Brave Rifles! Veterans! You have been baptized in fire and blood and come out steel!
3d Armored Cavalry Regiment Regimental Accolade. From an impromptu speech given by General Winfield Scott to members of the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen as they rose to attention and rendered proper military honors to him despite their wounds and exhaustion, after the Battle of Contreras on 20 AUG 1847.
Our vehicles and heavy equipment were in the hands of the Transportation Corps. A detail consisting of a couple of soldiers and an NCO from each line unit in the squadron were loading all of the duffel bags, rucksacks, and most of the other personal gear for the squadron’s soldiers into the belly of a large civilian aircraft—a Civil Reserve Air Fleet craft very similar to the one that had flown us into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) on 01 OCT 1990. Weary soldiers had made their way up the boarding stairs into the plane, taking seats and stowing personal weapons, headgear, protective masks, and whatever other small personal items they brought on board. Also on board the aircraft, documenting our trip home, was a TV crew from the Minneapolis area.
Almost everyone had been seated. Cavalry troop commanders, the tank company commander, and the howitzer battery commander met in the front with the squadron CO and sergeant major, awaiting word from their first sergeants that every soldier was accounted for and on board. Boarding stairs had been removed, doors closed. Seconds, minutes passed, undoubtedly as final preflight checks were completed before the aircraft was given the go-ahead to taxi toward the runway and takeoff. The pre-flight safety briefing commenced, although I don’t think many paid much attention to it. Engines livened up as the plane began rolling down the runway. The night obscured any outside terrain, and even the runway itself wasn’t really visible from my seat in the middle of the fuselage, but I could feel the building anticipation as the craft strained and lurched into the cool night air.
After five months and twenty-seven days away, we were finally heading home.
KSA to FRG
We spent the first few minutes exuberantly expressing our elation about that, but soon settled into a relaxed state, with some sleeping, some reading or playing card games, and others swapping stories with friends from other units in the squadron, people they’d not really seen face-to-face since the squadron broke Base Camp Bessey back in early January. The in-flight entertainment included movies and cartoons, and as I discuss in my book also included our first look at the “Voices That Care” video—a musical effort directed at supporting US troops in the Persian Gulf we were heretofore completely ignorant of.
At some point, however, virtually all of us slept at least a little while we cruised during the long flight, landing in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) at Rhein-Main Air Base quite late in the evening. The same air base at which we’d deplaned on our way to KSA now became our first taste of life “after the storm.” The same USO entertainment area was available, with the graffiti on the butcher-paper–lined walls far more elaborate and complete than it had been when we were last here. I called my parents to let them know we’d left Saudi, and many others in Tiger Squadron called their own family, friends, and loved ones as well. Impatiently, we waited while the plane was refueled and the flight crew swapped out.
FRG to NYC
The liftoff from Rhein-Main was not as interesting or eventful as that from King Khalid earlier, and virtually everyone (me included) went to sleep for the rest of the early morning hours. As the sun dawned over the horizon, a buzz filled the cabin: we were approaching the US, and everyone was terrifically excited. The Minneapolis TV crew that had boarded with us in Saudi and had been filming most of our flight got their cameras and microphones ready, anticipating a boisterous response from us as our plane’s captain came over the intercom, announcing that we were now officially in US air space.
What the TV crew caught was an unbridled eruption of joy and relief as more than 250 soldiers celebrated the lifting of a massive psychological burden carried for almost six months. We whooped and hollered, howled, barked, and made virtually every primal noise imaginable short of orgasmic moans. It was a release, but not that kind of a release.
After, we sat anxiously as we entered into the stack for landing, then were finally set loose upon the terminal. A scout NCO from NYC met his wife at the jetway, an embrace so fierce and grateful that I still clearly see it in my mind thirty years later. We circled the terminal for the two beers our squadron CO had authorized us to buy, and waited for the plane’s refueling and a new crew to take over for our final leg
NYC to Ft. Bliss
By the time we lifted off from NYC, we were all quite well and completely over being on a plane, and really just wanted to be home already. The weight had been lifted, but the pain of having carried it remained—we were all ready to let go of that pain, too. A growing restlessness rippled through the plane the closer we got to El Paso, and only after landing and finally being permitted to deplane would it subside. The pain didn’t go away—a burden such as that leaves permanent marks—but it did diminish.
We, the Brave Rifles, having been baptized in fire and blood and come out steel, were finally home.