1st Recon Bn (The Gulf War)
August 3, 1990, the battalion just returned from a change of command ceremony for the new division commander. It was about 4:30 in the afternoon on Friday and we were looking forward to the weekend. Everyone had different plans ranging form trips to Mexico to Mountain climbing at Big Bear. The Battalion stood in front of the barracks waiting for the Sgt. Major and Lt.Col. to give the liberty call speech on what not to do during the weekend. All four companies are called to attention by the Sgt. Major and the Colonel posts. “Gentlemen, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is we’re going to war; the bad news is we have 4 hours to pack up all our stuff, get everything into supply and check out weapons. All company commanders will meet for a briefing in 1 hour.” He told us how proud he was of us and some other stuff but no one heard anything more after that. We were all trying to figure out who we were going to war with. After the formation it was a scramble to our rooms to see what CNN was reporting. No mention of us going to war with anyone, just the same news chatter, all but a little mention of Iraq invading Kuwait.
With all of our gear locked up in storage and last minute phone calls made we headed to 29 Palms for acclimatization for two weeks then air lifted to Jubail Airport near the boarder of Kuwait. 29 Palms was cut short due to the loss of communication with the 82nd airborne, we had to go in early for fear the Iraq army might have already crossed and taken the airport. The flight which took about 38 hours aboard (4) C-141 transports was freezing, it must have been right at 36 degrees and some Marines were still in green camouflage, not a great way to start a war in the desert. During the flight we were briefed on Iraq and their tactics, customs and language. Keep in mind the battalion only had 4 HUMMV’s and basic equipment. We couldn’t run any missions other than a small firefight against light infantry at best. A few hours before touch down we planned to retake the airport if needed from the Iraq army to ensure troops and supplies could land; all of our chain of command was separated between the planes making each landing on their own to come up with a plan of attack. We did have a general rally point to the NE side of the runway but that’s it.
On approach to the airport we prepared the equipment and order in which we would get off the plane, it would stop but only for a short time while we debarked. This was for two reasons, 1. To ensure the plane wasn’t a sitting target and 2. Make way for the next planes inbound. The ramp went down opening up to a black sky until finally we could see the tarmac. Once the aircraft was stopped we all pushed the HUMMV out the back and exited. The back blast of the jet engines was incredibility hot. We ran for the rally point expecting some enemy fire, searching the lit buildings and berms for muzzle flash but only encountered an open runway. As we secured the rally position we noticed all the birds lifting off, it wasn’t the back blast of jet engines causing all the heat but the normal temperature for this country. It was midnight and a temperature of 136 degrees. The Bn commander linked up with the 82nd and we moved to the aircraft hangers which would be our new home for the next few days.
Our stay at the airport only lasted a few days of which was resting and drinking massive amounts of water. Several tried to PT but the heat would cut short most attempts. How anyone could fight in this was inconceivable. The flies were even starving for water as they swarmed our eyes, nose and mouth for any moisture. The command elements of our battalion were trying to find out any information on anything, which was a major undertaking, no one really knew. The one thing they did find out was Marine supply ships would be at the port about 8 hours away. They coordinated busses to take us there, now we could be supplied with the equipment we needed to do our job. The busses picked us up around midnight and we headed for the port. During the ride everyone slept except our officers and a couple of gung ho sergeants. The trip was uneventful with no stops…until just at daybreak. All the busses pulled over at once on the side of the road and stopped. The drivers stepped off followed by all the Marines, everyone lined up along the side of the road to relieve themselves from the four quarts of water and seven hours of riding. As we looked around we noticed the drivers were praying, kneeling on their rugs bowing their heads then looking at us. We boarded the busses and continued to the port.
The port was massive, filled with ships offloading military cargo and storage buildings everywhere. The battalion set up home in a warehouse on the north side, right next to the water. It took a little persuading the Sgt Major but finally we were given permission to conduct waterborne missions down from the warehouse after dark (Swimming!) A platoon of us would go to the water at a time with two Marines armed for security and shark watch. The water was about 80 degrees, it was like jumping into a giant bath and the salt was so high everyone floated almost on top of the water. We soon found a small office with the door unlocked and air conditioning. Several of us would take turns in the office while others were in the water. Word spread through the battalion of the little office but after a couple of nights they put a pad lock on the door and guard outside. We stayed there for less than a week and were sent to a Saudi Military barracks about 300 miles south of Kuwait. By this time the battalion had eight HUMMV’s and six 5 ton trucks, still not enough to be effective at anything but waiting.
