Copperas Cove veterans reflect back 30 years to Desert Shield, Desert Storm
By LYNETTE SOWELL
Before social media and the ability to live stream via smartphones to the other side of the world, tens of thousands of troops deployed from Fort Hood and other U.S. military installations to Saudi Arabia during the time known as Operation Desert Shield, followed by Operation Desert Storm, which turned out to be the start of deployments to Southwest Asia to continue for the next three decades.
Recently, the Leader-Press sat down with three veterans who served in different roles, who shared their recollections.
Scott Sjule served for 21 years and was a sergeant during Desert Storm. He was with Service Battery 1/82 Field Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division. He retired in 2006 at the rank of 1st Sergeant.
The time of Desert Shield actually first began in late 1990, and Sjule said he deployed in October 1990 to Saudi Arabia. His travel took him into Iraq and eventually to Kuwait, from which he returned to the United States.
Sjule recalled the conditions to which they deployed, which were primitive.
“I remember Chef Boyardee lunch buckets which they procured, and that was really good until you got tired of beefaroni. Then there was getting ‘near beer’ that had Arabic writing on the can – you weren’t technically supposed to be able to get it…I remember the shelf-life bread.
“But, there was just the sitting in the middle of nowhere for long periods of time. Desert Shield was just long. Whenever they set up tents with phones, you would have to go to the division rear. It wasn’t like you could Skype every day. You got to call once, maybe, they’d rotate through everyone. You would pick up phone to an operator in new York, for a very expensive long distance phone call.”
Sjule also recalled the chemical threat which was large at the time, and the waring of chemical suits and responding to chemical alarms.
“Subsequently later, the chemical alarms were more sensitive than what everyone had thought…but you did so much redundant training going in, that when you thought you were in a nerve agent attack, you remembered the training and it all kicked in.”
Sjule recalled the heat when walking off the plane in Saudi Arabia, and waiting in a tent for the next instructions, along with not needing postage stamps and writing “free mail,” and numbering letters exchanged with his wife, because the mail didn’t’ always arrive in order.
At the time, there was not a lot of infrastructure there, with an airport in Kuwait having just a burger stand, which eventually turned into restaurants and places selling Middle Eastern wares.
But what Sjule recalled most was the welcome home in the Copperas Cove area, with people lined as many as six deep on Clarke Road.
“There were six people deep on 190, on both sides of the gate. It was such a huge welcome home. The country was very inspired at the time. And Joe Lombardi sat at Victory Corner, with the KOOV Road Hog. He was there for every single one of those things,” Sjule said of longtime Covite and radio announcer.
Joseph Wilgeroth served for 26 years, from 1988 through 2014, and was a specialist with the 82nd Airborne, 1st Battalion, 2nd Aviation Brigade when he deployed from Fort Bragg in August 1990 and returned in March 1991.
He was an armor man, working on weapons systems for the Apache helicopter.
Wilgeroth echoed Sjule’s reflections on communication then versus now.
“I received a letter from my wife saying that ‘the surgery went well,’ but there was no prior letter. So, communication was a lot different. That’s when we started numbering them.”
Wilgeroth provided support to the aviation and moving equipment on the ground.
“We had to set up a FARP, a forward arming and refueling point; we would get the ammo, set up, the aircraft would come in, get rearmed and refueled, and then go back out.”
Facilities likewise were limited.
“If you wanted a tent to do something other than sleep, you had to put it up. If you wanted a shower facility, you would make it.
“Once the air war started, we continued to move forward. During the war, that was the longest time, from beginning of air war to beginning of the ground war.”
CSM (Retired) Dennis Webster served for “30 years, 3 months and 28 days” and was a Sergeant Major when he deployed during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He entered the military in 1972 and retired in 2002 and saw many changes, particularly with this deployment.
One of the major changes was the introduction of using GPS technology to make their way through barren terrain, to reach their locations.
“Desert Storm was the first time I’d ever seen a GPS. We were issued a GPS because we were running around with, for lack of a better term, road maps with 10 kilometer grid squares,” Webster said. He would use his compass along with the map prior to using GPS.
As the support squadron’s senior enlisted advisor, Webster led a convoy of ammunition trucks and fuel trucks from Saudi Arabia into Iraq. He arrived in Saudi Arabia in October 1990 and returned in April 1991, in one of the last groups to return as part of 3rd Cavalry.
He recalled the welcome home received by his fellow soldiers who had served in Vietnam.
“On the last flight, there were two sergeants major with me who had served in Vietnam. When we landed in El Paso at Vicks Field, when we were taxiing in, they could see people and flags. They said ‘What is that?’ and I told them, ‘They are here to welcome us home.’ I remember my daughter leaping over the barrier, and I told security – no she’s good to go. It was much changed. Much different.”
Now, 30 years later, the 1st Cavalry Division Association, based in Copperas Cove, is preparing for its annual reunion. The nationwide organization with more than 70,000 members, is taking preorders for a commemorative Gulf War Veteran shirt, from now through Aug. 2. More information can be obtained by calling the association at 254-547-7019.