My Platoon in Desert Storm

I wrote a few articles about my military life when I begin my block back in January.  That part end while I was in Fort Bragg.   I am telling you this because of the gap the whole story have from that time to this article.  This chapter of my life in the service of my country began when I decided to go to Germany.   I was about to finish my time in the service, and I made a decision to stay with one condition.   I want to continue my service in Germany.  They accepted my terms, and I re-enlisted.  Nowadays I am not sure if it was the right decision.  After I finished, you will see why.

I came home to Puerto Rico to see my family before going to Europe.  I have an excellent time with my family and friends.  The island is a beauty set on the Caribbean Sea with beautiful beaches and a lot of places to go on the coast as well as up on the mountain.  The people are friendly, and they love to party.  They pick any excuse to have a party.  We have the longest Christmas festivities in the world because they last about a month, no kidding.  As you should realize by now, my first language is Spanish, but for some reason, I love to write in English so if I make a mistake forgive me.

When I left my hometown and went straight to the airport; from there, I flew to New Jersey and then to Frankfurt, Germany.   Someone picked me up and took me to what they call 21st replacement.   They decide where they need you or to what unit they will send you.  I got the short stick because where I sent.  It was good but not that good.  Let me explain we spend more time in the field than any other unit in Germany except for all other Armor Cavalry Regiment (ACR)  unit like 11th ACR and 2nd ACR.  I went to the 1st squadron of the 1st ACR attached to 1st Armor Division( Old Ironside).   We have to do the same things other Armor Battalions do; plus guard the frontier between the Warsaw Pact countries and West Germany.  That add up 90 more days of field duty to our schedule because we go to guard the border three times a year;  since I was there for three years because the single soldier has to stay that long because didn’t have any spouse or children.  On the other hand, married people have a choice to be there for the 18th month or 36th month.  Depend if he wants his family there or not.  I was on one mission or another most of the time; about 280 days out of the year away somewhere.

We went to guard the border between Czechoslovakia and West Germany.  Then we did all the other require training like Gunnery ( practice firing our primary weapon in range ), Tactical training movement as a unit, practice emergency alert done in the middle of the night, individual training, tactical action in small-scale (platoon) and other training and tactical competition with other Scout Platoon.  It seems that’s not much but when you break it down is a lot.  Only Cavalry Men knows what I am trying to tell you.  It wasn’t an easy life, but I love it.  You have to be inside the pot to understand me.

Also, it was a crazy life. I was station in O’Brien Barracks close to the small town of Schwabach about fifteen KM southeast of Nuremberg.  When I got there the other guys over there used to go out every night to the nightclub and return to the barracks at 3:00 am every single day.  Then we get up at 5:00 am to do physical training (PT) and continue with our work day.  Then after that, we went to take a nap in the afternoon in preparation for another night on the town.  It went like that for a while until I got exhausted and quick. It was fun while it last.

Remember, it’s a resume, so all that I went thru won’t be on this extract for the sake of the people who like to go to the point. I stayed in that unit for almost three years it was time for me to return to the state. Recently I met this beautiful German woman and felt deeply in love with her. I extended my time in Germany for another three years, and we move together.  We love each other very much, I know because I am a black latino and her parents were not comfortable with the relation, but she went against them.  We lived in our little love nest for four wonderful years but like everything in life ended.  We will get to that later.

Well, I arrived at my new unit it was an Armor Battalion like the one before except that we didn’t have to guard the frontier.  It was 2/81st Armor Battalion, and then it changes to 4/70th Armor Battalion.  I was there for the next four years and love it.  I was happy; time to enjoy myself with my soul mate and friends.  I forgot to tell you, the unit was located in Ferris barracks in the town of Erlangen north Nuremberg.  I had a lot of friends there they have to excuse me for no mention them because, for that, I would need permission, and I don’t have contact with all of them.   That’s why the only name in all the article about my time in service don’t have any name except mine in my first My Life in The Army 1st chapter.  So, I beg all them to forgive me.

We did a lot of great things there, but I remember The Scout Cup Competition.  It was a competition of all the Scout Platoon in Europe and every year we trained like crazy for the event.  On land navigation with a map or without, with a compass or without, etc.  Tactical movement such route reconnaissance operation, weapon and other skill necessary to perform our duty as a recon unit.  The event always took place in wildflecken a training camp make mostly of high ground a difficult terrain for training.  The competition was hard, and only a squad participate, but the whole Platoon was involved supporting the one that was going to participate.  So it was a Platoon and Company affair.

Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and my life as I knew it went to hell.  You will understand why later.  We prepared to go to the Persian Golf, and I remember living Germany the 31st of December of 1990.  There was a lot of preparation before that; we took our equipment to Bremen north of the country to put then on a transport ship.  We drive couple days to get there, sleep on the floor in a school gym.  So, it looks easy, but It wasn’t.  Then we came back south to our family and friend before departing Germany.  Like I was saying we left that special day in December and landed in an airfield in Saudi Arabia and let me tell you it was cold.  I though the desert suppose to be hot, but it wasn’t.  We waited for the transport for quite a while.  To get warm, we use a big plastic that was on the airfield and break the cold wind with it. 

The buses came and took us to Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia a complex of apartments made for the nomad of the desert, but they like their way of life and stay living in the open area under the star.  The whole platoon fit in one apartment because they could have as many wives they can afford the places were huge.  So, we feel comfortable in the area.  While we wait for our equipment to arrived, which wasn’t too long, we cleaned our small arms and killed time.  That’s the first time in my life that ate sheep meat, or that’s  what I though, later I learned that gyros were made out sheep flesh.  In Germany, I had a lot of those.   The equipment got to the port three days later.  We got on our vehicle, and to the desert, we went in what it would be our home for the next three-month.  We were in an assembly area with the rest of the battalion.  There a camp was set up to wait and see if a strategic decision could end the conflict.  In the meantime, we continue with our duties of maintenance of the vehicle and firearms.  That was during the raining season, and it rains so much that the movement of the vehicle turned the sand into brown mud.  We dig holes and make tubes of plastic bottles and use them to piss in it.  That was to prevent sickness from the desert fly.  We defecate in fifty-five-gallon drum cut to small size.  The excrement was burned with a mix of gas and diesel; while it was burning a soldier have to stir the feces with a stick until it burned.  We shower, wash our clothes and do all the personal hygiene in the camp.

The order came down the seventeen of January to begin an offensive operation call Desert Storm.  We prepare to move the entire First Armor Division in a diamond formation; one brigade in front, one on the rear, one in each side and the support units in the center.  It was a large formation.  I wonder how it would look like from above.  I know it was a beautiful spectacle.   Our strategic was to go west enter Iraq and then turn left and hit the Iraqi Army thru their right side while the Marines and other unit attack head on.   We move for three days with few minutes stop to fuel up the vehicle and continue.  The unit has to arrive at the battle at a particular time.  We went thru a real desert storm to get there, ironic,  nothing could be seen in front, we wear a rag around our head, face, neck, and used vision goggles to protect us from the sand.  The wind blows so hard that the sand hurts your naked skin. We have to maintain visual contact with the vehicle up front to keep the formation and no to get lost.  It wasn’t easy with all that sand hitting you face.  Finally, the dust storm stop.  We arrived at the battle right on time.  Our tank fire against the enemy dug in, an A-10 Thunderbolt hovering above us laid fire on the Iraqi troops.   It was a chaos so much firing from all around mortar rounds landed close to my M-901 ITV.  All of the sudden the sky turned dark as the night.  The Iraqi in desperation set the oil well on fire.  We were under that black smoke for days or weeks; I don’t remember exactly how much time passed before the sky clear up.

The battle last about ninety-six hours or so.  After that, we went to pick up the pieces.  All kind of Russian-made weapons were lying around including tanks like the T-64 tank, T-68 tank, etc.   We saw the burning corpses of soldiers, dog digging out the dead to eat their flesh and we captured three prisoners of war and turned them into the proper authorities.  We search and guard the area while the engineer blows up the Iraqi war vehicle and equipment.   My crew and I went to rest and defend a place where we were along.   I was a sergeant and commander of my vehicle.   I don’t remember telling you that.  We haven’t taken a shower or take our clothes off since the hostilities began.  We have a big silver insulation blanket, and I put it on the ground inside a ditch.  Took off my clothes and with two gallons of water shower and laid down to dry under the desert sun.  It was a nice feeling the breeze caressing your skin and the sun warming you.  After two months without taking off you clothes for more than five minutes that felt good.

We left the desert went to an area where we took a hot shower; they give us desert uniform to go back home.  Strange because we used our forest camouflage uniform to fight in the desert and we were given this uniform to show up at home.  Anyway, we bought gold jewel and few things, eat burgers and the same night we were in a C-141 cargo airplane back to Germany.  That’s when the hell begins for me.  I changed, my girlfriend change and nothing was the same anymore.  I have a nightmare, couldn’t sleep, and other feeling strange to me.  Years later I learned that I have PTSD, Depression, and anxiety disorder which VA don’t want to recognize.  Anyway, I will cover that in detail in the second part of this article. ( The Aftermath)

                                                                                    Author, Melito Santos



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