The barracks were nice, real showers, beds, AIR CONDIONING! This was to be short lived; once the Marine Corps found out where we were, they split up all the units staying there and sent us out into the desert. A few months later that very barracks we called home was hit in a Scud attack killing all 300 inside. Recon battalion was sent to the boarder to an outpost used by the Saudi military on the Kuwait boarder. One company would stay there while the rest of recon set up a fire base (Manifa) further south. Each company would spend about 30 days there then rotate back. C company was the first to occupy the outpost. We set up a perimeter and communications back to the Battalion. The out post looked like it had been abandoned for years with a couple of buildings and a fenced courtyard. From the roof we could see the Kuwait outpost about 1000K to our north. Iraq had occupied these posts to prevent anyone invading. For days on end we watched the Iraqi’s watch us. Finally we were giving permission to call an air strike on their position. Everything went calmly and professional with a tone of melancholy. The nine line brief was checked then rechecked; location of enemy, friendly’s…check…check…check! The birds would come in from I.P.Eagle about six miles out, one bird with four 250 pounders. As the bird came in it was off from our projected location but heading in the general location. As it made the run it would fly just over us then the enemy, “In the pop!” Everything looked good; our air panels were out so we were marked. “Wings level!” The aircraft was now in the sun and no one could see it, the pilot called “Wings level! Cleared hot was given and we watched the sky as the bombs were dropped. At first they looked like tiny black dots that grew quickly. Everyone watched to see how they would hit, and then we noticed they were coming right at us! “INCOMMING!” everyone jumped into their makeshift bunkers, trying to get as low as possible. Our corpsman was away from the main building running for his bunker when all four bombs landed. He was hit by fragments in the shoulder sending him into a cartwheel. Dust and smoke was everywhere making it impossible to see the damage. There was no sound except the high pitched ringing in our ears. After the daze numbness left our bodies we began calling out to see who got hit, Doc didn’t answer. His body was face down in the sand about 20 meters from the bunker. Marines ran over to pull him into the main building. He was ok aside from the two nickel size pieces imbedded in his shoulder. A medivac was called but turned down; we were inside the 500 mile no fly zone so no helo. The Battalion would have to medivac via 5 ton to Manifa then to the army med station. Charlie Company would be relived by Alpha the next day; we would all ride back to Manifa with doc. Once at Manifa doc was evac’ed and that was the last we would see him. We did find out he was the first purple heart of the war. About this time Delta Company arrived in country bringing a lot of experience from the team leader up but green Marines throughout the teams, there recon schooling would be on the battlefield.
Manifa was not something to look forward to; it was a battalion size firebase with everything you would expect in the middle of the desert. The only good thing about it was your fields of fire were as far as you could see. On night, we were alerted by one of the positions watching an Iraqi recon patrol probing our lines. Everyone was on edge and other positions started calling in the same all around the firebase. Patrols were sent out to engage the enemy but found nothing but open desert. The positions were still reporting the enemy location and our recon teams weren’t out far enough. Finally the teams were brought back in and to our amazement we found out that the Iraqi sapper’s were really desert mice. The positions that radioed the sightings all had thermal optics; they saw heat signatures moving like sapper teams probing the perimeter. Although exciting at first it was humbling in the end.
One morning we awoke to a caravan of civilian trucks headed our way. We watched as about twenty trucks plowed through the desert on a direct course to our firebase. They pulled up 100 meters outside of the wire and set up tables. They were Americans; we came to this conclusion when they set up American flags, and now a few of them were walking to our position. We sent a team out to find out who exactly they were. Turns out they live and work here with RAMCO. They found out Marines were on the boarder and decided to greet us with a picnic American style. They told us about the invasion, how everyone was in a panic to leave until they heard Marines were on the boarder. “Yes it’s always great to know Marines are here!” They were caught off guard when we explained that during a war Marines are sent to the worst of the fight, where all is about to hit the fan, so to speak. Everyone laughed and enjoyed the home cooking. Sometime during the picnic the civilians talked our battalion commander into letting us rotate back to their compound for a day. The arrangement was one platoon for eight hours one day until all of us were rotated back. The compound was like being back in the states, houses, schools, shopping centers all with in the walls of the compound. They let us call home, feed us, and talked about where we were from before the Marines. For eight hours we forgot about our beloved Manifa and the vast sea of desert filled with the hoards of Republican Guard.
