Thirty years ago today, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Today there is an initiative to build a memorial to commemorate and honor those who, as members of the Armed Forces, served on active duty in support of Operation Desert Storm or Operation Desert Shield. I was on beach in Florida that day in 1990 on a weekend Air Force trip when I heard of the invasion. I had no idea then how much that snippet of information would affect my life.
In the summer of 1990, I was a newly married 23-year-old, preparing for what would be my fourth year of a five-year aerospace/mechanical engineering curriculum at the University at Buffalo. I had enlisted in the US Air Force Reserve the year before. My career goal was to fly planes. I’d get experience around aircraft as a C-130 cargo plan mechanic, then move to a pilot position flying something (I wasn’t sure what) once I had my undergraduate degree.
The reserve seemed like a great safe path to that experience, all while earning great money for part-time work. I volunteered for as many weekend trips as I could, as they paid well and were informative and fun. If there ever was a war, which I was sure there wouldn’t be because the Soviet Union had crumbled, we may be activated to fill in for the full timers that would go overseas to fight. But there wouldn’t be a war.
When the situation escalated to where we were sending troops overseas, slowly I realized that our unit could be activated, likely for stateside service. I wouldn’t be pleased about the inconvenience of putting off my college degree. I was eager to start being a full-time breadwinner. But if duty called, I’d respond.
Early in my college career, prior to joining the reserves, I had a conversation with a friend. He said that if there ever was a war that brought back the draft, he’d go to Canada. I couldn’t agree. I felt back then, as I do today, that so many of the blessings in my life were a direct result of the freedoms we have, fought for by many, some who paid the ultimate price. If my turn came, I’d go and pay my dues, I said with the confidence that it would never happen.
The message on the answering machine that late September day in 1990 was short and simple: I had a few days to report for duty for overseas assignment. Tears welled up in my wife’s eyes, and she asked, “What does it mean?” I didn’t have an answer, but I tried to be the rock I thought I had to be. “I guess I’ll be going on a three-month vacation to the land of the sand,” I said.
The truth is, I didn’t have to go. I could have pushed for a deferment because of my college status, as a few in our unit did. I never seriously considered that. I had made a commitment, and I would honor it.
That would become one of, if not the strongest defining moment in my life.
Desert Shield, and then Desert Storm, permanently shaped my life path and my perspectives. Some changes were good, some not-so-good. That’s life. Our characters are tested daily. I’d like to think that I have been more true to my character with every test partially because of my decision to not defer.
When we returned home from Desert Storm, it was flags and yellow ribbons everywhere. Americans were united. The mood of the country was good, and the ghosts of Vietnam had finally largely been put to rest (though some will always remain). That was the United States that encouraged me to serve.
Things are a lot different today.
I don’t know how it happened, though I, like everybody, have theories. I don’t have to tell anyone who was an adult then that we are more divided now than in 1991, or maybe in almost any time on our country’s history. If you don’t agree with the other side, your thoughts, positions, morality, and even standing of a human being are often questioned, if not completely berated. How did we come to this place?
I have experienced this firsthand, especially on Facebook (see my last blog post). I feel that I have lost my right to express my opinion. This is a topic for another post, another day. People are openly posting statements that are so blatantly full of hate. The worst part? I doubt that many, if not most can even see the hate. They take the worst possible aspect of the side they don’t like (you name the issue – politics, COVID, etc.) and automatically assume that if you don’t agree with them, you are the worst of the other side. And if that doesn’t work, the fallback is “if you’re silent, you’re complacent.”No middle ground, no consideration of discussion.
The United States of 1990 was one of differences, yes, but also one of compromise. We have lost much of the ability to discuss issues in a civil manner. Just open any news site. This is a very dangerous situation. Without discussion, divisions will widen. Our republic’s continuing existence isn’t guaranteed. It must be constantly attended to.
I haven’t lost all hope. If I were called back to defend the United States, I would serve, in whatever capacity I could. I love this country. I bleed red, white, and blue. But it won’t happen without fundamental changes in everyone’s hearts. And I believe that won’t happen without prayer. Lots of it. Honest, fervent, passionate.
God bless the USA.
The National Desert Storm and Desert Shield Memorial is a new national monument that has been approved by Congress and President Trump (March 2017) to be built by 2021 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Visit http://www.ndswm.org/ for more information. Image from http://www.ndswm.org/