When many Americans think about war in Iraq, they have memories about the war that began in 2003, ISIS and our country’s long fight against terrorism. Few remember that the U.S. military’s first major conflict in this region came years earlier. Operation Desert Storm, also known as the Gulf War, began Jan. 17, 1991, after Iraqi forces had invaded Kuwait and refused to withdraw. Members from all five military branches joined a coalition to push out Saddam Hussein’s forces. All veterans who served on active military service for any period from August 2, 1990, to the present are considered Gulf War Veterans.
Before the invasion, 35 countries quickly entered a nonbinding alliance against Iraq. The “Coalition of the Willing” included NATO allies, several Arab nations and former Cold War adversaries, including the Soviet Union. The Cold War had thawed the year before the invasion, and this resulted in near global unity in opposition to Iraqi aggression. A U.S. Central Command Commander, Army Gen. “Stormin” Norman Schwarzkopf teamed up with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Khaled bin Sultan, to co-command the allied forces. Saudi Arabia was where U.S. land forces gathered during the build-up to Desert Storm, so the collaboration was important to the operation’s overall success.
From start to finish, Desert Storm lasted 43 days, from Jan. 17 to Feb. 28, 1991. The coalition unleashed a six-week air campaign followed by four days of ground combat, which drove the last Iraqi invaders from Kuwait on February 28, 1991. The land campaign is infamously known as the “100-hour ground war.”
This engagement was the first time Americans watched a war from thousands of miles away in nearly real time on the emerging 24-hour cable news cycle. Most of the country was glued to their TVs watching as reporters spoke from Baghdad rooftops, describing an eerily silent capitol just before Patriot and Scud missiles would light up the night sky. In the days that followed the initial land campaign, audiences saw the televised destruction of Iraq along with videos of Army Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell surrounded by troops in the desert. America watched its men and women on the front lines, in the chow halls, and standing victoriously in group photos, sometimes under Iraqi landmarks and Saddam Hussein murals.
During January 2021, the Veterans Administration profiled Gulf War Veterans for its Desert Storm’s 30th Anniversary web-based series. This series features Veteran experiences from a wide range of perspectives. Army and Marine Veterans tell about battles on the ground. Air Force Veterans share their experiences in the air. Navy and Coast Guard Veterans describe their experiences at sea.
More than 2.2 million U.S. service members served during the Desert Storm era and an estimated 694,550 deployed to the Gulf. An estimated 1.68 million Veterans from that era are still alive. You can learn more about the legacy of Operation Desert Storm, including how Lee Greenwood’s country song “God Bless the USA” became its anthem at the VA’s Special Desert Storm 30 Website.