After the RAMCO visit it didn’t take long before we fell back into the day to day operations of owning a firebase. Patrols sent out at night for three and four day OP/LP missions, manning fighting positions around the clock, and building up the perimeter. The recon missions were a blessing, a chance to get away from the firebase and do your job for a few days. Teams would go out on patrol and before sunrise dig holes down into the sand, covering the opening with burlap to conceal their positions. This would be practice for real missions that would hopefully be coming our way. The battalion also did a lot of mobile recon patrols, pushing further north and eventually running both mobile patrols for insertions of foot patrols. We out grew our boundaries of the firebase, and found it relocating as the patrols pushed north. Eventually there was no fire base and all three companies had become autonomous with exception of one common link, H&S Company. We didn’t have enough vehicles to move, resupply and conduct patrols without linking up with H&S. It was a disheartening return knowing you would have to give up everything just to follow the command element in the back of a 5 ton truck while another company carries out its patrols.
The battalion linked up as a whole bringing all four companies together for resupply and preparation for a sand storm bearing down on our position. The storm lasted throughout the night during which a CH-53 carrying 105 shells decided to drop them of in the middle of Charlie Company. No one knows how they found us, or what happened to them afterwards, but somewhere and artillery unit was going to be pissed. By morning the battalion decided that it would split into three groups, H&S and Bravo would head just south of the outpost on the boarder, Charlie Company would occupy the out post and Alpha would go to an Army resupply depot to the SE for fuel, food and whatever they could bring back. Don’t think the battalion commander really thought it through when he sent Alpha Company off with the orders, “and whatever you can bring back.” A few hours pasted bringing a cold night with Charlie Company occupying the previously bombed out post. For most of the night we recon the radio waves picking up a few Army units on the new satcom radio. Around 2200 Alpha called in to all recon companies requesting frequency change via S.C.U.B.A.D.I.V.E.R, alpha 0. Instantly everyone wrote down the coded message and changed frequency. Apparently, Alpha Company found not only the fuel depot but the Army’s staging area for vehicles. Each Company put together an element for recovery of appropriate supplies needed and sent them to the depot. By morning the battalion had the necessary equipment and HUMMV’s needed for conducting mobile patrols. A couple of days later everyone was alerted that Iraqi troops had stolen vehicles and uniforms to possibly pass themselves off as Americans. This was a great scare in the United States and it would soon be found out that the entire Marine Corps had raided the staging area for needed supplies.
Back at the out post, Charlie Company was awarded the guest appearance of a now famous late night talk show host, Jay Leno. His group was looking for the division staging area to perform a show and took a wrong turn landing them with us instead. After telling him where he was and the initial shock of becoming a POW for the Iraqi army he cracked a few jokes. He spent about six hours talking and watching the enemy watch us, then he was off to the 1st MarDiv. A few more days passed when we got another guest on the boarder, a white Chevy suburban pulled up, out came an older heavy set man. He introduced himself to our Company C.O. and explained he was a field agent for the CIA. For several days he stayed with us, occasionally giving us satellite photos of the Kuwait boarder. He would become a permanent part of the post and his aerial resupplies cherished by all there, (He had ICE!)
Several mobile recon patrols were launch into Kuwait to track enemy movement, Scud locations, and strength of build up. On one such patrol I stopped the team and gathered everyone around. I pulled out seven plastic cups decorated with holy leaves and placed them on the hood of our HUMMV, and then poured rum followed by eggnog. I handed everyone in the team their cup and told them “Merry Christmas,” it was midnight December 24 and know one knew what day it was other than 902512. We sipped the nog and talked about Christmas past and our families back home. After the drink was finished a warm Merry Christmas was given to everyone and with that we all returned to our vehicles. Rum warming or chest and smiles on our faces it was now 902512 again. I will always remember that day because even during a war in a country on the other side of the world, I still spent Christmas with my family.
