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On August 2, 1990, the Iraq Army under the command of President Saddam Hussein and General Ali Hassan al-Majid invaded and occupied the country of Kuwait. Following the occupation, Ali Hassan was placed in Kuwait as military governor. In response to this, the United Nations Security Council condemned the Iraqi administration and issued economic sanctions on the country. From the invasion until February 28, 1991, U.S. president George H. W. Bush, along with a coalition of thirty-eight other countries, supported the military forces deployed to the Middle East to counter this action. This build-up of forces became the first part of the 1990/1991 Gulf War and was codenamed Operation Desert Shield (August 7, 1990–January 17, 1991). The counter-strike and combat phase was codenamed Operation Desert Storm (January 17, 1991–February 28, 1991). Armed services in Arkansas offered support during the war. The Arkansas Army National Guard federalized thirteen units into service for Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Arkansas Air National Guard also sent ten units into federal service. Medical, transportation, and maintenance units joined the combat forces. In total, more than 3,400 Arkansans took part in the Gulf War. Four soldiers from Arkansas died during the conflict.
The coalition of nations led by the United States bombed Iraqi forces and strongholds from the start of Operation Desert Storm until its end in February 1991. On February 24, the ground assault began. Coalition forces moved through Iraq and Kuwait through the Saudi Arabian border. U.S. forces played a large role on all fronts of the invasion of Iraq and liberation of Kuwait. The First and Second Marine Divisions and the First Light Armored Infantry Battalion crossed into Kuwait and headed toward Kuwait City, while other U.S. forces were focused on the mainland of Iraq. Those headed toward Kuwait encountered trenches, barbed wire, and minefields. Fortunately for the coalition, many of these fortifications were poorly manned and defended, with most overtaken in the first twenty-four hours. The Iraq Army had more than 600,000 soldiers. Coalition forces encountered minimal resistance due to many Iraqi troops surrendering after small-arms firefights. The coalition repelled Iraqi forces and advanced toward Kuwait City.
Several thousand Kuwaiti units were tasked with liberating the city. As was the case at the southern front of the coalition’s invasion, Iraqi troops offered little resistance. The Kuwaitis quickly liberated their city. Three days after the ground assault started, President Hussein ordered a retreat from Kuwait, and President Bush declared the country liberated. Meanwhile, an Iraqi unit at the Kuwait International Airport still fiercely resisted within the city after this declaration; U.S. Marines from the First and Second Divisions cleared Iraqi forces out in a few hours. After the liberation of Kuwait City, and an additional day retreating, the Iraq Army was expelled from Kuwait. During their retreat, the Iraqi forces set fire to nearly 700 oil wells and placed obstacles and mines around the wells to make extinguishing the fires more difficult for the coalition. Some 100 hours after the ground assault started, combat operations ended. In coalition-controlled territory in southern Iraq, a peace conference was held at which a ceasefire agreement was negotiated and signed by both sides. The initial ceasefire of February 28 was confirmed by United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 on April 3, 1991. Saddam Hussein remained in power as president of Iraq.
After the ceasefire, the coalition began withdrawing from Iraq as part of Operation Desert Farewell. During the two weeks after the ceasefire, Iraq’s cities and provinces began to fall to insurgent forces. These insurgents were part of a rebellion against the Hussein administration and the Ba’ath political party. While at first the rebellion had several victories, Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard maintained control over Baghdad and pushed back the rebels. Without the expected American support, the rebellion was eventually defeated. The conflict left tens of thousands dead and up to two million citizens displaced.
Arkansas played a vital supportive role in the war. Before the Gulf War, Arkansas’s National Guard forces reorganized different units. In total, the Arkansas Army National Guard deployed thirteen units into federal service for Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The Arkansas Air National Guard also deployed ten units into federal service. Together, more than 3,400 Arkansans took part in the Gulf War. The Military Department of Arkansas reported Arkansas’s as the second-highest percentage of forces deployed to federal service out of any state or territory. One of the largest Arkansas units deployed was the 142nd Field Artillery Brigade.
Arkansas also contributed medical, transportation, and maintenance units in the Gulf War. Specifically, the 1122nd Transportation Company was called into federal service on September 20, 1990. This unit was sent to Southwest Asia. The unit transported soldiers of the Eighty-Second Airborne Division to combat during Operation Desert Storm. The Meritorious Unit Commendation the unit received states that it drove nearly a million miles in seven months. This unit was released from federal service on June 4, 1991.
Arkansas’s 216th Medical Company was called into federal service on November 17, 1990, and deployed to Southwest Asia on December 31 of the same year. While there, the unit transported more than 5,100 patients. It was selected as part of the residual force and was released from active duty on December 6, 1991.
Also deployed were the First and Second Battalions of the 142nd Field Artillery to Iraq on January 16, 1991. The 142nd provided fire support to the First Infantry Division and the United Kingdom’s First Armored Division.
Another medical unit from Arkansas that was deployed was the 148th Medical Hospital Unit. Deployed to Iraq on December 31, 1990, it provided general medical support to U.S. and coalition forces, with a specific attachment to the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment. It also treated Iraqi soldiers.
The Arkansas 224th Composite Service Company was called into federal service on November 21, 1990, and deployed to Southwest Asia on January 12, 1991. It provided support to units in the Sixteenth Corps Support Group. The unit completed over 3,500 maintenance requests while deployed and was released on May 26, 1991.
The 217th Maintenance Battalion was deployed to Southwest Asia on December 28, 1990. It was assigned to the Seventh Corps Support Command. The 217th provided command and control for eight maintenance companies and performed half of the vehicle maintenance and ninety-five percent of the communications equipment maintenance in the Seventh Corps area. It was released from active duty on May 17, 1991.
There were several Arkansas units mobilized during the Gulf War that were not deployed to Southwest Asia. These units were the 296th Medical Company, 119th Adjutant General Company, 204th Medical Detachment, and 212th Signal Battalion. These units were instead sent to places in the United States or in the case of the 204th, to Germany.
For the United States as well as the United Nations, the Gulf War was a decisive victory, demonstrating the military might and influence they had on the international community. With the fall of the Soviet Union also occurring in 1991, these events placed the United States as the leading global superpower with a strong military and allies. Although there were relatively minimal American casualties, four soldiers from Arkansas died during the conflict: Paul R. Eichenlaub II, David M. Wieczorek, Steven G. Mason, and Scotty L. Whittenburg.
For additional information:
Finlan, Alastair. Essential Histories: The Gulf War, 1991. Kumnor Hill, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2003.
Swofford, Anthony. Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles. New York: Scribner Publishing, 2003.
Arkansas State University
Last Updated 3/22/2017
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