U.S. Air, Land, Sea Forces Protect the Gulf
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
CAMP DOHA, Kuwait, Dec. 3, 1996 Defending U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf takes constant vigilance, said U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry.
"I don't think you can ever settle back in the gulf," Perry told reporters traveling with him on an eight-day trip to seven nations. "I don't think you can ever take your eyes off Saddam Hussein."
The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people, Perry said, Hussein is mismanaging and misleading them, he said.
"As long as Hussein is Iraq's leader, I see no basis for normal, friendly relations with Iraq," Perry said. "As long as he presents a threat to security in the region, we must deal with that appropriately."
In Kuwait Nov. 29, Perry visited a U.S. Army brigade and sailors and Marines aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf. About 4,000 soldiers from the Army's 1st Cavalry Division are training here, and more than 12,000 sailors and Marines are part of the Kitty Hawk Task Group and USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group.
It's a long way from Fort Hood, Texas, to the deserts of Kuwait, but for one battalion from 1st Cavalry's 3rd Brigade, it took only 15 hours to get to the Middle East, draw equipment from pre-positioned stocks and be ready to fight. According to Perry, their rapid deployment is an example of the U.S. commitment to protect vital interests in the Middle East.
"Time is of the essence when responding to a crisis, and pre-positioning equipment is key to achieving this timeliness," he said. "We maintain a near-continuous presence here to maintain peak proficiency of our equipment and our troops." U.S. combat forces normally cycle into Kuwait a battalion at a time, join up with equipment, and in less than 24 hours, they're in the desert range exercising with Kuwaiti forces, Perry said.
In September, DoD expanded a regularly scheduled battalion exercise named Intrinsic Action to include three battalions and 3rd Brigade headquarters after Hussein moved north. Fort Hood soldiers traveled to Kuwait bringing their weapons, personal gear, first aid supplies, communications equipment and other items. Heavy equipment like tanks, personnel carriers and artillery are pre-positioned at Camp Doha, about 10 miles south of Kuwait City, and supported by a cadre of about 180 service members.
"The equipment was in great shape," said Command Sgt. Maj. James Toney. "It was just a matter of us drawing the equipment and moving out. The draw went very quickly, but to get everything set up -- force protection, quality of life -- took us about a week to get everything in place."
Sgt. James Blines, a Bradley mechanic, said this was his third rotation to Kuwait. He said the quality of the pre-positioned vehicles has improved since the first deployment when they drew "shot-up" war stock. This time, he said, the equipment was well-maintained. "For a mechanic, that's nice."
Staff Sgt. Richard Walker, a company motor sergeant, said, "It's been a lot of work setting up, and maintaining equipment out here is a challenge with the sand and everything." Walker said his company drew humvees, command track vehicles, cargo trucks and personnel carriers from storage. "Everything was in excellent shape," he said.
The biggest challenge, Walker said, was dealing with the heat and keeping soldiers' spirits high. "It was about 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the afternoon when we first got here. Then, when you go from about 100 degrees during the day to about 60 degrees at night, it feels cold."
Daily quality of life improvements like getting warm showers when the weather turned colder helped keep up morale, Walker said. For the troops living in a perfectly flat landscape of sand and more sand, he said, the "nothingness of the desert" took some getting used to. He said he missed his family and Fort Hood's trees and grass.
The brigade soldiers trained with Kuwaiti army counterparts to strengthen interoperability, said Army Lt. Col. Thomas Nickerson, public affairs officer. "If we ever have to come here and hit the ground fighting, we've worked together, we can talk together," he said. "They know how we fight and we understand how they fight. Therefore, we can assure there's a quick victory."
The soldiers who deployed in September will be home for Christmas, Perry said. A Marine amphibious readiness group will be positioned in the Persian Gulf to maintain a near-continuous presence until the next battalion training begins in February.
Protecting the gulf requires maintaining a strong combination of ground forces using pre-positioned equipment, and stationing air and naval power in the region, Perry said. "We maintain this pre-positioned equipment, the aircraft we have here and the carriers in the gulf for one reason -- so we don't have to use them," he said. "We keep them here to deter war."
After a meeting with Kuwaiti officials, Perry announced eight F-117 stealth fighters would remain in the region as long as needed. The fighters deployed to Kuwait in September after Hussein aggressively moved Iraqi forces north against the Kurds, U.S. defense officials said.
"F-117s send a very powerful message to Saddam Hussein," Perry told U.S. soldiers here. "During Desert Storm, they made 3,000 sorties right over the heart of Baghdad, over the most heavily defended city in the world. Not a single airplane was hit by the thousands of rounds of fire they tried to direct against it."
The combination of ground, air and sea forces gives the United States outstanding capability, Perry said. "The carrier plus the entire battle group together comprise awesome military power. Today, the [United States and its allies] has 40 ships in the gulf, 27 of which are American. This is one of the most powerful naval forces in the world," he said.
"If we then put together this near-continuous ground thrust, this mighty fleet which is in the gulf, plus more than 200 aircraft operating out of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, you have a truly effective deterrent force," Perry said. "This force is capable of protecting regional security and protecting the mutual interests of the countries in this region."
Along with threats from Iraq, Perry said, Iran is also a hostile nation seeking control of oil supplies in the region. "This region has more than two-thirds of the oil reserves of the entire world," Perry said. "If any hostile nation ever got control of all those oil reserves, the negative consequences for the United States and the rest of the Western world would be very serious."
U.S. officials carefully watched recent Iranian naval exercises in the region to assess Iranian capabilities, Perry said. The maneuvers were not a serious exercise but a set piece or show, he said.
"We are not impressed," he said. "We do not think the Iranian navy is capable of posing a threat to the naval forces now based in the gulf."
Aboard the Kitty Hawk, a floating city of 5,000, Perry told sailors and Marines, "It's a hell of a lot better to deter a war than to fight one, and that's what you're here to do.
"The way you make deterrence work is to put in a force that's intimidating, and there's nothing more damned intimidating than a carrier battle group," he told the carrier's crew. "That is your task -- to intimidate Iraq and Iran."