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Help From Above in the Desert: Scott AFB & the Gulf War, 1990-1991 Part 2, From Defense to Offense: DESERT STORM

  • Published
  • By Kris C. Matthews, 375th Air Mobility Wing Historian
  • 375 Air Mobility Wing

On January 15, 1991, the ultimatum the United Nations placed on Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to completely remove his forces from Kuwait was up.  On January 16, the U.S. launched the first air strike on Iraq and Scott Air Force Base increased its Threat Condition, now known as Force Protection Condition, from ALPHA to BRAVO.  While today we are accustomed to fewer gates and 100 percent ID checks, it was uncommon at the time.  Scott’s unique mission partners of United States Transportation Command, Military Airlift Command, Air Force Communications Command, and more ensured a continuous stream of visitors, including the Vice President, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Air Force Chief of Staff, and many more.  This made base security an even more crucial function throughout the war.  With Saddam Hussein warning that U.S. attacks against Iraq would unleash a wave of terrorism against Americans, security also increased at Lambert International Airport, McDonnell-Douglas, currently Boeing, and other sensitive locations across the St. Louis Metro Region.

A flyer with a blue star and red borders states "With Pride" and "Desert Storm"

Help From Above in the Desert: Scott AFB & the Gulf War, 1990-1991 Part 2, From Defense to Offense: DESERT STORM

A 1991 pro-military flyer printed for display by E & J Printing, Inc. of O’Fallon, IL. (375th Air Mobility Wing Historical Archives)

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Two military members exchange video tapes in a vintage photo.

Help From Above in the Desert: Scott AFB & the Gulf War, 1990-1991 Part 2, From Defense to Offense: DESERT STORM

Colonel Robert J. Baars, 375th Air Mobility Wing Vice Commander, accepts tapes for deployed Scott troops from a local record store owner. These tapes would be used for families to record messages to send to their deployed loved ones. (375th Air Mobility Wing Historical Archives)

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Vintage photo of an oil fire and smoke.

Help From Above in the Desert: Scott AFB & the Gulf War, 1990-1991 Part 2, From Defense to Offense: DESERT STORM

A photo taken from a C-29 assigned to Scott’s 1467th Facility Checking Squadron of an oil fire on the approach to Kuwait City International Airport, 1991. The fires, set by retreating Iraqi troops, caused difficulty landing and covered the planes with a tar-like substance that had to be wiped off after each flight. (375th Air Mobility Wing Historical Archives)

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Young children and family members wave United States of America flags and signs, welcoming home service members.

Help From Above in the Desert: Scott AFB & the Gulf War, 1990-1991 Part 2, From Defense to Offense: DESERT STORM

Michael and Kevin Johnson and Jared Trautt wait to see their fathers, Sergeant William Johnson and Staff Sergeant John Trautt, deplane upon their return to Scott from the Persian Gulf on 1 April, 1991. (375th Air Mobility Wing Historical Archives)

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Scott was humming with activity throughout the Gulf War. “People are burning the midnight oil,” a USTRANSCOM spokesman said at the time.  “The mission is the top priority.  They’re intense.  It’s all business.  There’s no play – no time for small talk.” 

Both USTRANSCOM and MAC had teams working around the clock coordinating the worldwide “aluminum bridge” that included the first-ever activation of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet.  Thousands of missions were flown to ferry thousands of troops and tons of cargo across the globe.

The 57th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron’s five C-9A Nightingales and 240 members were not dispatched to the area of operations; instead they were deployed to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  Another two aircraft were sent to Norton Air Force Base, California, for a similar tasking.  Scott’s C-9A would receive casualties once they reached the U.S. via C-141s and distribute them to various regional military hospitals using the domestic aeromedical evacuation system.  An interesting phenomenon emerged: the presence of large white planes with red crosses on the tails had a sobering effect on spectators who knew the aircraft were there to transport wounded and killed Americans, so they were closely watched by local observers.  Fortunately, as the defensive buildup of DESERT SHIELD turned to the offensive rout of DESERT STORM, the mass casualties feared never materialized and the 375th Air Mobility Wing’s aeromedical crews were not needed on a large scale. 

The C-21 mission in DESERT STORM revolved around providing airlift support to General Norman Schwarzkopf Jr., United States Central Command commander, including delivering documents, moving reconnaissance imagery, and transporting high-ranking officials.  This was the first operational support airlift real-world deployment of the 1401st Military Airlift Squadron, currently known as the 458th Airlift Squadron and still executing the operational support airlift mission.  The aircrews faced numerous Scud missile alerts, as Saddam Hussein’s forces frequently launched “shoot and scoot” attacks at Saudi Arabia from mobile launchers located in southern Iraq.  While U.S. Army Air Defense Artillery was effective in shooting down Scuds with Patriot surface-to-air missiles, the enemy attacks still came too close for comfort as several times Scud shrapnel was found on or near the C-21 parked on the ramp.

