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Mark Pestcoe

30th Anniversary of Operation Desert Storm:
American Jewish Service Members in the Gulf War

PFC Mark Pestcoe, US Army

The 30th anniversary of the first Persian Gulf War is upon us. I thought I would share my very very very small contribution during the Desert shield phase of that brief war so many years ago.

I grew up in Philadelphia. While my school grades were good, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. Playing my guitar was not going to pay the bills. I didn’t have money for college. I was fairly patriotic so I enlisted in the US Army in 1988. I served a few years active duty with the 9th Infantry Division,  44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Ft. Lewis, Washington. My MOS (military occupation specialty) was 16 Sierra-Stinger gunner. I watched a lot of TV as a kid so I guess I wanted to participate in what I thought was a “macho” job LOL. I was young and probably a bit naive.

The stinger weapon is a shoulder fired, “fire and forget”,  surface-to-air missile that was popularized during the Soviet-Afghanistan war in the 1980s. It was proven highly effective against Soviet aircraft. In 1990, my tour at Ft. Lewis was up and I routinely discharged as I wanted to return to college. However, my civilian time would be brief.

On January 19th, 1991, I received a Western Union telegram in the mail ordering me back to active duty for “Operation Desert Shield.” Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and the United States had put together a coalition in order to expel the Iraqi forces. This was a bit of a conundrum for me in that I had just started college at Penn State University.

My parents were a bit disappointed when I dropped out of college, and within one week, had rejoined some of my former air defense stinger brothers at the 56th Air Defense Artillery Training Regiment, Ft Bliss TX. This was the air defense training center at the time. The Patriot, Stinger, Vulcan, Chaparral, Nike & Hawk weapon system classes/instruction were taught there. The Patriot weapon system proved indispensable in protecting American, coalition forces and Israel from incoming Iraqi Scud missiles.

I was part of a group of American soldiers that assisted advisers in teaching proper air defense deployment to soldiers of the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Kuwaiti marines during the Persian Gulf War. Instruction for the coalition forces was done at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Our Arab/Muslim allies would spend much of the day and night praying. Overall, they seemed very professional. From my recollection, many had IROC-Z sports cars that were quite popular at that time. I could only afford the bus LOL. I was a PFC and their PFCs were paid much more than us. That’s another thing I noticed LOL. There was only one other Jewish soldier besides me out of the 200 soldiers. They placed this poor young man in the mail room as his behavior was somewhat erratic. Then they had him picking up cigarette butts and then they finally just sent him home.

While my contribution was miniscule compared to other vets, I thought I would share my experience anyway.  Even though I didn’t deploy in Desert Storm, Desert Shield was still a “coming of age“ experience for me. History seems to support that Operation Desert Shield/Storm’s limited goals were an American success (removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait). G-d bless America and ALL of her veterans. Thanks for allowing me to share.

American Jewish Service Members in the Gulf War

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