In 1990, I had just turned 50 years old when the call-up came for my unit to deploy to Operation Desert Shield/Storm. I had trained for this moment for most of my adult life. My unit was ready and I was ready. Although nobody knew what was in store for us, we knew that this mission was important to our national security. Patriotism flourished in my unit. When President George H.W. Bush announced that America would lead the coalition to remove the Iraq forces from Kuwait and preclude the invasion of Saudi Arabia, we knew we had an important mission.
I was the Executive Officer for the 109th Engineer Group, a command and control unit which was assigned U.S. 7th Corps. The 109th was the headquarters for over 5,000 engineer soldiers, both active duty and reserve.
We landed in Saudi Arabia on January 15, 1991, when we climbed off the Boeing 747 it was hot, the terrain was flat and we saw nothing but sand. The plane departed and there we were, standing on the tarmac with our gear and all we could see was sand, no buildings, no trees, nothing. About an hour later some buses arrived and took us to Al Kobar Towers. Al Kobar Towers held 38,000 coalition troops and 15,000 refugees from Kuwait. Just two days later we started to receive SCUD missile attacks four to six times a day. We stayed at this location for eight days awaiting the arrival of our equipment. When our equipment arrived we went directly to the 7th Engineer Brigade berm, which was a tent city. After receiving our follow-on orders we moved to a place called “no man’s land”, which was just on the border of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. We were living within a berm in tents, austere conditions for sure, but there were no SCUD attacks. Our mission was to maintain 500 miles of sand roads from Saudi Arabia into Iraq. We also built an airfield for an unmanned aircraft. Oddly enough, 25 Iraqi soldiers tried to surrender to this aircraft as it flew over them on day in February. On February 24, 1991 the coalition forces crossed into Iraq for the 100 hour ground war. After the ground conflict was over, our mission was to help re-deploy the United States troops. We moved from the desert floor back to Al Kobar Towers and constructed 600 wash points to expedite cleaning of military equipment. Our engineers also constructed twenty-five K-Span buildings, which were 25 meters wide and about 100 meters long. We erected fifteen fast tents, which were approximately the same width and length as the K-Span buildings.
On June 6, 1991 we loaded our equipment and personnel for redeployment to the United States. On June 8th we arrived at Fort Carson, Colorado.
After my return I was assigned as the Mobilization Readiness Officer. Later I was assigned as the Director of Information Management promoted to Colonel. A position I held until my retirement in 1994.
This takes me back to the start of this whole thing. On July 28, 1940 I was born on a kitchen table on a farm in Burwell, Nebraska. I was the fifth of six siblings, two girls and four boys. When I was six years of age my mother and father divorced, and we moved to Sturgis, South Dakota and lived with my grandmother. I tried to get into the National Guard when I was 14 but they wouldn’t accept me because my mother wouldn’t sign the papers. I even tried signing for her but the Warrant Officer wouldn’t accept the forged signature. When I was 15 I was able to join the National Guard, with the aid of my older brother who convinced my mother to sign the papers.
At age 16, while I was a junior in high school, I was in a typing class taking a time test and I flipped the carriage return, to my surprise it never stopped. It landed about two feet in front of the teacher. I never said a word; I just picked up my books and left the room for the principal’s office. Needless to say I wasn’t in the typing class anymore. That summer, between my junior and senior years I went to an Army Clerk school in Fort Leonard Wood, MO. That is where I learned how to type.
After graduating from high school, and experiencing the 2nd eight week school in Fort Leonard Wood, I decided I should go to college. I went to the University of South Dakota and majored in football and it was here that I met my future wife. After being selected the most valuable player of our football team I finally decided to get an education. So, I changed schools and graduated from Black Hills State University with a teaching degree. I taught high school for nine years, and was the head varsity wrestling coach. In 1972 I became a full time employee of the National Guard. In 1973 an incident occurred when members of the American Indian Movement attacked law enforcement officers in Custer, SD. Several highway patrol and local police were injured in this incident. In the subsequent months I was assigned to teach riot control procedures to all the units of the South Dakota National Guard, the State Highway patrol, and many local law enforcement agencies.
My wonderful wife, Patti, and I just celebrated our 46th anniversary. We have three children, two boys and one girl, plus six grandchildren. We have lived in Rapid City, at the same address, for more than thirty years. After my return I was assigned as the Mobilization Readiness Officer. Later I was assigned as the Director of Information Management promoted to Colonel. A position I held until my retirement in 1994.
Below: O'Connor and Gray enjoy respite during 1991 bivouac in Saudi Arabian desert west of Hafar Al Batin