It was Charlie Company’s turn to man the out post once again but we wouldn’t be a full company this time. 3rd platoon and Bravo Co. were conducting recon patrols on a Republican guard tank unit to the north. Apparently Iraq was planning to strike early; this was confirmed by Force Company to our east. 1st Force Recon had set up home in a boarder town called Al Khafji and conducted patrols on enemy positions moving towards the boarder. Bravo Co. while returning from a patrol was hit by an Army artillery unit. The artillery unit spotted the convoy and decided they were Iraqi’s crossing. The first round hit just meters in front of the lead vehicle, “smoke.” The bracket of the artillery was off so it gave some valuable time for the platoon to react. The senior team leader radioed the fire control officer who searched for the unit giving the fire mission; meanwhile the bracket was getting smaller with rounds landing within 200 meters. Finally the call came through to check fire, and the final rounds stayed in the guns. (ICBM’s) That night back at the out post, Charlie Company found themselves facing a company size tank unit moving directly to their position. The call went out to the Battalion and reinforcements were requested but no tanks were in our area. LAV’s were about three clicks’ south of our position setting up an ambush and we were told to stay in our positions. When the tanks came across we welcomed them with all we had, 50 cals, AT-4’s, even thermite grenades. Didn’t even faze them, the tanks headed south towards the LAV’s position with recon in pursuit. Charlie Company followed the tanks until we realized we might be mistaken for enemy. We watched from a distance radioing to battalion of there position. Once the tanks ran into the LAV’s voiles of TOW missiles streamed to their targets. Secondary explosions erupted in the center of the tank formation; the confrontation lasted only minutes leaving behind the best Russian tanks burning (T-72’s) and nine fellow Marines whose LAV was hit by a TOW in the confusion. I would later find out one of those Marines was a friend from Infantry school. Force Company was encountering the second part of the push south by the Iraqi’s but they would have to stay. An Army convoy was in the town after getting lost and there was a lot of attention put on finding a female soldier. Force Company was tasked with locating the convoy while Saudi (backed by Marines) destroyed the enemy.
During the month of January all Marine units were pulled back to the boarder into staging areas so the air campaign could start. This was also the worst month for 1st Recon Bn. We were all called to formation for the last time as a battalion, the Sgt Major stood in front of all four companies with his head down. He called the battalion to attention but there was a crack in his voice, we all looked straight at the Sgt Major not knowing what was about to happen, then the battalion commander posted. As he gave us his farewell speech we watched the Sgt Major hoping he could do something, wondering what was going to happen to the battalion. It honestly felt like we were orphaned, our parents taken and we were left thrown out on the streets. Rumors of the battalion being disbanded started before the formation was over. Later that week we would be introduced to our next commander LtCol Matta.We saw him only once, and then the battalion was spilt up in to recon companies. Former Charlie and Delta Company were attached to Task force Ripper as support, Alpha and Bravo went to Task Force Terrell. We stared at the horizon as the Iraqi’s destroyed the oil fields; a black cloud was covering the sky as far as you could see. It was though the black cloud engulfed 1st Recon Bn giving all of us a glimpse of our future.
