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100-hour ground war to liberate Kuwait was no fluke, Milley says

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (March 04, 2016) -- The ground war to liberate Kuwait from an occupying Iraqi army kicked off, Feb 24, 1991, and lasted just 100 hours. That effort was a success, said the Army's chief of staff, due to a variety of factors including immense preparation of the battlespace, intelligence, equipment and technology, training, leadership, and great teamwork between U.S. and international partners.

"At the end of the day we destroyed thousands of enemy tanks, thousands of armored personnel carriers, captured thousands of prisoners, and literally shattered a field army," said Gen. Mark A. Milley. "There are very few examples in military history that are out there of such an overwhelming and decisive victory, in such a short amount of time, [with] such a small amount of friendly casualties."

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During a March 4 commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, at the Pentagon, Milley explained the real effort that went into the ground portion of evicting a hostile nation from an allied nation in just 100-hours.

"That happened because of the synergistic effects of the joint force, not just the Army," Milley said.

In advance of the ground war, he said, there was a U.S. Air Force-executed 38-day air campaign involving more than 100,000 sorties, he said.

The Marine Corps, the general said, conducted "tremendous operational maneuvers," and also executed a feint and a demonstration for an amphibious landing, "which fixed Saddam's forces to the coast, while in fact we were planning a big 'left hook,' a single envelopment out into the wide parts of the desert."

The president, he said, along with the National Security Council also played a role by providing "set, very limited, defined and understandable objectives for the military force to accomplish. There was never doubt in anyone's mind about what we had to do."

The intelligence community played a role too, he said, with "a tremendous amount of intelligence preparation of the battlefield in setting conditions with special forces, other governmental agencies, and the use of all our intelligence capability, to really pick out and pick apart Saddam's military so that we had really intelligence as to where they were, and what their composition and disposition was."

More than 700,000 military personnel accomplished the mission. Of those, about 540,000 were U.S. Army Soldiers. A total of 14 divisions participated, Milley said. Seven were U.S. Army divisions, two were from the Marines, and one each came from France, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

"That 100-hours didn't just happen," he said. "That happened because we made a concerted decision to send in overwhelming combat power. You have to have that combat power to be able to have the flexibility to be able to send it to begin with. And not only did we send just numbers, those numbers were well trained, at an extraordinarily high rate of readiness, and it was clear both then and afterwards that force was technologically superior to anything Saddam could put up. That's what caused the 100-hours."

Besides the immediate effect of defeating the Iraqi army, the success there bolstered confidence in the United States and its military capacity, said Under Secretary of the Army Patrick J. Murphy, who is also currently serving as the acting secretary of the Army.

Desert Shield and Desert Storm, he said "renewed the world's confidence in U.S. foreign policy," he said, and it demonstrated interoperability of U.S. air, sea and land forces as well as the use of more advanced weapons. "These advantages, first showcased in Desert Storm, have become the hallmark of the highest standard of military operations."

Despite the success in Desert Storm, Murphy said there was a cost to the conflict.

"More than 700,000 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and coalition forces surged forward to secure the freedom of millions of people, ultimately ending the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and relieving that nation from a dictator's grasp," Murphy said. But of those who went, some 383 never made it home.

"Many more were wounded, and many more struggle today with their wounds, both physical and mental," Murphy said. "On the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, we remember their sacrifices and we honor their memory. We recognize their critical role in restoring the liberty of the Kuwaiti people and proving to friends and foes alike around the world that the U.S. military stands ready to defeat the enemies of freedom."


Brig. Gen. Thomas Solhjem, the Army's deputy chief of chaplains, was just a captain when he headed out for Saudi Arabia, in advance of the ground portion of Desert Storm. He was with the 82nd Airborne Division at the time, and the 82nd had to be ready to deploy within 24 hours. But his own battalion was actually the first to go, he said.

Saddam Hussein's force invaded Kuwait, Aug. 2. Solhjem was on a plane the evening of Aug. 4.

"Today, this is almost second nature how we do business," he said. "Back then, this was a big deal. Then, this was a major operation that we never engaged in before, deploying a large number of forces in a rapid succession. What I remember most is being in a situation where I couldn't tell my family what was going on."

He said he started off his deployment by forgetting his dog tags -- which his wife later had to bring to him.

"She came onto Fort Bragg to bring me my dog tags," he said. "I kissed her and she had no idea that we were in lock-down or anything. That's the last time I saw my wife until seven and half months later."

Solhjem started his time in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia, where he said there was a lot of waiting to do for what was going to happen next, and fear about the great losses Soldiers then expected to experience in theater.

"As a ministry team, we were focused on that aspect that we were going to deliver ministry to a force that was going to face a lot casualties," he said. "And it took real leadership to keep people focused, over an extended period of time, and to keep their level of training and readiness up, with limited resources to train."