The 1467th Facility Checking Squadron, currently known as the 375th Operations Group, Detachment 1 and still executing the facility checking mission, pressed on as DESERT STORM commenced; the squadron continuously operated out of Bateen Air Base, United Arab Emirates.   As the coalition forces routed the Iraqis and retook Kuwait, the airfield systems inside Kuwait would also need to be inspected and made operational.  More than just weather conditions made the mission difficult, as the approach to Kuwait City International Airport was obscured by smoke from nearby oilfield fires set by retreating Iraqi forces.  The aircrews would have to wipe down the residue left by the smoke after landing.  This was made even more complex by remnant Iraqi troops firing at the C-29s from buildings near the airport and the bombed-out conditions of many of the airport’s buildings. 

Throughout the Gulf War, Scott’s local community was extremely supportive.  Rallies and parades in neighboring towns were a frequent occurrence while the troops were deployed.  Thousands of signs of support were visible around the local area: service star flags, U.S. flags, signs, patriotic displays, troop-supporting t-shirts, post cards, and more.  The Hyatt Regency hotel in St. Louis hosted over 200 family members of deployed Scott Airmen for a special Thanksgiving dinner.  For Christmas, families were given front-row seats to the 1990 St. Louis Christmas parade and the opportunity to videotape special holiday messages to their deployed loved ones.  A non-profit group, Operation HOMEFRONT, paid out more than $7,600 to families of deployers that were facing financial hardship due to unforeseen policies like a reduction in Basic Allowance for Sustenance for members deployed to field conditions. 


To keep deployed members and their families informed, Scott started a newsletter focused on the deployment titled The Desert Link.  This newsletter would advertise services and functions for family members, update both sides on what the other was up to, and advise all concerned to practice good operational security measures.  It reassured families that while they were living in tents and working twelve-hour shifts they were in high spirits, working at night to avoid the desert heat, and had access to amenities such as FM radio and recreational facilities. 

Dave Cashion, a St. Louis Army veteran, worked to connect deployed members and their loved ones via a relatively new communications method: electronic mail.  Creating a system to collect and send messages through a private international e-mail network to a receiving service in Saudi Arabia, Cashion and about 200 volunteers moved up to 200 messages a day to and from the Persian Gulf.

A local footwear manufacturer, Belleville Shoe, was selected to manufacture a tan suede desert combat boot after U.S. leaders realized that the traditional black leather boots were not ideal for desert operations.  Belleville would deliver over 100,000 pairs of the new desert boot to the Persian Gulf during the war, with its employees working 60 hours a week to meet the demand.  These boots would continue to see service after the Gulf War and are the inspiration for military footwear still in use today.

As the 90-day rotations came and went and the war itself wound down in the spring and early summer of 1991, families began to welcome back from deployment most of the 281 Airmen deployed from the 375th.  On April 8, 1991, approximately 100 family members and friends looked skyward and cheered loudly when two returning C-21s made a low-level pass over the hangar.  That same month over 130 Scott Airmen returned, including 1st DAWg’s commander, Col. John Wingfield III.  Col. Wingfield gave a speech lauding the performance of the wing during the war, stating that they set a standard few others could match. 

The 1991 Memorial Day ceremony in Belleville was uniquely special, as the community honored the eleven Illinoisans killed during DESERT STORM, with Col. Wingfield as the guest speaker.  The next month, Belleville hosted a Homecoming Parade in conjunction with Scott’s Desert Salute efforts attended by 3,500 military and civilians, with Medal of Honor recipient retired Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day as a special guest speaker. 

Airpower ended up being a decisive element in the outcome of the war.  For 42 consecutive days and nights, coalition forces conducted one of the most intensive air bombardments in history.  The ground campaign that airpower enabled was so successful that it only lasted one hundred hours before Kuwait was deemed liberated and President George H.W. Bush declared a ceasefire. 

The Gulf War can be looked at historically as a redemption of the U.S. military after the hardships of the Vietnam War and the intervening years.  The junior officers of the former war found themselves as the generals of the latter.  The late stages of the Cold War had driven a revolution in American military technology and prowess, while the repeal of the draft and the rise of the all-volunteer force resulted in a higher-quality force.  The support of the local community, too, was a redemption of the way Americans felt about their armed forces after the highly confrontational atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s. 

Scott’s impact and the support of our community was not a one-time fluke limited to the Gulf War, but would continue throughout the deployments of the 1990s, the twenty years of the Global War on Terror, and into the present.