30th Anniversary of Operation Desert Storm:
American Jewish Service Members in the Gulf War
Jeffrey Sacks, 822nd Military Police Company
A little over thirty years ago I was a young Chicago Police Officer, married with two small boys, and an Army Reservist having recently transferred from the Illinois National Guard to take command of the 822nd Military Police Company (158 soldiers) then at O’Hare Airport Air Force Reserve Base. I was diligent in my duties as the company commander making my soldiers responsible for maintenance of their vehicles, weapons, radios, and NBC gear and raising the readiness level of the unit while never believing we might actually be mobilized one day. In August of 1991 shortly after Iraq had invaded Kuwait my unit had weapons qualification over our drill weekend at Fort McCoy, WI, my youngest company clerk (of blessed memory) expressed her concern about being mobilized as the 101st Airborne Division had just deployed there and I reminded her that there had not been a major mobilization of the reserves since WW2.
I was quite wrong. On Thanksgiving of 1990 my unit received our mobilization orders along with the pumpkin pie. At the beginning of January 1990 the whole unit rolled out of our reserve center to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin with a new mission, Prisoners of War, to train up for our deployment to Saudi Arabia. Funny story number one: my Operations Sergeant, my Supply Sergeant and I figured out how much Lindane powder we would need to delouse the prisoners of war we anticipated, ordered it on high priority and got it. Then we had to give it back as we had the entire inventory of Lindane powder for the Department of Defense. We were quicker thinkers than the boys and girls at the five sided puzzle palace.
We trained in bitter cold and painted our HUMMV’s sand in the 20 below temperatures. When we arrived in Saudi Arabia we stepped off the TWA 747 that brought us there to slightly over 80 degree heat – a 100 degree change in temperature. The main part of our unit was greeted by our advance party who had gotten us quarters at the infamous Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and an initial mission of Base Defense and Law Enforcement for same. We survived SCUD missile attacks to include the one nearby that killed 29 and wounded 99 fellow reservists from Pennsylvania on February 25th,1991.
As prisoners of war started pouring in during the ground offensive, most of my unit was sent forward to assist with the Prisoner of War mission while our 3rd platoon went to Dammam, Saudi Arabia to secure the Army’s main aviation maintenance facility and provide convoy escort for the recovery of downed helicopters from Southern Iraq and Kuwait. Near Sarrar, Saudi Arabia the Army had built out of the sand using bulldozers, concertina wire, Hajj pilgrimage tents, and wooden guard towers two large POW camps. Prisoners of war were pouring in by the bus load – literally using coach buses. They needed to be searched for weapons, deloused, and in-processed. Funny story number two: while taking in prisoners my men observed a teenage Iraqi soldier wearing a Chicago Cubs baseball team t-shirt. This USA born hometown 16-year-old POW had the misfortune of visiting his grandparents in Iraq when hostilities began and was conscripted into the Iraqi Army. We reunited him with the State Department very quickly. Funny story number three: A young dusty Bedouin teenager wanders into our tent living area near the POW camp slipping past our observation/guard posts – desert as far as the eyes can see. He was looking for Marlboro cigarettes. We gave him a pack. He wanted to buy more and proceeded to pull out a wad of dollars that still makes me envious.
While in the desert a nearby hospital unit had enough Jewish personnel to hold Shabbat services offering us a chance to worship. There was a large Seder held on a cruise ship in Bahrain, but none of us who were Jewish in my unit attended as we didn’t want to look like the privileged Jews who got to go on perceived rest and recreation (R&R) while the rest of the company sweltered in the desert. Eventually most of my unit would spend several days R&R at that same cruise ship.
The ground offensive lasted for 100 hours, but we had the Prisoners of War for several months before they were sent back home. My unit was then reunited and reassigned to a new mission of Military Police Customs & Agriculture pre-screening of all redeploying troops taking all those good war souvenirs away (AK-47s, Scorpions in plastic film canisters, dud cluster bomblets). We moved up near KKMC (King Khalid Military City) also called the Emerald City and near the border with Iraq because of the green domes of the Mosques. Watching other soldiers go home and taking away their contraband in 130 degree heat and frequent sand storms was a difficult mission as morale began to wane. The company had increased in size with combat replacements, volunteers staying on and even two Air Force K-9 handlers detailed. In July we relocated to Khobar Towers again and performed this same mission in that vicinity until finally we could go home in August of 1991 after being relieved by a fresh MP unit newly arrived in country. We were the last unit from our state to return home. As for me, I personally am thankful that I had no serious casualties and returned all of my soldiers to their families. The 822nd MP Company under my command was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation for our efforts during Operation Desert Storm.