JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Louis Cass, a data analyst working for Army Futures Command, wanted to work with ships. So he turned to the Army—yes, the Army.
“I like ships…so I joined the Army,” he said, beginning his story. “The Army was the first thing that popped into my mind. My recruiter got me in as a cargo specialist, and I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Most people do not consider the Army when thinking about a career on the high seas, but unbeknownst to them, the mostly land-based service maintains a large fleet of logistics support vessels.
As a young man, Cass worked at a shipyard in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. He said he became “bored” with his job, and sought out a new adventure which involved his passion for seaborne vessels. He shipped out for basic training in 1983, and afterward moved to Fort Eustis, Virginia—which would be his home for the majority of his Army career.
Cass served in the 7th Transportation Group—which is now the 7th Transportation Brigade (Expeditionary)—where he helped load and unload numerous vessels and vehicles. He also found the adventure he was looking for, having deployed to several countries and participated in numerous missions.
When the Persian Gulf War broke out, Cass and his team knew they were going to be called upon once again. One of the first clues that they were going to war was the protective gear they received—it was designed to defend them from chemical attacks.
“There was no hesitation,” he said. “We knew that it was for a purpose, and that we were going to be busy because there were aircraft, vessels and rail which needed to be loaded and unloaded.”
The Soldiers deployed to the Port of Dammam in Saudi Arabia, where he served as the port operations non-commissioned officer. Cass’s responsibilities included vessel discharges, ammunition storage, and coordination with host nation support for all crane and material handling equipment.
When the advanced party arrived in Saudi Arabia they found themselves in a very fast paced, fluid environment. The 551st Transportation Company ran the arrival and departure airfield control group at Dhahran Air Base, where over 5,000 Soldiers arrived daily. 7th Transportation Group staff officers and noncommissioned officers also worked at the airfield, coordinating with host nation authorities for cargo trucks and buses to move incoming Soldiers to their field sites.
“The 7th Group also opened the King Khalid Military City and Kuwait International Airport,” Cass recalled. “Overall the 7th Transportation Group supported numerous operations from the sea, land and air in and out of Saudi Arabia. We discharged most of the cargo from hundreds of means of transportation. Units shipped their cargo to the Port of Dammam. The Group would provide support for those units while waiting for their equipment to arrive from the continental U.S. and overseas. Once the equipment arrived, the Group would unload the equipment and ensure the units were prepared for onward movement into the theater of operation.”
The 7th Transportation Group was responsible for all theater movements from the Port Of Dammam to the airport in Kuwait City and into numerous camps and bases within the theater, Cass added.
Cass was also responsible for the safety of military personnel, civilian employees and contractors during port operations, and during inbound attacks on the port. He remembered one of those attacks as if it were still fresh in his mind.
“We heard the missile go across our building and explode,” Cass recalled. “The sirens went off a few seconds later. That’s when we went into action, put our gear on and braced ourselves. I jumped into my truck and drove up and down the pier making sure everyone had their gear on.”
Ironically, Cass was in such a hurry to protect his people that he forgot his gear in his office. Another Soldier noticed, and warned him of his vulnerability. The operations NCO returned to his office and donned his ensemble as quickly as possible.
“We thought it was a funny moment: here I am driving around telling people to put their gear on, and I myself didn’t have it,” Cass remarked.
The attacked had passed, with none of the missiles landing on or near the port. Cass called his wife to let her know he was okay. He remembered how his wife was overcome with emotion upon hearing his voice.
“When she heard my voice, I could hear her laughter,” Cass said, as he too could not help becoming emotional as he recalled the moment. “Bad news travels fast, and good news is not so fast. I wanted to make sure my wife and kids knew I was safe and that everything was good.”
Not every day on deployment was dramatic or exhilarating; there were many slow days as well. Cass remembered being so bored, he and a lieutenant would capture flies and place them into a company formation.
On especially balmy days, Cass and his colleagues would drive up to a group working under the hot sun and hurl water balloons at them. Other methods the deployers used to entertain themselves were playing board games, collecting baseball cards, reading books and doing arts and crafts.
Some of Cass’s favorite memories were the times he and his colleagues would gather on top of the barge they used as a barracks facility. There, they formed their own club where they would drink non-alcoholic beer and hang out. These meetings would turn into opportunities for mentorship and bonding.
“After a long day’s work we would go on top of the barge,” Cass recounted. “We would talk about what happened that day or night…who angered you and how we could do better—little after-action reports just between the group. But we had a lot of fun, we had a good time. I firmly believe that during Desert Storm…we were all about teamwork; we were about camaraderie.”
Such camaraderie played an important part in keeping the team together. Because Cass already deployed several times before Operation Desert Storm, he was prepared to be away from his family. But he also knew he had teammates who were never so far away from home before. Cass made it a point to help his comrades feel that although they were far away from home, they were still with family—their brothers in arms.
“Desert Storm showed me what ‘brotherhood’ actually meant,” Cass remarked. “We talked to one another constantly, we looked out for one another and we made sure that when one stumbled, someone would pick them up and continue the mission. Teamwork was epitome, heart and soul of our lives. Not since then have I seen such bonds.”
Finally, after one year in the desert, it was time to return home. Cass and his team flew to Langley Air Force Base (now part of Joint Base Langley-Eustis) where they were met by their families and loved ones.
During the homecoming ceremony, Cass caught a glimpse of his family. He couldn’t hold back his emotions, and smiled while standing in formation.
The moment was caught by a photographer.
“When I looked forward, I could see my family… that’s why I had the big grin in that picture,” Cass said. “Just seeing my family was phenomenal beyond words.”
Desert Storm was not Cass’s last deployment. He would go on to continue travelling around the world, accomplishing many more missions before retiring after 23 years of service. He quipped that if not for his advanced age, he would even join the Army again.
“I deployed all over the world,” he concluded. “I went through two passports in my career going to numerous countries. It was a good time. I have no regrets whatsoever, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.”