LETTERS FROM HOME
If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle? (I Corinthians 14:8)
LETTERS FROM HOME By Harry P. Parmer
The 120-degree heat hit us in the face as we disembarked from the Air Force C-141 at Bahrain's Sheik Isa air base. Fourteen days had passed since Saddam Husseian ordered his army into Kuwait and as his soldiers now massed along Kuwait's southern border they threatened Saudi Arabia with a similar fate. In August of 1990 my Marines and I were part of the Seventh Marine Expeditionary Brigade that deployed to the Persian Gulf in Operation Desert Shield.
It was now January 16, 1991 and the days were much cooler. In fact at times the Saudi desert was down right cold. As I walked into the Third Marine Aircraft Wing's Tactical Air Command Center (TACC), I wondered if we'd still be here next August to again experience those 120-degree temperatures. In late November our unit moved north to Al Jabayl International Airport in Saudi Arabia to be in position to conduct offensive operations as part of the multi-national coalition forces now deployed in the Persian Gulf.
As the United Nation's eleventh hour diplomacy efforts continued, we eagerly watched the evening news reports on CNN. For many of us now sitting in the Saudi desert it was simply another ineffectual attempt by the United Nations at trying to negotiate with a madman. So we silently waited for the attack order to be given by our Commander In Chief because we all knew deep in our hearts that this would be the first step on the long and dangerous road that would eventually lead back to home.
At 6:00 p.m. the evening crew changes got underway and as I entered the TACC the Commanding General motioned for me join him. After greeting him with the traditional courtesy he told me to get over to the Comm. Center to pickup a message that had just arrived from headquarters. I walked into the Comm. Center, went through the required security checks and opened the sealed folder that contained the high priority message. It was addressed to all commanders and contained only one sentence: "Execute Operation Desert Storm at 0300 on 17 January 1991. Godspeed."
SUPPORT FROM HOME
With the minutes now ticking away we were poised at the ready to initiate one of the most powerful air campaigns in the history of warfare. As we anxiously waited for H-Hour to arrive I opened the envelope and began to read her letter. Barbara was not happy when I deployed five months ago. This was the second time in our lives that war had caused us to be apart. The first was in 1967 when I was in Vietnam, and even though we were not yet married we had known one another for some time. During the 13-months when I was in-country she would write beautiful letters to me. And after returning to the states only fourteen days passed before we eloped to Las Vegas to tie the knot. That was 23 years ago and now once again I looked forward to receiving her letters.
For military members who are away from home, mail call is an eagerly awaited event. Military service in peacetime and even more so in wartime makes great demands on the mental, moral and physical strength of the individual service member. Our military members readiness to serve, and in wartime, to risk their lives closely relates to the integrity of the nation and the support they receive from home. Hence, the nation's support and the support of family and friends assumes extraordinary importance for it convinces our military members of the necessity of service and encourages faithful performance of duty.
When a letter from home arrives and you hear your name at mail call, you experience a wide range of emotions. But these emotions pale in comparison to the feelings you get when you don't hear your name called at all. When this happens, uncertainty sets in and you begin to think that you are forgotten or worse yet, that nobody cares. There is no better example of this than in comparing the stark contrast of experiences between Vietnam and Desert Storm.
In Vietnam letters from home were personal. They were addressed to you by name and originated from people you already knew. It was a rare event indeed that any of us ever received a letter of support from anyone in America that we did not already have a personal relationship with. Back then most of the American public belonged to the "Silent Majority," and few stood up to the tide of radical and misled dissenters and protestors who purposely and unjustifiably blamed the soldier for America's social turmoil. As a result, the soldier in Vietnam received a message of doubt and despair from a wavering and un-supporting nation.
During Desert Storm we again received mail from people we knew and had personal relationships with, but unlike Vietnam we also received an avalanche of letters addressed "To Any Service Member." Millions of Americans throughout our great nation wrote letters and sent care packages to show their support. Perhaps the "Silent Majority" learned from the Vietnam experience and finally recognized that it is the American soldier who honorably serves and sacrifices for the freedom we all cherish. And perhaps our country recognized that it is the American soldier who leads the way in making it safe for others in this world so they too can be free from oppression.
The contrast of experiences is indeed profound. In Desert Storm service members could read hundreds of letters that would be among the multitude they would receive every week that were addressed "To Any Service Member." America had opened its heart and people everywhere throughout the nation wanted their military men and women to know they were supported. But even more importantly, people wanted their military men and women to know that America cared.
Now on this historically eventful morning of January 17,1991 as the Storm's H-Hour approached, I did what I used to do in Vietnam when I received a letter from my lady Barbara ... after reading it I put it in my left breast pocket, near to my heart. Knowing it was there, feeling it there, brought me comfort. It provided purpose when things were not going well and reason when I was surrounded by chaos and fear. It also brought a resolve in me to complete my mission because I knew someone cared.
PROUD TO BE AMERICAN
The wind from the engines blew hot on our faces as I led my Marines up the ramp and into the belly of the C-130 Hercules. As we moved toward the front of the transport we stowed our gear and immediately entered the command and control shelter that was dogged to the deck of the fuselage. Once inside we strapped ourselves into our seats as the pilot began to taxi the aircraft down the runway.
I glanced at my watch and settled in next to my radio console. It was exactly 1:38 a.m. on February 24, 1991. The air war had been raging for the past month and we were now exactly one hour and twenty-two minutes away from executing the ground assault phase of Operation Desert Storm. As mission commander of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing's Airborne Direct Air Support Center, my Marines and I were to provide support to the attacking ground forces in anyway necessary in coordinating and controlling air and assault support assets against enemy targets.
The C-130 gained speed as it rolled down the runway and slowly lifted skyward. I motioned to my Marines to begin their equipment checks and to get their heads into the game. We headed north elevating to 24,000 feet and once over the Saudi/Kuwaiti border, anchored in a race-track orbit and waited for the fireworks to begin.
As the minutes passed I suddenly felt the gravity of the event we were about to undertake. I moved around the cramped quarters of the command and control shelter reviewing target lists and the available air support assets listed in the Joint Air Tasking Order. After returning to my seat I unbuttoned my left breast pocket and pulled out the letter I received from my wife Ba