Sometimes you think you know things, and then, when you learn otherwise, the particulars can come as quite a shock.
While sitting on the recumbent bike and peddling away like I do almost everyday in my neighborhood gym, I had a running conversation with another retired military man, an ex-Marine ten years my senior, a man I highly respect. I’ve known him for more than a year. I’ve long recognized in him the telltales of PTSD, so I watch what I say. His anger can flash over in a heartbeat, and I would just as soon keep him as calm and agreeable as possible.
He was an ordnance man over the bulk of his long career; although back in the 60s during the Vietnam War, he started out in intelligence. Just before calling it a career in the mid-90s he served in-theater during the 1st Gulf War, which coincidentally was the only war in which I had the opportunity to serve during my own 27-year career. So, as far as having shared experiences to discuss, other than my comparatively brief time in the Corps, The Gulf War is about it.
But, compared to my buddy’s experiences in the Gulf, my own were myopic. My “little” job was to directly supervise and manage a dayshift of aircraft repair specialists. We kept a fleet of a dozen or so C-130 transports in flying shape by fixing them when they broke, and better yet, by maintaining them so that they wouldn’t break. Our mission was much complicated by the dusty sandy atmosphere that played hell with the engines, hydraulics and flight controls. Those 30 odd men and 12 aircraft was my world for the 7 months of that very short war. In other words, I had a very narrow view of the whole thing. I did not have much of a sense of the “big picture” at all.
On the other hand, during that 1st war with Iraq, my friend was a senior ranking warrant officer, a “gunner” as they are called; his job being to keep our frontline troops stocked with bombs, shells and bullets. In a way, it was probably one of THE most important jobs of the war. Without guys like him—the army, air force, marine and naval “trigger pullers,” like the bomber and fighter jocks, artillerymen, infantrymen, and tankers—NONE of these actual war fighters, can do their jobs.
In a very nonchalant way, Gunner shared with me two startlingly eye-opening pieces of information about “our” war that I hadn’t a clue about—not even an inkling. As he shared them with me, I asked him if he was sure the info was no longer classified. He assured me that it was all declassified by 2001, ten years after the war ended.
The first incredible piece of intelligence he had for me was of the presence of tactical nuclear weapons onboard the ships he served on. Now that alone is not shocking to me, since tac nukes are always an optional part of any American theater commander's list of “possibilities,” albeit a remote one. What I found incredible was how apparently ready we were to use them. I asked if he was sure, and he promised me that it was absolutely so. “Guns,” another nickname for “ammo” guys like him, vowed that he personally oversaw the preparations of these miniature nuclear devices. They were armed and made ready for immediate and judicious “delivery” to the very heart of Iraq.
He claims that the “trigger” for the “nuking” of the Iraqis was simple—if Hussein dared to use chemical or biological weapons on our troops, and it was confirmed, then the use of “tac” nukes was going to be our “measured” response. I’m sure Hussein was apprised of our intentions; otherwise the “threat” of their use would have been lost on him. I must admit that just the thought that we were that close to escalating the war to a nuclear level makes me shudder, even now.
The second bit of eye-opening information came about as I opined to him of my deep dissatisfaction with Colin Powel and the first George Bush, about how angry with them I was that they had “pussied out” and did not finish off Hussein and his malevolent army when we clearly had the means to easily do it.
I explained, “Because of those two numbskulls, Hussein had 12 years to prepare the current insurgency that’s got us all tied up in knots now. If that idiot Powel hadn’t gotten soft after the so-called “highway of death” we wouldn’t be in the pickle we are in today. We had them beat. All we had to do was go to Baghdad and take over!”
Gunner chuckled at my apparent naiveté and deigned to straighten me out, practically flooring me in the process, “Well, I hate to bust your bubble, but all we had available at the start of the offensive was just 30 days of ordnance. That’s all any of our contingency plans called for. The opening bombing campaign went on for a lot longer than that. What was it—40 some days? By the time our ground troops started rolling in we were all but out. We had shot our wad!”
I was incredulous. “You’re kidding. Why in God’s name would we put ourselves such a situation?”
“At the time we thought our factories and supply pipeline would be able to step it up and keep up with wartime requirements, but it didn’t turn out that way. At the end, as soon as the ordnance arrived in theater we offloaded it for immediate use. It went straight out of the crates and packaging and into the war. We could not rebuild an inventory.”
Some things began to dawn on me as I listened to him. I remembered how intense our C‑130 cargo missions had been towards the end of the war.
He continued, “We were so short on deliverable ammo that I remember offloading obsolete bombs that were clearly marked for disposal. We ended up dropping everything we had in the inventory, even the outdated stuff, and still we ran out. We just didn’t have enough ordnance to keep the war going at that intensity.”
Hearing this stuff, I was dumfounded.
“They asked me to figure out a way to safely stack bombs on deck and get underway because we needed to move as much as we could all at once. The Navy ended up paying me $20,000 based on the procedures that I wrote to do exactly that. Everyone else in the ordnance career field said it couldn’t be done. As far as I know they still use my procedures.”
I congratulated him. “Nice bonus! Its true isn’t it, that necessity is the mother of invention?” I chuckled at my own clichéd cleverness.
I’ve read lots on the Internet and seen plenty of TV productions concerning all aspects of The Gulf War; yet, I’ve never heard a thing on either of my very credible gym buddy’s two amazing assertions. Of his two claims, I find the most amazing his allegation that the war might well have ended prematurely NOT JUST because of a lack of willingness on the part of our leaders, but MORE PROBABLY because we had simply run out of bombs.
I would go so far as to deduce that at that moment, as a nation, we were in a very dangerous state of military NON-preparedness. The fact that the Cold War was over and won was a VERY lucky thing indeed; otherwise, it would have been the perfect time for the Soviets, or any enemy for that matter, to attack us or to pursue some other act of aggression.
On further thought, perhaps the fact that we were so low on conventional armaments is a prime reason Gunner had been ordered to rack and stack those tactical nukes. When it comes down to it, if we had actually run out of the conventional stuff, perhaps Schwarzkopf saw the use of “non-conventional” explosives as a viable alternative. It’s not likely, but still its food for thought. After my revelatory discussion in the gym I’m realizing all the more that sometimes things are not always as they seem.