The Kurdish Detour
Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia—Members of the 432nd left Kuwait City at 0800, Sunday, April 7, for redeployment to the US through Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Emotions soared on a roller coaster high, filled with good thoughts of going home. Good thoughts sustained the troops for the next couple days, despite some long, grimy hours at a Dammam car-wash rack. The troops’ mission: cleaning oil spots off of unit vehicles caused by oil well fires in Kuwait.
The roller coaster emotions took a sudden plunge on Thursday, April 11 when the commander confirmed rumors that the unit was not going home, but was picked for a mission in Turkey. Nothing yet was said about northern Iraq¹.
The news had the impact of an automobile accident. The troops were stunned, to the extent that even complaining seemed pointless. While thousands of other troops at Khobar Village were happily waiting for flights out, the 432nd wrestled with the emotions of flights “in.”
The emotional impact of being assigned another mission quickly reached the folks back home. Family members began raising questions with public officials about the issues of the President’s promise of a speedy return and the use of reservists to do what seemed to be the mission of active duty units. The Appleton Post-Crescent published an editorial raising the question of why the 432nd should be subjected to a “first in, last out” policy regarding the use of civil affairs units in Operation Desert Storm. The issue even received national exposure when the Associated Press reported on April 17 Congressman Toby Roth’s resolution in the House of Representatives to have the 432nd returned home. Congressman Roth based his resolution on the principle that the reserves are for “national emergencies” and that humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross and the UN should be handling disaster relief efforts.
The unit’s response to their families’ efforts to have the 432nd returned was noteworthy. The response is best illustrated by SSG Don Hanson’s impromptu speech before the company during a routine formation Sunday morning, April 14 at Khobar Village. First Sergeant Jim Gerlach had just made his usual request for “anything for the good of the order” from the platoons. Personal announcements were normally made at that time. SSG Hanson used the occasion to walk to the front of the company to describe the efforts of family members back home for the 432nd’s return. He surprised the unit by closing his remarks with a personal disclosure. Despite family efforts to get an early return, he disapproved. SSG Hanson urged the unit to accept the mission, not only for the humanitarian issues at stake but also for the way civil affairs units should be regarded in the future: as worthy assets of the nation’s defense program. The unit responded to his message and his sincerity with strong applause. The troops were determined to do their job, and determined to return home confident of a job well done².
- Even worse were the rumors after several weeks in Kurdistan that had us deploying to Bangladesh to help in typhoon relief. The Marines — the only other branch of the US military with a civil affairs capacity — ended up with the mission instead.
- Normally, I think rah-rah speeches are corney, but SSG Hanson’s was truly moving. Flags were waving, fireworks were going off, etc. It was a classic that turned around the attitude of the unit and got us all looking forward to Kurdistan. (That’s SSG Hanson in back and SSG Anderson on the left.)
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