February 21st, all Marine forces moved into pre invasion position for the ground offensive. Recon company commanders were briefed on their missions. Recon would be split up into five groups; group one would provide security on the left flank of task force Ripper, group two would be the point for Ripper, group three would provide security for the flanks of both Ripper and Terrell down the middle, group four would be the point for Task force Terrell and group five would provide security on Terrell’s right flank. The build up was massive, the entire Marine Corps was ready to plow through the Iraqi army and Recon was on point. We had two lines of defense covered with mine fields to go through before we could split for the capital and airport. Rumor spread quickly that 3rd Marine Division would cross over what would be left of 1st and 2nd to complete the taking of Kuwait. The news media was out with cameras to film the invasion, suddenly an explosion and mine excavators plowed through the mine field. Several small pops with an intermittent explosion then we were off! At first it was a bottleneck to get through the minefield but once clear the race was on. There was no contact until later at night, just destroyed tanks and abandoned APC’s. Most of the day was filled with Cobra gunships and fixed wings making passes overhead. The order of movement started with Recon backed by LAV’s with Tanks and support bringing up the rear. Once at night Tanks were spotted and relayed to the LAV’s and tanks. The whole operation took about 48 hours and we reached the objective mainly unopposed. After a couple of days of waiting on the word to continue into Iraq we were briefed on the return to Saudi. Recons next mission was mop up; to recon the areas missed by the invasion for pockets of Iraqi’s and call in their positions for Cobras. Recon stayed in their original groups and headed south towards the boarder. Our unit came across deserters and small camps with wounded hit during the invasion. We stopped and gave what little food and water we had while our corpsmen treated the wounded. We radioed their position and headed south.
The trip back to the border took forever putting everyone in a semi catatonic state. We reached an ocean of oil that would rise to the top of or wheels and stared at the towers of fire spewing skyward, causing a hellish effect. In the distance we could see what looked like a black and white milk cow on a small island surrounded by oil. As we drove closer we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Someone broke the eerie silence and asked our gunner on the 50 if that was a cow? Suddenly we heard Thump, thump, thump, and the cow turned into a mist of red and pink then was gone. “Yep!” Was the answer to everyone’s question? We finally reach the boarder and stopped at the original breaching point into Kuwait, The Division still had a resupply active and we pulled in to find out what our next mission or home might be. We were told that the Marine Corps had set up Division Staging Areas (DSA) and to just pick one. We headed to DSA 3 in hopes of connecting with the other companies.
DSA 3 was in the middle of no where just off the main highway that leads to Al Khaifji. As we turned in the Marines asked us our unit but couldn’t find it on the roster. We had to park our HUMMV’s and take all our gear to tent city there we would be shown our new homes for the next few months. Slowly tent city filled up and every so often units would get sent to camp 5 for R&R. Camp five had an Olympic pool and a few shops but getting in the water was near impossible. We spent about five hours there then sent back to tent city. Over the next few weeks a phone call center was set up then a couple of weeks later Pizza hut and so on, not a good sight. We later found out that 1st Recon Bn wasn’t put on the list of units to return home because it didn’t exist. Several of us informed the DSA commander that we were disbanded and were still trying to find out what unit we were with; finally we were put with the tanks. Now we had a leave date!
Charlie Company returned home to Camp Pendleton in June of 91, it was midnight when we stepped off the airplane. We looked at the Stands and banners that littered the street of what looked like a homecoming. As we got on the bus we saw the phone numbers of random girls, a lot of Marines kept them, and headed home to Los Floras. As the bus pulled up to the barracks several family members waited as formation was called then dismissed. The rest of the battalion showed up during the week. Recon still had the original barracks but lost the CP to the LAV Bn. Over the next year all companies of the former Recon battalion were split up, Anyone with at least two years left on their enlistment went to 1st LAR to start the reconnaissance element and all that were left went to Battalion 1/4 to form Recon Company at Horno. The 1st Recon Battalion colors and all remaining assets were officially turned over to the new 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in June of 92.
This is probably the first story of 1st Recon Bn during the gulf war and not to many of us kept in touch since the loss of our colors. This was a bad time for a great battalion with a great history full of great operators. We were fortunate to have a fully trained battalion with good officers and leadership through the enlisted ranks. I will say we had our unsavory moments, but the team leaders kept that down plus we didn’t have a reporter with us listening to our bitch sessions’, which ALL lower enlisted like to do to pass time.
All that has been written is from the view and information as remembered at Lcpl level. 90% if not more of 1st Recon Bn at that time was filled with Marines that had all training and schools required for the position of reconnaissance marine (ARC or RIP, Jump, Scuba, and other specialty training)
I would like to give thanks to the Recon Marines of 1st Recon Bn and to a great Commander LtCol Kershaw; it is the greatest honor to call you brothers and I will never forget the blood, sweat, and tears.
Sgt Howard CJ (Coon’ta)
C co. 3rd Plt (89-93)