30th Anniversary of Operation Desert Storm:
American Jewish Service Members in the Gulf War
Specialist Sidney H. Stein, US Army
How did I become a Gulf War Veteran? It was rather accidental, and I was never in the Middle East while in the military.
I was 25 years old, and had finished my B.A, in history with a minor in Hebrew, and earned a black belt in Kung-Fu (Chinese martial arts). I figured if I was going to give the military a shot as a career, which I always wanted to do, this would be my last chance.
I talked to the recruiters in Downtown Chicago, and one thing led to another, and they took me down to the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), one early morning in January 1991, when it was still dark out for the physical. The air campaign of the U.S. Air Force bombing Baghdad was playing on the recruiter’s car radio as we traveled to the MEPS. With all my tests and background checks completed, I was at O’Hare Airport with a bunch of other Chicago area recruits flying to Fort Benning, GA on February 13. My M.O.S. would be 11B, infantry, which soon would be added 11M, Bradley Fighting Vehicle. I was able to get a short contract for enlistment, 2 years plus training for a total of 28 months, because all the slots open up for wartime. Some guys even got airborne school with a 2 year plus training contract.
During basic training we had a news black-out, so we didn’t know anything about the war in Kuwait. Finally, news filtered back to us by-word-of-mouth, that the war was over. Some guys decided since the war was over, they no longer wanted to be in the army. So at least one guy I remember, pretended to be psycho saying he wanted to shoot himself and others, and he was eventually allowed out of his military contract and returned home.
Our basic training, A.I.T. (Advanced Individual Training), and Mic School (Bradley Fighting Vehicle) completed in June 1991. My parents came to visit me at the end of basic which was nice. Me being in the military, especially in a combat arms unit, was not their vision for me, being that they were upper-middle class, second-generation American Jews, with our families being originally from Eastern Europe, and very status conscious. That being said, my dad was in the Army Reserve, my maternal uncle was drafted in the mid-60’s and became an army medic in Vietnam, and we even had a great uncle who was in the Russian Army. Anyways, we went to synagogue on Saturday morning in Columbus, GA which was not what I felt like doing on my weekend leave after basic. At the end of our training, we were informed that all us 2 year guys would be going to Korea, to finish up the American role of guarding a sector of the D.M.Z. We would be the “Last of the Imjin Scouts.” I was glad to get my orders for Korea. I was afraid of getting stuck at a stateside post, and not doing much of any significance during my time in the military.
After I had leave in Chicago for a couple of weeks, I flew to Korea, and was assigned to Charlie Company, 5/20 Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division at Camp Casey. They took us up to Warrior Base, a couple clicks down from the southern edge of the D.M.Z., a short time later. I arrived during Q.R.F. (Quick Reaction Force) stage, then came KP stage which was no fun. Finally, we trained up for patrol phase. We had to learn and take a test based on a blue booklet of pertinent facts about the D.M.Z., and the specifics of our mission. I was the M203 grenade launcher guy.
During this stage we did a recon patrol in the morning, and then at night we set-up for an ambush patrol over the same territory, using night vision goggles with a claymore mine set-up. Our role was to prevent North Korea military personnel from infiltrating south through the D.M.Z., or the Z as we called it. We were told North Koreans came south as part of their training. We were briefed by S2 intelligence before our patrol, and debriefed by them after we returned. S2 had a contest being that the Z was no man’s land who could bring back the most unusual item. The leading item at that time was someone found an Oreo cookie man figure. There were minefields all over the area, and you also didn’t want to end up straying into North Korea territory. We had confidence in our patrol leaders, Sgt. Dubois from California, Sgt, Jacobs from Louisiana, and Sgt. Washington, which made us feel more at ease. The highest ranking N.C.O. in our company, was Korean-American First Sergeant Chin, who we were all intimidated by, but we also knew he was a Ranger and very squared away. He was the kind of leader who would be running beside you for a 7 mile P.T. run up a hill, and berating you for not running faster, all while smoking a cigarette.
In August 1991, we pulled back to Camp Casey, and we were in barracks buildings and no longer in tents, and we did field training exercises with the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which was new to the military. After my year tour in Korea, I P.C.S.’ed (permanent change of station) back to the 24th Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, GA.. There I ran into a lot of guys who were in Saudi and Iraq. After my military contract was over, I returned back to Chicago, and went on to become a public school history teacher.