Story and courtesy photos by Bianca Sowders
ANSBACH, Germany (Feb. 23, 2021) – Thirty years ago, Soldiers from Ansbach and Nürnberg supported and deployed to Kuwait, then Iraq, as part of Desert Storm, a military response to Iraq’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
Large contingents of the U.S. Army in Europe (USAREUR) supported the action, mostly VII Corps, which was headquartered in Kelly Barracks in Stuttgart. Its Franconian assets included the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (2nd ACR) in Nürnberg’s Merrell Barracks, the 1st Armored Division (1st AD) headquartered at Hindenburg Kaserne in Ansbach and its 3rd Brigade in Bamberg, and the 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Würzburg.
In November 1990 the 1st AD – nick-named “Old Ironsides” – was alerted for deployment to the Middle East. In less than two months, the division moved 17,400 Soldiers and 7,500 pieces of equipment by rail, sea and air to Saudi Arabia.
The 1st AD crossed into Iraq Feb. 24, 1991, leading VII Corps’ main attack. In an 89-hour blitz across the desert, “Old Ironsides” traveled 250 kilometers, destroyed 768 tanks, APCs and artillery pieces, and captured 1,064 prisoners of war. Four 1st Armored Division soldiers made the ultimate sacrifice during combat operations in this historic effort, according to the event program brochure of “Desert Storm Victory Review – 89 Hours to Victory”.
“Old Ironsides” returned to Germany May 8, 1991, with Maj. Gen. Ronald H. Griffith, commanding general, 1st AD, uncasing the division’s colors in Ansbach.
In many ways, this situation was a first for Soldiers in Europe. For the first time, Soldiers who had been forward-stationed with families outside of the continental United States (OCONUS), were deployed to a conflict zone, leaving their families behind in the overseas location. In order to reduce their stress level, the Army made a conscious decision to keep the majority of the families in place OCONUS instead of moving them back to the United States.
Suddenly, deploying service members had to make sure their spouses and families could handle matters while they were away, which meant opening joint bank accounts with their spouses, or giving them access to their Leave and Earning Statements (LES). Dual-military couples needed to come up with an especially robust family support plan to take care of their children, as their traditional support network was far away. There were very few family support programs in place.
Desert Shield and Desert Storm sparked the introduction of several programs that are commonplace today, like Family Support Groups (FSGs) or Army Family Team Building (AFTB).
Gerlinde Hoyle, USAG Ansbach Public Affairs Office, was a spouse who found herself suddenly on her own. Despite of the advantage of being a German national and relatively independent, she felt the full impact of her husband’s deployment.
“We were only married for two and a half years and had just moved from the States to Giebelstadt (near Würzburg) at the time,” Hoyle remembers. “I didn’t really know how the Army worked, FRG was a foreign word then. For weeks his packed duffel bag sat in the hangar at work; every morning we said our goodbyes, not knowing if he would return that night.”
Finally, one evening, he didn’t come home. “I remember to this day that I made schnitzel for dinner, and sat there waiting and waiting … finally, I got into my car and drove to post, only to find the hangar empty,” she said. They had finally left to an unnamed destination, without a chance to call home.
For about two weeks she did not hear from her husband.
At that time, the internet was in its infancy, few had cell phones or other personal electronic communication devices, and email was uncommon. “Many a Sunday, my husband and his fellow Soldiers were driven to a phone location, where they got in line to make their ‘morale calls’ home,” Hoyle recalls. “I would sit at home, waiting, hoping for a call, and then we would try to pack everything we needed to say into a few minutes of phone conversation, which was often suddenly cut off.”
Writing letters and sending packages were the only other means of communication; the commissary continuously sold out of cookies, dry drink packages and jerky, which were popular items for care packages to the deployed Soldiers. In return, the Soldiers sent souvenirs home, local trinkets, carpets or T-shirts printed with camel slogans, quickly produced by local entrepreneurs.