When the time came to go, he said, there was a feeling of relief -- Soldiers, he said, didn't want to wait around. They wanted to act.

"When we were given the green light to go ... when you have been waiting that long, it's like, let's get this done and get it over with," he said.

When Soldiers saw the results of the air campaign that had preceded their own efforts, he said, "there was shock at the amount of lethal force applied to the enemy. You could see the devastation as we were moving north -- and then almost immediately, the enemy giving up."

A lot of Iraqi soldiers, actually, dropped their arms and surrendered to American forces. Solhjem said he was instrumental in once such instance of that -- and with an Iraqi officer, even, with whom he shared a connection from back home.

Chaplains, Solhjem said, are often found in places where they can provide direct support or care of enemy combatants. He and his chaplain team were attached to a medical unit, he said, "that's the right place for the chaplain to be, you want to be where the casualties will flow in."

He and his team had gotten separated from the rest of their unit and came up on a ridge in a valley where they came face-to-face with enemy combatants.

"They were not more than 100 meters from us," he said. "We dismounted our vehicles and I walked down to that enemy position and asked who the ranking person was, and if they could speak English. A major came out, identified himself, and we began a conversation."

Solhjem, from North Dakota, had attended college in Minneapolis. That's also where he went to seminary to become a chaplain. The Iraqi he met with had at one point been a professor at the University of Minnesota.

"He not only spoke English, but my kind of English," Solhjem said. "The same accent. We're having this conversation, I take out my wallet, and I'm showing him my family. I have three sons. In that country, male children are a big deal."

That's when Solhjem said he did something that as a chaplain, he probably should not have done.

"Essentially, I told them there is a combatant force, and if you don't surrender, they have hostile intent," he said, relaying his conversation with the Iraqi officer. "I asked them to surrender their arms, form a line, and walk towards [that force.] I said they would be well taken care of and treated fairly. He went back, spoke to his people, and they started laying down their arms, and they came out of their fighting positions."

A total of about 80 enemy combatants surrendered then, at his prompting, he said.

"It seems a little out there. But when you have seen people flocking, and laying down their arms peacefully, and you watch this flow of people coming at you for hours -- it just seemed that at that moment in time, based on everything I was seeing, these people were looking for a way out. The read of the situation was they needed some encouragement, some coaching, to do it."


A lot of Soldiers, especially in the infantry, are quite young. Sgt. 1st Class Matthew T. MacRoberts, who today serves as the noncommissioned officer in charge for the online and social media division within the Army's Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, was just a private back in 1991, during Operations Desert Shield and Storm.

He had actually left high school early -- before the rest of his class -- to join the Army.

MacRoberts said in May of 1990, his school principal called him to the office, where his parents were already present, and presented him with his high school diploma.

"He handed me my diploma and congratulated me on graduating from high school," MacRoberts said. "The recruiter was also there and put me on a van to the Military Entrance Processing Station to send me to Fort Benning."

That was mid-1990 when he got an early release from high school to serve his country. He said he completed Basic Combat Training, Advance Initial Training and Airborne School back-to-back. And after that he reported to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from where he shipped out to Saudi Arabia to participate in a conflict that had kicked off while he was only still in training.

MacRoberts said he arrived at Fort Bragg, after his new unit had already deployed.

"I fell in with the rear detachment, and they then pushed us forward to line up with the main force in Saudi Arabia," he said. "I remember them opening the doors on the plane when we landed. They didn't pull up to a terminal -- it was just the tarmac. Opening the door, I remember the wave of heat that rolled in. It was oppressive."

MacRoberts stayed at Champion Main in Saudi Arabia for quite some time while he and his unit prepared for the coming ground conflict. But then it was time to go.

"I remember it was the middle of the night, early morning. The Multiple Launch Rocket Systems were going off -- I remember all the flashes from the rockets flying down range. We were sleeping on the ground in our sleeping bags. And we knew we were going in. And waking up -- it had been snowing so there was a light coat of snow over everything, and the rockets were going off. It was very surreal."

Once the ground war kicked off, MacRoberts took part in the 82nd Airborne Division air assault that did the "left hook" into Iraq, and was also part of the unit that secured a large ammunition depot there.

MacRoberts didn't spend much time in the desert after they finished their job. The ground war in Iraq kicked off, Feb. 24, 1991, and just eight days after, he was back at home in North Carolina.

"Today is literally 25 years to the day when I landed back on U.S. soil," MacRoberts said, remembering his homecoming. "I have pictures of my mother, stepmother, and my great aunt meeting me at Fort Bragg 25 years ago.

Of becoming a combat veteran in the Middle East, MacRoberts said the experience has stuck with him in a positive way for his entire Army career.

"The friendships I made while deployed in Iraq with the men in B Company, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment are something I will always remember," he said. "And I'm proud to have been there for our allies when they needed us."

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