A Soldier’s Diary of Desert Storm
soldier relates a vivid first-hand account of his close
encounters with landmines and his personal experiences as a
Psychological Operations Team Sergeant in the Middle East during
Operation Desert Storm.
by Darin M. Busé
A U.S. Marine
patrol walks across the charred oil landscape near a burning
well during perimeter security patrol near Kuwait City in 1991. c/o
To say the mood was celebratory would
be an understatement. As the last few thin-skinned vehicles crossed back
through the burm that only days earlier had been breached, a shower of
tracer fire and flares pierced the evening sky. The once neat file of
Bradley fighting vehicles, 113 track vehicles, M1 Abrams tanks, trucks
and hummvees now mobbed together in the desert just inside the border of
Saudi Arabia. As a Psychological Operations Team Sergeant, I had never
before been in such company as the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. I was
not prepared to witness the efficiency and overwhelming power that a
unit of this nature could disseminate. Among cheers, blowing horns and
the ever-present sound of bagpipe music, courtesy of my loudspeaker
operator, SPC. Ferguson, there was a moment to reflect and wonder about
those that were left behind. During the course of the conflict, our unit
had encountered a number of displaced Iraqi civilians trying to escape
the incredible devastation. How would they go on after all that had
transpired? How could we ever calculate how the debris that was left by
this operation would affect these people and how it would change their
lives and ours from this day forth?
Prior to the onset of Desert Storm, my
team—Sgt. Elswick, Spc. Ferguson and myself—spent several weeks
being assigned and reassigned to different portions of the Third Armored
Cavalry’s area of operations. We were a part of the Physiological Operations effort but were fortunate enough to
have a linguist from the Quaiti military assigned with us named Asher.
He and I spent many hours discussing the differences and similarities of
our cultures and nations and had established a good working
An Unusual Mission
As the highest-ranking member of our team, I was asked
to attend the operations briefings held daily in the Troop tactical
operations center (TOC). One of the scout units had accidentally driven
through a flock of sheep being moved through our area of responsibility.
The XO was anxious to resolve the incident before
it became common knowledge. Because there had not yet been a civil
affairs element attached to support the unit, Asher and I were given the
job of finding the shepherd and making reparations to him. While
preparing to go, I began to gather my thoughts of what I would say to
win the heart and mind of this poor shepherd.
The two of us drove across the desert for what seemed
to be an eternity, running into different segments of Third ACR, asking
directions and moving on. We finally came upon a small detachment. We
asked if they had heard of the incident with the sheep and they
confessed that they were the ones who had caused the tragic event. They
were able to give us precise directions to follow, and within minutes we
were hot on the trail. The trails that were left in what seemed to be an
endless span of sand made a huge X in the terrain.
I had been given a small book of Arabic phrases
earlier that I was now intently rehearsing. After the third or fourth
rise, a small cloud of dust could be seen in the distance. The
nearer we came, the more distinguishable the forms became until we could
make out the shape of two Land Rovers, a Mercedes flat-bed truck and a
herd of camels, sheep and goats.
The moment of truth had come. Asher
shouted something once or twice and all of us came to a stop. A dark
slender man climbed out of the truck. He was dressed in a long somewhat
white shirt and loose trousers with his kufiyya (the traditional Arab
headgear) piled high on top of his head. He walked toward us, his arms
wide open with a great smile that showed large gaps along the sides of
his mouth where teeth once resided. His hands came together, then were
quickly extended many times until they came to rest on the forearms of
my friend. I was depending heavily on the initial contact to be a
positive one, and so far I was pleased. Asher introduced me and said
that the man’s name was Nacer, more precisely Nacer bin Abdul bin
Hamad Al-Batani. In the best Arabic I could muster, I boldly proclaimed,
"Salaam Alaikom." He responded with an explosive laugh and
replied, "Salaam Alaikom," and wrapped his arms around my
neck. Not surprisingly, I was taken aback by this. Several times I tried
to broach the subject of the sheep, but to no avail. Soon evening was
Two Kuwaitis look at a display
of landmines left by Iraqi troops after the Gulf War at the Gulf
War museum. c/o AP
I was getting anxious, not relishing
the thought of driving back in the dark given the difficulty we had
coming so far in daylight. I tried again to bring up the sheep and was
stopped with an invitation to dinner. To my amazement, in the short time
that we had been talking, the little band had assembled their camp and
was busy preparing the evening meal. Asher and Nacer excused themselves
to pray while I sat in the truck plotting my next move, troubled by the
fact that nothing was being accomplished.
Rich-colored tapestry pillows lay on
all sides, and the scent of spice hung heavy. Two of the women came in
with large platters. As we ate, I was careful not to use my left hand to
show respect for that custom and tried to discern the subject that was
of such great importance to Nacer. It obviously wasn’t the sheep he
had lost. He continued on even while pouring strong dark tea into a cup
and handing it to me.
A boy came into the tent holding a
tattered blanket wrapped around some object that he was cradling like a
baby. He handed it to his father. I swallowed hard as he uncovered an
intact projectile separated from its shell casing. I could not identify
its origins and did not care to get a closer look to see.
