A nation at war

First Time in Iraq

 


 

Robert E. Campbell, branch manager of the Pamrapo Bank in Hoboken and a Bayonne resident, recalled his own experiences during the first Persian Gulf War in 1990-91.

Campbell, 26, at the time of the conflict, was assigned to the Persian Gulf with the First Battalion Marine Infantry, from December 1990 to May 1991, stationed in Saudi Arabia until the United States invaded in an attempt to free Kuwait after Iraq annexed the country the previous August.

"We were on the front, part of the expeditionary force," Campbell recalled. "The original plan was for us to punch a whole through the Iraqi lines. We expected a lot of casualties. But we found light resistance and a lot of Iraqi soldiers surrendering."

Campbell said he was part of Task Force Ripper and Papa Bear when invading Kuwait -- through the burning oil fields.

"The whole time we tried to catch up with LAVs (light armored vehicles)," Campbell recalled. "The drivers of those were cowboys and we spent a lot of time chasing them."

Campbell remembered that stretch of time as being cold in the morning, when he and his fellow soldiers shivered.

"It would drop down to 35 degrees at night then climb up to 70 degrees during the day," he said. Troops engaged in the current conflict are now fighting in temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees during the day -- although nights in the desert after the warmth has gone from the sand can still sink to significantly low temperatures.

"The change is very dramatic," Campbell said, adding that living conditions during his stay were "as primitive as it gets."

His unit lived in what are called shelter halves --two GIs would pitch a pup tent together, each GI having half a tent -- and sleep on the ground in a sleeping bags.

"Sandstorms were unbearable," he said. "Everyone had to pack up the tents and keep vehicles moving for fear of burying them. In a sandstorm, you have about a 30 foot visibility. Marines on guard had to stand back to back in what is called a tightened perimeter sometimes for as long as nine hours, as the 25 to 30 mile per hour winds pelted them with sand.

Fear of chemical attack had men seeking masks, and fear of SKUD missile attacks had them diving into trenches.

"We didnít know that the SKUD-B is more of a threat to residential civilian areas than to military," he said. "Everyone yelled SKUD and we would put on our chemical gear. We didn't mess around; although we knew we stood a better chance at winning the New Jersey Lottery than getting hit."

The 1991 Gulf War was the result of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 9, 1990. A UN resolution gave Iraq until Jan. 15, 1991 to withdraw. When the deadline passed, the campaign began. Ground troops began to invade on Feb. 24 after nearly a month of bombing.

"We broke through Al-Wafrah Oil Fields," Campbell said. "Although we were near Kuwait City, we were not allowed in. We moved through the burning oil fields to Al Jabal, and into the international airport. The burning wells all on fire were an awesome sight. We could see dozens of them at any given time, tossing up yellow plumes into the sky."

The smoke was so thick, he said he could not see 40 years, and the troop often had to keep their masks on. This was Feb. 25, and he remembered it raining that day, dropping black soot out of the clouds.

"There was no day light. When I walked out I almost got lost coming back," he said. "If I ever pictured the Apocalypse that was it. I never thought anyone would get all those oil fires out, too many. It made awesome back drop."

In looking back, Campbell praised his fellow Marines, who had accompanied him through hell and back.

"I couldn't have been with better men than those men," he said. "The one thing you could always count on out there was your fellow Marines."

He remembered, too, how kind American soldier were to the surrendering Iraqi soldiers.

"We fed them better than they were used to being fed and we shared our water with them," he said. "When you share water with someone in the dessert, they remember. We were better to them than Saddam ever was."

 


 


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