From Vietnam to Baghdad
- February 7, 2016
- / Hill Goodspeed, Pnj.com
- / Post Tags
For many Americans, the first news of Operation Desert Storm 25 years ago came through the excited voices of CNN reporters broadcasting over the sights and sounds of tracer fire and bombs exploding as they struck targets in Baghdad.
It was an event that was months in the making, beginning in August 1990, when Iraqi troops invaded neighboring Kuwait and President George H.W. Bush appeared on national television announcing that he ordered U.S. armed forces to the region.
On January 16, 1991 President Bush announced the launching of coalition air strikes.
"As I report to you, air attacks are underway against military targets in Iraq,” he told the nation. "Our objectives are clear: Saddam Hussein's forces will leave Kuwait. The legitimate government of Kuwait will be restored to its rightful place, and Kuwait will once again be free.”
As the president spoke, one of the airplanes in the air over Baghdad was an A-7E Corsair II that is now on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum.
Familiar in naval aviation circles – the gaping jet intake beneath its nose giving it a distinctive appearance – the Corsair II had flown its first combat missions in the skies over Vietnam and in many crises since.
Over Baghdad in January 1991, only two squadrons of the venerable warbird remained, Attack Squadrons (VA) 46 and 72 flying from the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy (CV 67). Not since Vietnam had the United States unleashed anything approaching the mass concentration of air power than it did on that night and those that followed. They included Marine aircraft based in Saudi Arabia and Navy aircraft operating from ships steaming in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, which included six aircraft carriers, some of which had launched strikes in Vietnam.
The A-7 Corsair II in the museum was part of VA-46, the ranks of its pilots in the air on that first night of the air war including the squadron skipper, Cmdr. Mark Fitzgerald, who received his graduate degree from the University of West Florida and eventually retired as an admiral. Two others, Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Driscoll and Lt. Kevin Mannix, eventually commanded the Blue Angels.
Returning from that first mission, VA-46 pilots began writing entries in a log book, now in the museum’s archives, that helped guide subsequent combat missions over Iraq. Mirroring what the American public was seeing on television, an entry on the first night read: "AAA (anti-aircraft artillery) & ballistic SAMs (surface-to-air missiles) everywhere. Above 12K (12,000-feet altitude) is a must.”
A quarter century has passed since Operation Desert Storm, but its legacy endures. Despite President Bush’s hopes for a "new world order” in the wake of the end of the Cold War, the events of 1991 served as the beginning of an enduring American presence in the region marked by conflict from Operation Iraqi Freedom to current combat missions against the Islamic State.