I quickly asked Asher, "How do
you say danger!?" Nacer grinned. He went on to say that many men,
women and children had been hurt and killed by similar articles of war
left behind. They collected them for the value of the metal and for
whatever else could be inside. He knew how to identify some landmines
and demonstrated in the air how he uses a wire-like probe to locate them
in the sand and then dig them out by hand. He took great pride in
finding them and boasted of how well he taught his sons how to do this.
Surely he knew the risk he was putting himself and his children in. I
thought back to when we first came up behind the truck and remembered
how it bounced and shook as they moved along, not in my mind the best
means of transporting UXO.
A Tense Extraction
Asher and I made our way back to the
area where the troop we were supporting was bivouacked. I reported that all had been forgiven and
discussed the ordnance that we had seen.
We were called up to the burm to play
a surrender appeal over our loudspeaker system. We went through the
prerecorded tape several times but there was no response. We couldn’t
see any Iraqi soldiers, but we heard the sound of 450 watts carried
miles across the desert.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of anything
about breaching the burm that divided Saudi Arabia from Iraq, with the
exception of the shrill sound of Scotland the Brave being played as loud
as I have ever heard it right over my head. The pace was furious and the
wake utter devastation. Day after day, we would come upon
a decimated airfield or the burning shells of Iraqi tanks. Countless
numbers of their soldiers surrendered without any resistance. Those who
did resist died. We moved so quickly through the campaign that we easily
lost track of what day it was. There were momentary pauses in the
progression, but for the most part we were constantly on the roll. It
seemed as though no time had passed when we heard over the radio that a
cease-fire had been declared. Physically and mentally exhausted, we
gathered ourselves for the long ride back into Saudi Ararbia.
Mine fields laid by the
occupation forces of Iraq to thwart the advance of the
multi-national forces in Kuwait. c/o UN
In a desperate attempt to slow the
Coalition forces down or to prevent us from overtaking their retreat,
some Iraqi units laid hasty mine fields and fled without making any
plans or maps of where they laid them. Many of the diagrams of mine
fields were hard to read or were destroyed. The greatest potential for
danger was not the intentionally placed explosives but the widespread
use of tactical bombing. On at least one occasion my team was following
behind a heavily armored column when loud popping sounds—which we
mistook for an engine backfiring—could be heard ahead. Then we were
informed over the radio to be cautious of the detonated ordnance left
from scatter bombs.
The ordnance and engineer units had
followed close behind the advance into Iraq to identify and mark
potential hazardous areas. It seemed everywhere we looked there was a
new danger. Being in a humvee was wonderful for speed and comfort until
you realize that yours is the thinnest-skinned vehicle in the column.
The things that could kill us were no longer on the opposite side of a
M1 tank, but just under our feet. Some areas were easy to avoid—they
were clearly marked with long ribbons of white tape—but many were not.
The burnt out carcass of a BMW leaning sideways next to a 10 by 10
crater was a grim indication that this was likely a place to steer clear
of. We had no way to protect ourselves.
Ideally, the person driving would keep
our tires directly over the deep impressions made by the tanks or
Bradleys we were following. Unfortunately for us, the drivers of the
tracks were doing the same thing, but they were considerably wider than
we were. Most of the time we could only line up one set of tires at a
time so we still ran a 50-percent chance of running over something.
Considering that the conflict was over and we were just trying to egress
safely, those odds seemed unbalanced. It had been suggested from the
onset that we line the floor of our hummer with sandbags. While on the
move, some of these were used to reinforce the hatch door in the roof.
Immediately after the 113 we were following rolled over an unexploded
shell and slipped a track because he strayed off the "groove,"
we refilled and replaced every one.
Although not common, active
mine-sweeping equipment was being used to clear passages to travel
through, but the idea of them being able to adequately eliminate the
hazard was unfathomable. The number of places that posed a threat and
the size of those areas were too numerous to count. The trip back to the
rear area was no less nerve-racking than the forceful entry into combat.
Tired, hungry and filthy, many emotions overflowed. The nights seemed
longer and the days hotter. Never had there been a more welcomed sight
than when the long lines of traffic merged together and turned to the
right, running parallel to the vast mound of soil and sand that stretch
between the war and safety. Just hours before, no one had had the energy
or desire to even smile, but now nothing could contain the jubilation.
Never before had any military force done what we had. We had the
technology, the training and the drive to go all the way.
Quick thinking and decisive action
coupled with caution and careful deliberation brought my team and I
safely home. I attribute this success to the mighty men of Third Armored
Cavalry and those who support them. It has been 10 years and I still
raise my feet off the floor if I’m driving and hear a car backfire,
yet I can be counted among the lucky ones. I still have both of my arms
and both of my legs. I have a beautiful nine-year-old son who is my
inspiration and my joy. I am alive and living in the greatest nation on
earth. This cannot be said for all that were there and are still there
today. As long as there are un-recovered munitions in any former combat
area, it cannot be said for those to come. I can only hope and pray that
the same can be said for Nacer, the striking Bedouin man who I will
always consider a friend.
Darin M. Busé was an Airborne
Physiological Operations team sergeant assigned to the 1st and 9th
Psychological Operations Battalions, 4th Physiological Operations group,
Fort Bragg, North Carolina. During his two tours of duty, he was able to
represent his unit in Central and South America and supported the 75th
Ranger regiment during Operation Just Cause, Panama. While in the
Persian Gulf, he led a tactical team in support of the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment during Operation Desert Storm.
Darin M. Busé