Once Upon a Time…In the US Army

By Ray Starmann


One of the best parts about writing articles is watching the comments drift in, some well-intentioned and full of good cheer, others laced with arsenic from irate readers.

A few comments this week and comments by a sergeant in the Rangers and an active duty buddy of mine, who’s probably the last guy in the Army with a 3rd Armored Division combat patch have prompted me to write this piece.

First the naysayers:

What do you know? You served in the Army a long time ago. You were in that Desert Storm War. What makes you qualified to judge the Army now? That Desert Storm War, aka the Gulf War…in the US Army, a long time ago.

And, the comment from the oldest Lieutenant-Colonel in the US Army who dons the famous Spearhead patch.  “You know the Army just isn’t any fun anymore.”

Yeah, sure looks that way doesn’t it?

And, lastly a tidbit from a Sergeant in the Ranger Training Brigade; “I’m sick of this PC crap! I wish I would have been in the old Army.”

The old Army…

Shortly after the US Army’s overwhelming victory in the Gulf War, noted historian Stephen Ambrose remarked on a news program that the US Army that won the Gulf War was the greatest army the nation had fielded since the Army of Northern Virginia.

Being placed on the same level of competence as Lee, Stuart, Jackson, Longstreet and those boys in gray is a tall order to fill.

Was the US Army that won Desert Storm really that good? If so, what made it that competent? Was it the soldiers? Was it the training? Was it the fact that our senior leaders had real courage?

The senior leadership in the Desert Storm Army was not even comparable to today’s cast of characters. The Army’s generals and colonels and senior enlisted personnel had all served in Vietnam. They were determined to never repeat the same mistakes that had been made in Southeast Asia. More importantly, the troops knew that their leaders, from their platoon sergeant all the way to the Chairman of the JCS cared about them. I have a hard time believing the soldiers in today’s Army have such faith in their leadership. Why should they? The Army’s senior leaders are selling them out at every turn.

I have a hard time believing that a Norman Schwarzkopf or a Barry McCaffrey or a Colonel Bob “Diggin” Higgins would have ever put up with the social engineering policies that are destroying the Army today.

The Army of Desert Storm was filled with Vietnam veterans, in fact we probably had 20 or so in the 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry, some of them chopper pilots and of course our command sergeant major, who had done five, count ‘em five tours in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

Lieutenant General Fred Franks, the VII Corps commander was an amputee, who often described the hot blue flame that burned inside him, an intensity to never again replicate the disastrous mistakes from Vietnam. I remember attending a VII Corps briefing before deploying. General Franks, choking back tears, limping to the map board, remarked, “This one, we’re going to do right. This one we’re going all the way.”

We believed him. More importantly, we trusted him. We trusted all of them.

The US soldiers that won the Gulf War, didn’t really win it for America or the Army. They won it for every Vietnam vet who had been spit on, insulted and denigrated by his fellow American citizens after coming home. Our victory in the Gulf War was their redemption.

We were an Army with technology that would terrify any Millennial today. Our S-2 section had typewriters and rotary phones. On top of the phone was a sticker with a direct number to Checkpoint Charlie. Why anyone in Central Germany, hundreds of miles away from West Berlin, needed to call Checkpoint Charlie was always a mystery to me.

It was an Army that was unencumbered by social engineering and political correctness. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em was the rallying cry of every formation. Booze was free flowing. Every Friday was Officers Professional Development at the O Club. Someone would give a presentation on a military subject and then the bar would be opened an hour later by the commander. The bar would stay open until the last cav trooper stumbled out or was carried to one of the old rooms above the club, where reportedly Hermann Goering had stayed one night.

One of the soldiers in the S-2 section was occasionally drunk on duty. During an alert we had to toss him into a shower, pour coffee down him and then pry him into the driver’s compartment of our APC. As he drove, I directed him from the TC hatch. He managed to knock down 27 fog markers that dark morning. Several months later, he was intoxicated and made unavailable for his promotion to corporal. His drinking became so bad that he found himself in the local German hospital. He escaped one night and ran across town in his gown, when he heard that the last group of 7th Cav troopers was heading out to the Middle East. Let’s just say he dried out in the desert.

At the infamous US Army training area in Germany, Grafenwoehr, aka Graf, troopers barreled over to the O Club every Tuesday and Thursday evenings for Stripper Nights. Drunken arguments and damage to property sometimes took place, as when my buddy, a recently retired colonel, destroyed a $10,000 Wurlitzer Jukebox in the Graf O Club. At Hohenfels, another miserable patch of training area in Bavaria, aviators from our unit tore the urinals in the latrine off the walls and trashed some other areas of the club before exiting in a drunken stupor. To this day, I’ve never figured out how they got all those urinals off the walls.

For those poor slobs who managed to get in trouble, a NCO would always host a GI Party of Swingin’ Richards to clean the barracks. Others would paint rocks and mow lawns all weekend. Those who truly offended the command sergeant major would find themselves in a wall to wall counseling session with him. Cornered in a small office with a man with a big fist is no place to be.

