25 Years: Remembering Operation Desert Storm
On January 18, 1991, the day after hostilities began in Operation Desert Storm, a U.S. Coast Guard law enforcement boarding team (LEDET) on the Navy frigate Nicholas helped clear eleven Iraqi oil platforms and take 23 prisoners. The operation was the first asset / personnel seizure Coast Guard forces conducted as part of Desert Storm – but it was just one of many actions they carried out during the war.
Even before hostilities broke out, LEDET personnel carried out 60 percent of the American maritime interdiction boardings in Operation Desert Shield, the embargo that preceded Desert Storm.
Over 500 Coast Guard port security reservists were mobilized and deployed to the Persian Gulf, the first involuntary mobilization in the reserve service's history, and they provided patrol coverage for critical infrastructure during the buildup to hostilities.
During the war, when Iraqi forces destroyed hundreds of Kuwaiti oil wells and offshore facilities, two Coast Guard HU-25A Falcon jets deployed to map and track the spills. After hostilities ended, Coast Guard units helped with minesweeping in Kuwait City's Mina Ash Shuwaikh harbor.
But the Coast Guard was not the only maritime participant in the war effort. Military Sealift Command Maritime Prepositioning Ships from Guam and Diego Garcia were standing ready to deliver equipment for Marine Corps expeditionary forces. U.S. merchant mariners mobilized to crew ships carrying a total of more than 18 billion pounds of supplies for the troops – the largest, fastest sealift in history, according to U.S. Navy historians.
The Navy also played an outsized role in the conflict. Tomahawk missiles from U.S. Navy warships in the Gulf were some of the first rounds fired in the war, and nearly 300 would be expended by its end. Six aircraft carriers provided the flight decks and air wings for sustained air superiority and bombing sorties – up to 140 in a day from a single carrier and nearly 20,000 in all.
And nearly half a century after her first deployment, the Navy battleship Missouri – commissioned for World War II and remembered as the venue for the surrender of Japan – destroyed Iraqi bunkers, artillery, and fortifications with her 16-inch guns. She also helped to distract Iraqi forces during a diversionary “assault” on Faylaka Island, which aided the successful ground attack that ended the war. Together, the Missouri and sister ship Wisconsin delivered over a million pounds of ordnance before the cessation of hostilities.
These actions highlight the selfless dedication of those who served. In commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Desert Storm, we know that without the contributions of merchant mariners, the Coast Guard and the Navy servicemembers who answered the call to duty, the rapid buildup, deployment and success of the military effort in the Gulf would never have been possible.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.