The Tinneny Family History Site


How I Got To Desert Storm On G-Day


Daniel P. Klebes III 


"I graduated from a relatively small, rurally-set high school in June 1989.  I was a good student (honor roll, National Honor Society, eighth in my class, etc.), but at the time I couldn't have been much less interested in immediately attending college.  I got so tired of being asked what I was going to do after graduation that I started telling people that I was "just gonna take some time off and try to find myself."  In actuality, I had been meeting with an Army recruiter for several months, and in May of 1989, with my parents' reluctant consent, I signed up for what I thought would be just a measly two-year enlistment.  I imagined myself getting stationed somewhere stateside and just hangin' out until my two years were up, and I figured by the end of those two years I would know what I wanted to do with my life and I would go to college my G.I. Bill Army College Fund.  For that measly two-year enlistment, I received the full deal.


As a kid I loved dressing up in camouflage fatigues and playing "war" in the woods with my friends, so when I got to my basic training station in September of 1989, I felt like I was fulfilling an unrealized childhood dream of becoming a soldier.  Once again I was thoroughly enjoying being "in uniform", and the thoughts of actually living "out on my own," "out from under my parents wings," and serving as a real soldier were so exciting to me.


Several weeks into Basic Training cycle we began learning how to fire the M-16 rifle, and the day we were shooting at targets shaped like human silhouettes I realized that I was being instructed how to use and become a weapon of war, capable and willing to take human life and/or to lose my own.  I shrugged it off and thought "like I'm gonna go to war, yeah right."


I barely passed Basic Training (because of my apathy), and I was immediately shipped somewhere else to begin Advanced Training, for my "military occupational specialty" (job) as a forward observer - the person who is suppose to go out ahead of everyone else on the battlefield and find the enemy and then call over the radio to the cannons and, through a coordinated effort with the cannons, blow up the enemy.  I wasn't taking any of this seriously; I used to joke that I was going to be "an assistant to a big shot."  The training was not hard, so I was taking it easy again, and still passing everything on account of my academic intelligence.


Well, it just so happened that during that training Manual Noriega declared war ion the United States, and we replied by invading his country, Panama (December 1998).  As if I was not shocked enough already, a couple of my instructors notified us that Forward Observers were needed in Panama, and that some of us may get our training interrupted and be prematurely sent down there, so we "had better learn [our] stuff!"  I later discovered that this was deception used to make us take our training more seriously and that the envision of Panama was conveniently coincidental.  It worked - I got my head in the books, and I finished Advanced Training as an Honor Graduate!


It would seem as though I had learned my lesson, but not long after being at my permanent station I was shamming hard, just as I had planned.  "After all, wars only occur every so often, like once every twenty years," I thought.


Less than six months passed before a major military conflict erupted in the Middle East; Iraq its neighbor Kuwait and was preparing to do the same with Saudi Arabia.  The United States immediately sent troops to Saudi Arabia's defense, and within a week I was informed that I , with my brigade, would also be going to Saudi Arabia for participation in Operation Desert Shield.


I was barely nineteen years old, and I had just been told that I would be sent to the other side of the world, for an indefinite amount of time (unless you count  "until it's over"), to repel the world's fourth largest army.  Not only was Iraq on it's own turf, but it had just concluded ten years of war with another neighbor, Iran, so it was assumed that its soldiers were quite seasoned, and it was rumored that they were very serious - highly motivated zealots who confidently claimed that they were ready, willing and able to take on the United States of America.


What was my reaction to all this?  Denial.  I said to myself "We're not going to fight a war.  Saddam Hussein isn't that stupid!"  My tune changed a little when I stepped off the plane at Saudi Arabia a few weeks later.  Speechless with a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, and an expression on my face that epitomized sadness, "What am I doing here?" was the thought repeating itself in my mind as I stared aimlessly upon my Saudi Arabian surroundings.


Once I was out in the desert, partial reality set in.  I admitted where I was, but I still wasn't accepting why I was there, so, believe it or not, I started considering myself just to be on vacation.


Like any good vacation we toured the Saudi Arabian desert, north toward Kuwait until the unit with which I was deployed to southwest Asia for Operation Desert Shield was positioned approximately fifteen miles south of Kuwait's southwestern border with Saudi Arabia.  Even more like a real vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's were spent out there in the desert.