Frauke Davis was Chief of Government Relations and Protocol at the G5, 1st AD, and then later Chief of Public Affairs. She remembers the time of preparation and deployment quite vividly: “It was an extremely busy time as we tried to assist families in their fear, grief, and loneliness,” she explained. “So many of these young wives were extremely scared, many of them did not want to leave their apartment nor the post. All the unit commanders’ wives were very much involved to make these young ladies feel comfortable to join our programs to spend a few hours of fun and relaxation. “
At the time, Davis worked directly for Griffith, during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, whose later positions included Inspector General of the Army, and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.
Davis gives the German community much credit for doing their share in relieving stress for the families. “The support by the German communities was absolutely overwhelming. We had tours and special events every weekend,” she says.
The city of Ansbach offered not only free bus passes to the family members of deployed Soldiers, but also special courses, including German courses, cooking and painting classes, and group therapy sessions to help with the mental impact of deployment.
“I was especially fond of an event hosted by the 1st Mayor of Dinkelsbühl, Hildegard Beck, who hosted an afternoon entertainment for the children with clowns and other performances while all the ladies from the city council had baked cakes and served coffee and soft drinks to the mothers and their youngsters,” Davis reminisced. Another event that was outstanding in her mind was a Christmas party for the children, hosted by the manager of a large German company in Brodswinden.
Bundeswehr partners offered free rides to doctors’ appointments or commissary trips to families, as well as free city tours of Heilsbronn and Regensburg. The local KONTAKT club sponsored regular meetings between German and U.S. families.
With the so-called “Neighborhood Help Program”, the Public Affairs Office helped connect German families who wanted to foster relations with families of deployed Soldiers; host families were linked up with American families in the communities where they resided.
“German families were eager to ‘adopt’ an American family,” said Davis.
John “Pete” Hodges, USAG Ansbach Director of Resource Management, served in the Navy, when he deployed for Desert Shield from the Naval Amphibious Base, Little Creek, Virginia, where he was stationed aboard the USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44). He was an Operations Specialist Senior Chief (OSCW, SW) Surface Warfare designation and served as the Leading Chief Petty Officer for the Operations Intelligence (OI) Division.
“We departed the U.S. on Aug. 13, 1990 as part of Joint Task Group 62 for the Middle East. We participated in Desert Shield, which was the buildup of coalition forces,” he recalls. “We embarked the Marines, 2nd Light Armored Infantry Battalion with four Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) and conducted amphibious landings with our forces for Desert Storm.” Hodges’ unit was deployed for eight months and returned to their homeport in the U.S. April 17, 1991.
“I felt honored and blessed to serve my country in a war with unknown outcomes,” Hodges said. “Best of all, I had the honor of serving with the greatest group of men in my life.”
“Seeing such a presence of ships and in the Gulf and knowing we were going to make a positive difference and put an end to a tyrannical leader and his forces,” he reminisced. “I have maintained contact with some of my shipmates from the Persian Gulf War and know they are proud of making that difference so many years ago.”
“We lost some shipmates that I will never forget and pray for them on a regular basis,” Hodges said. “I will always be proud of my service to my country and the sacrifices so many of our men and women made to defend and protect.”
In Nürnberg, the 2nd ACR deployed for Operation Desert Storm.
James Edward Albright Jr. worked in Nürnberg as a civilian editor of „The Dragoon“, the monthly newspaper of the 2nd ACR. As a former Soldier, he knew what his friends were getting into: “As Desert Storm started cooking up I realized that most of my American soldier coworkers at the Regimental Headquarters in Nürnberg would be heading off to Kuwait with the rest of the soldiers from our six squadrons,” said Albright. “It was a heavy feeling, knowing that they were going off to war and not to a training mission or border duty.”
