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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Troops in Desert Storm confronted air-born toxins from the burning oil.
DESERT STORM. Desert Storm was the first major foreign crisis for the United States after the end of the Cold War. In August 1990, Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, ordered his army across the border into Kuwait. Iraq's army was well equipped. The United States had provided massive military aid to Iraq during their eight-year war with Iran, giving them the fourth largest army in the world. (1)

Kuwait was a major supplier of oil to the United States. The Iraqi takeover posed an immediate threat to Saudi Arabia, another major exporter of oil. If Saudi Arabia fell, Iraq would control one-fifth of the world's oil supply. President Bush, who succeeded President Reagan, stated simply: "This will not stand." (2)

In the last months of 1990, the United States participated in the defense of Saudi Arabia in a deployment known as Operation Desert Shield. Over 500,000 American troops were placed in Saudi Arabia in case of an Iraqi attack. The United States also sought multilateral support in the United Nations Security Council. The UN condemned Iraq and helped form a coalition to fight Iraq militarily. (3)

Bush also sought public support. Although there were few opponents of the conflict, the vast majority of Americans and a narrow majority of the Congress supported the President's actions. When all the forces were in place, the United States issued an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein: leave Kuwait by January 15, 1991 or face a full attack by the multinational force. (4)

January 15 came and went with no response from the Iraqis. The next night Desert Shield became Desert Storm. Bombing hit Iraq's military targets for the next several weeks. Iraq responded by launching Scud missiles at American military barracks in Saudi Arabia and Israel. (5)

       "Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central 
       Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation DESERT STORM, 
       an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation's resolutions 
       that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and 
       withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause 
       is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. 
       May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our Country." 
                         -- General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, 
                         USA Commander-in-Chief U.S. Central Command, 
                         in a message to the command, 16 January 1991 (6)

On February 24, the ground war began. Although the bombing lasted for weeks, American ground troops declared Kuwait liberated just 100 hours after the ground attack was begun. American foot soldiers moved through Kuwait and entered southern Iraq. This posed a dilemma. President Bush feared that the allies would not support the occupation of Baghdad. Concerns were raised that if Saddam's regime were toppled, the entire nation could disintegrate into a civil war. Iraq agreed to terms for a ceasefire, and the conflict subsided. (7)

Iraq did not leave Kuwait untouched. Millions of dollars of valuables were stolen by the occupying troops. As Iraq retreated, explosives were used against many of Kuwait's oil wells. The disaster to the environment grew as Iraq dumped oil into the Persian Gulf. Although estimates range in the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths, only 148 Americans were killed in the battle. (8)

The Persian Gulf War was a television event. CNN broadcast round-the-clock coverage of unfolding events. Americans saw footage from cameras placed on smart bombs as they struck Iraqi targets. The stealth fighter, designed to avoid radar detection was put into use for the first time. General Norman Schwarzkopf and General Colin Powell became household names as citizens watched their direction of the conflict. It cost the U.S. $60 billion to transport and sustain the forces, and fly over 22,000 strikes against the Iraqi army. (9)

Skillful diplomacy proved that the United Nations could be used as an instrument of force when necessary. Although Moscow did not contribute troops to the operation, they gave tacit approval for the attack. The potential for multinational cooperation was demonstrated. The largest American military operation since Vietnam was completed with great success. Most Americans felt confident in their military and its technological edge. President Bush promptly declared that the "new world order had begun." (10)

The 14th Quartermaster Detachment, a United States Army Reserve water purification unit stationed in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, was mobilized for service in Southwest Asia on January 15, 1991. The unit arrived at Fort Lee, Virginia three days later to conduct intensive mobilization training in preparation for deployment to Saudi Arabia. For the next thirty days, detachment soldiers trained 18 hours a day on the Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU) water purification system and common soldier tasks. The unit, augmented by 35 personnel from other active Army and reserve units, arrived in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on February 19, 1991. The detachment's soldiers were quartered in a warehouse that had been converted to a temporary barracks. (11)

At 8:40 pm (12:40 pm EST) on February 25, 1991, parts of an Iraqi SCUD missile destroyed the barracks housing members of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment. In the single, most devastating attack on U.S. forces during that war, 28 soldiers died and 99 were wounded. The 14th Quartermaster Detachment lost 13 soldiers and suffered 43 wounded. Casualties were evacuated to medical facilities in Saudi Arabia and Germany. Eighty-one percent of the unit's 69 soldiers had been killed or wounded. (12)

Among those killed was Specialist Ronald D. Rennison, age 21, Dubuque, Iowa, 477th Trans Co.,USAR. (13) On February 25, 1992 a granite monument to Rennison and 27 other Army reservists killed when a Scud missile hit their barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia was unveiled outside the 14th Quartermaster Detachment in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. (14)



1. U. S. History: Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium, "Operation Desert Storm," Online: http://www.ushistory.org/us/60a.asp

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Naval History and Heritage Command. "Desert Storm: The War with Iraq," Online: http://www.history.navy.mil/wars/dstorm/ds5.htm

7. U. S. History...

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. U.S. Army Quartermaster Foundation. "14th Quartermaster Detachment," Online: http://www.qmfound.com/14th_Quartermaster_Detachment.htm

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. Japsen, Bruce. "Monument Unveiled," Telegraph Herald, February 26, 1992, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920226&printsec=frontpage&hl=en