JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
The 30th anniversary of the beginning of Operation DESERT STORM, a massive U.S.-led offensive campaign to liberate Kuwait, was marked Jan. 17, 2021.
“We cannot honor the anniversary of DESERT STORM without acknowledging the massive effort to build up our forces in the Middle East to defend our allies, which was the campaign known as DESERT SHIELD,” said Joshua Lashley, 1st Fighter Wing historian. “It was this rapid deployment and buildup, a true display of American airpower, which led to our success in DESERT STORM.”
The Persian Gulf War began in August 1990 when Saddam Hussein, president of Iraq, ordered his army to invade Kuwait. Just days after, the United States, along with 32 alliance nations, moved swiftly and deliberately to secure oil reserves in the Middle East and ultimately liberate Kuwait.
Under orders from President George H.W. Bush, the 1st FW, then known as the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, deployed Aug. 7, 1990 to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation DESERT SHIELD.
The 1st TFW was the first unit to deploy to the Middle East in August of 1990 in response to the Iraqi aggression. In less than 24 hours, the 71st Tactical Fighter Squadron was deployed along with 24 F-15 Eagles to perform air defense missions.
Lt. Col. Howard Pope (ret.), Commander of the 71st TFS, was among the first American forces to arrive in Saudi Arabia. Pope kept a diary of events starting from the very beginning of Operation DESERT SHIELD, which helps paint the picture of just how quickly U.S forces deployed to the region.
“7 AUG 90 TUE - The briefing begins at 1330hrs, it lasts 20 minutes. It took 3 days to prepare and this is the first time we get to hear any of it. The briefing is fairly complicated, but there are not a lot of questions to be asked because there is no time to ask them. We step to our jets and strap in… Finally, we take off (1730hrs) for the midnight ride to sand land. We deploy in four cells of six aircraft, 30 minutes apart, loaded for bear, 4x4xGuns. It’s going to be a long ride, but we’re finally enroute!” wrote Pope.
After a 14 hour flight, the 71st TFS landed in Saudi Arabia. Within the next 24 hours, an additional 24 jets deployed, this time from the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron. With Col. John McBroom as wing commander, the 1st TFW was responsible for over 200 various units as it operated as the host unit at King Abdulaziz Air Base in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
The 1st TFW deployed as an intact wing, bringing more than 1500 Airmen. The wing included members of the 1st Security Forces Squadron, 1st Services Squadron, 1st Comptroller Squadron, 1st Civil Engineer Squadron, and 1st Medical Group
“Operation DESERT STORM is historically important because it showed the 1st TFW’s ability to rapidly deploy a large amount of aircraft, and a large amount of people in a very short amount of time,” Lashley said. “The wing deployed 24 aircraft in under 24 hours and 48 total aircraft in 48 hours, something we have not been able to do since then as the Air Force has changed over the past 30 years, though we are fighting to get back to that state of readiness.”
Saddam Hussein continued to defy the orders to abandon the attacks and leave Kuwait which directly resulted in the commencement of Operation DESERT STORM Jan. 17, 1991. On the first day of combat operations of Operation DESERT STORM, Captain Steve Tate of the 71st TFS shot down an Iraqi F-1 Mirage. This was the 1st TFW’s first aerial victory since WWII.
The United States along with allied ground forces entered Kuwait and southern Iraq on 24 February and within only 4 days, the Iraqi army was defeated. Iraqi forces abandoned the attack and Kuwait was free again.
From the beginning of Operation DESERT SHIELD in August of 1990 to the end of DESERT STORM in January of 1991, the 1st TFW flew over 6,700 sorties and over 27,000 hours.
Once President Bush declared the ceasefire on Feb. 28, 1991, Saddam Hussein accepted peace terms laid out by the United States that would force Iraq to recognize Kuwait’s independence. The terms also established Iraq’s cooperation with the disposal of their entire arsenal of weapons of mass destruction to include nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM demonstrated the importance of having a ready, lethal force, able to deliver air power worldwide on short notice to support Combatant Commanders, which is key to a victory anywhere on the globe.