The United Nations had set a deadline for Iraq to have withdrawn from Kuwait, and it was soon only a week away.  One morning within that week preceding the deadline, everyone in the camp reported to the medical tent to receive an inoculation (which bore a long medical name), supposedly just another routine shot to fend off diseases common in the Saudi Arabian desert.  For the past five months we had been getting so many shots and taking so many pills that no one suspected that this one was actually an injection to prepare our bodies for a possible dose of a concentrated antidote for chemical warfare contamination.


With the United Nations' withdraw deadline only a few days away, the feeling was mutual that the waiting was almost over; a massive military movement was inevitable; either Saddam Huessein would order his troops to move out, or the coalition forces would be ordered to move in.


Up until this point I was still barely dealing with reality.  I marveled that I was on the other side of the world; I had never been this far away from home before, but I definitely was having a hard time believing that I was there to possibly fight a war.  During my senior year of high school I remember feeling the same way about Graduation Day as it approached.  I realized that I was on the home stretch, but I still could not imagine myself walking across that stage, receiving my diploma, and then not having to go to school anymore.  It seemed inconceivable since I had always gone to school everyday, as far back as I could remember.  Since graduating from high school was something I had never done before, I naturally had a difficult time picturing myself actually graduating.


Likewise, a war was something I could not visualize myself experiencing, Since graduation day came true, I recognized that now another "G-day" (the day that Ground forces would invade) also was a real possibility.


Considering some of the possibilities of war, I decided that I would treat what I just might have to do as "my job," and it's good that I did.  Was this still another concession with which I was deceiving myself?  No, that was the truth, and if I had not performed my job, I and my comrades quite conceivably might not have survived the days ahead.  I didn't take on this kind of attitude just so that I would be able to what would be necessary to take another human being's life - with this posture I was protecting my own life.


Just after one o'clock a.m. on January 17th, 1991, I was on guard duty on the southern perimeter of our camp.  The moon was bright; and it seemed unusually quiet, no whipping wind or pouring rain.  It felt very peaceful.  There was no need to use my night-vision goggles; the terrain was well-lit by the moon, the light of which cast the landscape in shades of blue and grey.  I stood for a few minutes and took in the scenery; the sloping ridge covered with spaced vegetation, miles in the distance was a palm tree oasis adjacent to a small village with a few lights still on.


The atmosphere and environment just a couple of nights before were quite the opposite.  We had set up camp at this location earlier that day because it was raining hard and becoming increasingly difficult for our tanks to travel as the desert sands turned to mud.  It was still pouring rain when I pulled the graveyard shift of guarding the southern section of the perimeter.  The wind was blowing so hard that I couldn't hear anything but its deafening whistle.  the moon and the stars were nowhere to be found.  My glasses and Night-Vision Goggles, though much needed, were rendered useless by the rain.  Feeling extremely vulnerable and helpless, I stumbled my way to the vehicle which held our equipment and fumbled through it until I found a shovel.  When I returned to the perimeter, I picked a centralized spot, slung my rifle over my back, spread my feet apart and lowered my stance, and I began to dig.  I kept my head and eyes direct into the darkness while I shoveled wet sand for about two hours.  By the end of my shift I was standing in an arm pit deep trench two feet wide by five feet long!


As I turned to resume my patrol after a few minutes of taking in the peaceful scenery January 17th, I heard a rumbling in the distance.  I pivoted toward the source.  To the south I noticed tiny red and white lights along the horizon which rose and began to mingle with the stars.  I counted the first several until they multiplied faster than I could keep track, increasingly until they seemed to outnumber the stars.  The rumbling grew louder and louder as this multitude of aircraft approached.  The ground eventually began to shake.  I stood in awe as this mass which, like enormous swarm of bees, passed overhead.  A movement of this size indicated to me only one possibility,  I knew the attack had begun.


As I stood amazed watching the lights of all those aircraft disappear on the north horizon, and as others who were awakened by the noise emerged from their tents, a feeling of relief swept my body from head to toe; this was the beginning of the end.  This was also the end of my beginner's attitude.


From the until the start of the ground campaign the ground shook nearly 24 hours a day.  The ground campaign did not begin until February 24th, so for a month and a half, Iraq and the positions its troops occupied in Kuwait were bombed around the clock.  We were fifteen miles away and could feel the effects of the bombs being dropped on the Iraqi positions; I could then only imagine what it was like for the Iraqis.  It's no wonder that they were so willing to surrendered when we finally invaded Kuwait."


  For his part in Desert storm, Dan was awarded the army commendation medal. 

Photos and story courtesy of Danny Klebes III.



Update January 4, 2021
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