Face of Defense: Guard Member Recalls Gulf War
Illinois Army National Guard
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Feb. 25, 2011 Twenty years ago, National Guard, reserve and active duty service members began ground combat operations to liberate Kuwait, marking the beginning of the end of the first Gulf War.
U.S. and coalition partners had been building up in the region since August 1990 when the late dictator, Saddam Hussein, ordered his Iraqi army to invade Kuwait. The next six months of operations, known as Operation Desert Shield, culminated with a crushing U.S.-led air war in January 1991.
When the ground war, known as Operation Desert Storm, began Feb. 24, 1991, few could have predicted it would last only 100 hours.
Then-President George H. W. Bush authorized the mobilization of National Guard and reserve units to support combat operations in Kuwait.
With the mobilization of reserve components, the Illinois National Guard supplied 11 units and about 1,400 soldiers and airmen to support Operation Desert Storm.
Army Capt. Brad Sinkler, commander of the 1544th Transportation Company in 1990, was one of those soldiers.
“It was a surprise,” Sinkler said. “Aug. 2,  Saddam [Hussein] had invaded Kuwait. We'd heard some rumblings and were following the news. My operations sergeant said we had a pretty good chance to get called up ... and a week later we got the call.”
The first Illinois National Guard unit mobilized was the 1244th Transportation Company on Sept. 20, 1990. The 1544th Transportation Company followed a week later with a stop at Fort Campbell, Ky., and arrived in Saudi Arabia by Nov. 6.
“We were nervous,” Sinkler said. “We didn't know what to expect, how long we were going to be gone. We just listened to what the people in the states were telling us, making sure our families were taken care of.”
Once in Kuwait, the soldiers of the 1544th were still uncertain of what they would do in Kuwait. They later found out they’d be transporting troops and cargo, Sinkler said.
The 1544th conducted transportation missions and moved supplies and people throughout the country. They traveled more than 750,000 miles with no accidents.
“My biggest fear was losing one of my soldiers,” Sinkler said. “I made sure we did things as safely as we could, made sure the soldiers were getting the sleep they needed and that they conducted the proper maintenance on their vehicles.”
Life in Kuwait was a drastically different experience for many of the soldiers, he said.
“We really didn't have the things the soldiers have today. We had a TV, but we couldn't pick up [American Forces Network television],” Sinkler said. “The only way we could watch anything is if we had a VHS player and VHS tapes. Nobody had a laptop or Internet. Back then, it was mainly just mail, and maybe once a week, a telephone call.”
A few of the soldiers in the 1544th were Vietnam War veterans and had the experience to take care of fellow soldiers who had never been in war, Sinkler said.
“The support we had back home was just overwhelming,” he said. “Really, our nation hadn't experienced war to that level since Vietnam. It was humbling and we knew that no matter the outcome, we were going to have the support of the American people.”
Since initial operations moved so fast, Sinkler said, specific details of the mission were hard to come by.
“We were ‘in the moment,’ we didn't know how the operation was going -- we were just doing our job,” he said. “We were calling home and talking to our families, and they were telling us what they were seeing on CNN. My wife told me about things that were going on in Kuwait that I had no idea about.”
The months culminated in ground warfare Feb. 24 with a cease fire between U.S. and Iraqi forces March 3. After roughly four months in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, combat operations halted. As quickly as it began, the soldiers returned home.
It was good to go over and help the people of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Sinkler said.
“It was being part of something that was bigger than you,” he said. “It had national importance; it was a part of history in the making and something we can look back on and say 'I was there.' It was an experience that gives you a greater appreciation for our nation and what it stands for.”