Sergeants had no problem knocking sense into a young private. Our S-2 senior NCO decked our junior NCO in the mouth and knocked him off the roof of our APC during an outdoor counseling session in the desert.

I’m not sure these scenarios are part of day to day life in the Army anymore.

Back then, the Army didn’t really care what you did, as long as you weren’t breaking any laws and you did your job.

Maybe things were more black and white. First the Soviets were the bad guys. We were there to stop them from even thinking about attacking Western Europe. Then, when the Wall came down, the Iraqis were the bad guys. No problem. We’ll handle that too.

The Army as an organization was stronger, because the men who led it were determined to maintain the traditions of the service. They had crawled out of the ashes of Vietnam and rebooted the Army from the ground up by discharging druggies, troublemakers and slackers. The Army today, in contrast, is rotting from the head and needs to be rebuilt from the top down.

We were the eyes and ears of the vaunted Spearhead Division. The Third Armored Division had fought valiantly across Western Europe in World War II and had battled its way into Germany. The division had literally parked its vehicles in 1945 and never left the continent after that, except for a brief deactivation in the late 40’s.

When 3AD received orders to deploy to Saudi Arabia with VII Corps in November of 1990, soldiers experienced a multitude of emotions, one of them was certainly the disbelief that any US Army unit in Germany could ever really deploy anywhere except to Graf or down the autobahn to participate in Reforger.

Most of the Desert Storm Army, minus the 82nd or the 101st, was a massive, slow moving, industrial age behemoth. As my buddy, the S-1 remarked to me. “No one is going anywhere. Some of these vehicles haven’t even been started since Elvis was driving them.”

Well, we did go somewhere…to the big sandbox.

The US Army in Desert Storm had a lot of money and equipment and parts. In Damman, Saudi Arabia, at the port, there were literally miles of parked tanks, APC’s, trucks, Hummers and every kind of piece of equipment imaginable. And, that was only reserve equipment.

The power unleashed by America on Iraq was simply unbelievable. The use of massive military might on an enemy is something that has been completely forgotten by the Obama Administration as we drop two bombs a day on ISIS.

Bush 41, a veteran of WWII was our commander in chief. He was playing for keeps.

On the first night of the Gulf War, I watched as hundreds and hundreds of planes flew over our assembly area on their way to Iraq. At that time we were perhaps 90 miles from the border and the aircraft still had their lights on. It was an awesome display of air power. It was something out of a movie. It was spine tingling.

As VII Corps moved to the Iraq border in preparation for the Ground War, we watched in awe as thousands of tanks, APC’s, trucks and everything else in the arsenal redeployed to the FAA. The forces that Schwarzkopf had arrayed against Iraq comprised the largest invasion force since D-Day.

Like I said, it was something out of a movie.

Certainly the Desert Storm Army had its share of problems. We were large and slow and particularly the VII Corps from Europe, which had elements from V Corps as well, never deployed anywhere. Our technology in the field was limited at best. We arrived in Saudi Arabia without maps and the TOC used a couple Rand McNally maps my dad had mailed me. I led a convoy hundreds of miles from the port to the TAA, by navigating with a compass and a map that was a photocopied page from the World Book Encyclopedia. My only instructions were to look for a green barrel in the desert.

Our radios were from the 1960’s and had a very limited range. During the Ground War, we had to send spot reports through several relays before they could get to the division TAC. The only guy with a good radio was the Air Force Liaison Officer.

Our leaders had moral courage. But, they made mistakes. History has recorded them. Were we as good as Stephen Ambrose thought? Maybe; we had a lot of training and we were told that we were good all the time. After a while, you start to believe it.

Today, the feminists cry out about the unabashed macho culture of the old Army and its unrelenting drinking, carousing and Black Sheep Squadron fraternity mentality.

Some of today’s soldiers seem to look down on the Army that won Desert Storm. Those who served multiple tours in the horrific violence of Iraq and Afghanistan will say things like, “Those guys we’re only there for six months and they strutted around like they were the freaking Afrika Korps!”

They look at us perhaps the way a WWI doughboy looked at one of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders from the Spanish-American War. Those guys from that splendid little war, what do they know?

The greatest lessons the Desert Storm Army can impart on today’s Army is that without senior leaders who really care and have moral courage, the Army is severely weakened, if not doomed.

This is particularly the case as today’s Army is assaulted day after day by lunatic feminist policies, which will destroy the institution if they’re not stopped.

Today’s soldiers have showed the world their bravery and endurance. If only the Army’s senior leadership had one tenth of the courage its soldiers have exhibited.

The leaders of the Army today would be wise to study the Army of Desert Storm and the reasons for its many successes and few failures.


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2 comments on “Once Upon a Time…In the US Army
  1. The author has every right to be wistful for the “old army”, whenever or however that is defined. Soldiers have always been the solid backbone of the defense of our country, the steel in the axe of American power. They have patiently endured the insults and digs of the bystanders and the nonservers and now the social engineers who are more interested in their pet causes than the nation’s survival, but the army will go on and so shall we. God bless the United States Army.

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