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Desert Storm: One Airman’s Perspective

By Joseph Mangum | Air Combat Command | February 14, 2017

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --

Twenty-six years ago on Jan. 16, 1991 at 7 p.m. EST, President George H. W. Bush announced the start, of what would later be named, Operation Desert Storm.

Coalition forces began a five-week bombardment of Iraqi command and control targets from air and sea, and reached a successful cease-fire within 100 hours.

According to the Washington Post, on Jan. 15, President Bush sent a memorandum, National Security Directive 54, outlining the goals for the conflict with Iraq. The president had four major areas for the U.S. military to focus their efforts:

•To effect the immediate, complete and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

•To restore Kuwait's legitimate government.

•To protect the lives of American citizens abroad.

•To promote the security and the stability of the Persian Gulf.

The 1991 airstrikes on Baghdad were the first real-time demonstrations of smart weapons that showed U.S. forces strengths and military superiority.

“We learned that we could conduct bombing attacks in urban areas with precision, an important lesson. We also learned that we could survive in heavily defended areas such as Baghdad because of Stealth [jet fighters], another blockbuster lesson that most ignore,” said General Charles Horner, Persian Gulf War air commander.

At the onset of Desert Storm, I, Joseph Mangum, was technical sergeant assigned to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany as mobility NCO for the 52nd Supply Squadron.

As tasking’s to the unit increased, I was moved to the wing to assist in Wild Weasel deployments in direct support of the war effort. The Wild Weasel refers to the combination of Wild Weasel version of the F-4 Phantom II and F-16 Fighting Falcon. 

After processing countless waves of deployments of people, equipment and aircraft in support of Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm had begun. The United Nation’s deadline for Jan. 15, passed for Iraqi forces to withdraw from Kuwait. With no action from Iraq, Desert Shield became Desert Storm, also known as the first Gulf War.

It was not until near the end of the 100-hour war that I finally received my deployment orders. The fighting was almost over when I got the call. By then it was feared Saddam Hussein was going to launch his full arsenal of scud missiles, a surface-to-surface guided missile that is fired from a mobile launcher.

Indeed, Iraq began launching scuds at Israel and Coalition Forces soon after the coalition's Gulf War air campaign began on Jan. 17, 1991.

My unit was asked to provide logistics support to F-16 aircraft and U.S. Army Patriot Missile batteries in defense of Israel. The fear was that, by Iraq attacking Israel, it would provoke an Israeli response which could dissolve the coalition.

During the deployment to Israel, I was responsible for bulk petroleum operations, which meant additizing the fuel to meet military specifications. The nearest port was in Tel Aviv, Israel where I was able to see first-hand the destruction caused by previous Iraqi scud missile attacks.

Over the course of the deployment, we made several resupply runs back-and-forth from Tel Aviv. The experience enabled me to apply years’ worth of training, communicate directly with higher headquarters and make due with only the resources we brought with us.

My orders were open ended, which meant I had no idea how long I would be away from home. I was already stationed in Germany on my first overseas assignment and my family was gravely concerned with the uncertainty of the war.

“The worst part was not knowing,” said my wife, Laurinda Mangum. “Joe was gone for three weeks before I received a phone call.  It was just 5-10 minutes long and the line had a distinct echo, but it was enough at the time to let me know my husband was gonna be okay.”

During Desert Storm, the U.S. Air Force did not have all the resources it has today to take care of families. In fact, many of the lessons learned from that period has resulted in the Airman Family and Readiness units we have today. 

As it all worked out, I was only deployed for a period of approximately 45 days. It was my second Middle East deployment. My first was a deployment to Oman in support of the 1986 bombing of Libya.

I finished my military service after 30 years and three months, with Desert Storm was my first major theater combat experience and I would go on to deploy multiple times in support of 9/11 and Desert Storm II.

Air Combat Command Airman Airmen deployment Iraq Kuwait Langley Air Force Base Operation Desert Storm