Albright, a few U.S. Army civilians, and his German colleagues stayed behind. “For me it was a strange time because I continued working in a very skinny atmosphere in the rear detachment on Merrell Barracks,” he explained. “Of course, some of our commanders and XOs (executive officers) in Kuwait probably thought we were living the high life alone on post but it was anything but that. We had plenty of work to get done, partially in supporting the soldiers who had deployed, those in the rear detachments and their family members in the Nürnberg area and in Amberg, Bamberg, and Vilseck.”
Albright especially remembers how empty the kasernes suddenly felt. When he went on a search for new office space, he wandered the empty halls of Merrell Barracks, a kaserne built in Nürnberg by the Germans in the late 30s.
“It is a colossal building, capable of housing hundreds and hundreds of troops. Walking through that empty building in winter, when it is already dark outside in the mid-afternoon, was a bizarre feeling,” he said. “The hallways went on and on and on. Every now and then, there was a cross-hallway. There were only a few lights on, mostly hanging at the junctions of the hallways. At one point, about 50 yards away from one of these junctions, I saw a huge rat scuttle past. I decided to take an office in another building.”
During this time, Albright’s contract expired and he moved over to the Nürnberg Public Affairs Office on William O. Darby Kaserne in nearby Fürth. He continued to write and shoot pictures during the conflict, reporting on the activities of families and the rear detachments in the community.
“Unfortunately and sadly not all of our troops came home from the war. I think of them regularly, even after all these years. And the 2nd ACR—the Army’s oldest continuously-serving cavalry unit—still exists, although as a Stryker Brigade Combat Team, based, again, in Germany,” he reflects on his times in Nürnberg 30 years ago.
One of the agencies heavily involved with the support of troops and families who stayed in Germany, was the Armed Forces Network through their affiliate station AFN Nürnberg, a radio and television station located at Darby Kaserne at the time.
Former Army Sgt. Gary Sowders, broadcast manager at AFN Nürnberg, remembers the special radio shows they offered. “Such shows included senior spouses as guest hosts; we hosted Mrs. Hurdis Griffith, the CG’s wife, and many of the spouses of 1st AD brigade commanders several times, to let them answer questions from callers and help ease their minds,” he says. “We also did a regular rotation of call-in radio shows that were supported by a panel of support service subject-matter-experts, like Finance Command, Housing, ACS, MWR, JAG, Chaplain, DPW (Directorate of Public Works), Safety & Security, and others.”
“It proved very valuable, because there was a lot of angst from family members remaining in the overseas area, while the service member went off on a mission,” said Sowders. “It was a huge transformation time for the Army in Europe with the deployment of forward-stationed Soldiers and their families.
“On the national level, it was the first time a major combat mission was supported with an all-volunteer military,” he continues. “In today’s Army, deployment still has challenges for the Army Family, but because of the Army’s developmental growth from lessons learned in eras like Desert Shield/Desert Storm, it makes Army families so much better prepared and equipped to deal with these dynamics than they were in the early 90s.”
The United States led a coalition of forces from 39 nations into the Gulf War against Iraq. Its two phases, a months-long build-up phase followed by a five-week combat phase, were codenamed operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
A total of 697,000 U.S. troops deployed to the Persian Gulf for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. The U.S. European Command deployed over 90,000 troops, 340 Air Force aircraft, over 580 Army helicopters, one Carrier Battle Group and its 85 aircraft, more than 45,000 vehicles, including 1,800 tanks, as well as tens of thousands of tons of supplies and other materiel, according to https://www.eucom.mil/organization/history-of-useucom/desert-storm-useucom-contribution-to-victory
The Gulf War took place Aug. 2, 1990 to Feb. 28, 1991. Desert Storm lasted about five weeks, from Jan. 16 to Feb. 28, 1991.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm. The era of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm has taught the Army valuable tactical lessons. It spawned a new generation of war veterans, and started a tradition of embedded journalism and live coverage of conflict. It enabled military and Civilian leaders and staff to learn about the dynamics at the home front with an army deployed, and grow as an organization that enables Soldiers to concentrate on their mission while they know “all is well” with their families, wherever they reside.