positions, digging in, filling sand bags, and training for war.
It became known I was doing push ups and setups. One day one of our officers exerted himself boasting of doing 600 push ups. Because I couldn't let an officer boast of a record, the next day I did 700 push ups and that was never topped!
I would have Soldiers come to my position who would ask me about the Catholic Faith, about the bible, how to pray the rosary. What a blessing it was to be able to participate in that specifically in that environment.
Our Battalion Chaplain was a Catholic priest, Father Cyrone, who was a great blessing, we were celebrating Mass using an MRE box as an Altar in a place Mass had not been said in over 1500 years.
(Years later after leaving the Rakassans, I was now assigned with the 194th Military Police (MP) Company still at Ft. Campbell, I went to check on my Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) when I ran into one of my Soldiers in the Gulf War. He had been one of the Soldiers I had spoken with about the Catholic Faith while still in the Saudi Arabian desert.
He told me that he never forgot the times we spoke and how he was enlightened to the scriptures. He thanked me for those times and explained to me since those times, he was now Baptized and received into the Catholic Faith.
That meant a great deal to me. It reminded me of the importance of being available to anyone we meet because you never know the impact you might have on someone who is really searching.
I was one of over 500,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and other Nations as part of this coalition.
The Security Council passed a resolution requiring Iraq to with draw from Kuwait. January 17 began Operation Desert Storm beginning a five-week long campaign flying 2,000 plus sorties a day hitting strategic targets.
General Norman Schwarzkopf led the attack hitting the logistics causing much confusion among the Iraqi Army. I never will forget the sound of the planes idling getting ready to take off. It shock us and woke us up early in the morning.
On 21 January, my Unit was preparing to invade Iraq to participate in the longest Air Assault mission traveling 175 miles into enemy territory. Our objective was to block the area near Baghdad in the Euphrates River basin. As we waited for word to move out, we were in MOPP 4 which is our protection against potential chemical attack. That was a huge threat we were always prepared for during the Gulf War. We were waiting for orders to move out.
I never will forget that evening. The Buffalo Bills and the Oakland Raiders were playing the AFC Championship game which Buffalo won 51 to 3. Under the cover of darkness, suddenly, just as we were boarding a bus to take us to the airport, one of Hussein's SCUD missiles was flying overhead. From where we were, the SCUD looked like a star flying across the sky. That got every one's attention.
The explosion missed the airport and landed harmlessly in the desert.
Then another SCUD came flying overhead, this time one of our Patriot missiles hit this second SCUD right over our position.
Talk about "hitting the deck" as everyone dove for cover.
The explosion and impact hitting the SCUD lit up the sky with a loud supersonic boom. Such was the threat we encountered everyday. As the danger passed, we boarded the bus and made it to the airport where we prepared to travel to Iraq. Finally, we boarded in on the Blackhawk helicopters and we were off, this would be the longest Air Assault Mission of all time.
It was called the "Hail Mary Play"! We would land in the Euphrates River Valley basin.
I was one of nearly 2,000 Soldiers riding in 60 Blackhawks and 30 CH-47 Chinooks along with Cobra and Apache support Elements.
The helicopters did not land us on the basin as it was muddy, we simply jumped out of the chopper grabbing our gear and setting up a hasty fighting positions.
I maintained a hundred and twenty pound Rucksack carrying it with my medical equipment. I also maintained an AT-4 anti-tank devise in case we had enemy tanks near by.
The Area of Operation Eagle was our set up with the mission was to cut off Highway 8 from the Iraq positions in the south. We were cutting off the head of the snake. Father Cyrone and I would walk the parameter in the dark praying the Rosary as gun fire was heard in the distance. When it would get close we would jump into our fighting positions.
After the ground war was over, we maintained our area of Operation for more than 30 days. I remember listening to the BBC radio telling the world that there were no more American Soldiers in Iraq and here we were the farthest into Iraq near Baghdad? We have refugees coming to us seeking help. In one nearby town the mayor was hung because he opposed Saddam Hussein while another nearby town the mayor was hung because he supported Hussein. That was a crazy time for sure.
We finally broke down preparing to leave the Euphrates on March 5 and so I went into my foxhole for the last time that night. At about 03:00 in the morning, we had a major rain hit us, I got swamped getting me up and out quickly saving my gear. As we waited, the wind was blowing strong, I sat on an MRE box with my poncho snapping as if alive. March 6 was a miserable day but at least we were alive and leaving the area for Camp Cobra. From there we would soon be preparing to leave the Middle East in April.
Psalms 91 states, "You who dwell in the shelter of the Most High,*who abide in the shade of the Almighty,Say to the LORD, “My refuge and fortress,my God in whom I trust.” He will rescue you from the fowler’s snare,from the destroying plague, He will shelter you with his pinions,and under his wings you may take refuge; his faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day, Nor the pestilence that roams in darkness,nor the plague that ravages at noon. Though a thousand fall at your side,ten thousand at your right hand,near you it shall not come. You need simply watch;the punishment of the wicked you will see. Because you have the LORD for your refuge and have made the Most High your stronghold, No evil shall befall you,no affliction come near your tent. For he commands his angels with regard to you, to guard you wherever you go. With their hands they shall support you,lest you strike your foot against a stone. You can tread upon the asp and the viper,trample the lion and the dragon. Because he clings to me I will deliver him;because he knows my name I will set him on high. He will call upon me and I will answer;lI will be with him in distress; I will deliver him and give him honor. With length of days I will satisfy him,and fill him with my saving power.