Just a few months before the Gulf War, I was transferred from my job as S-4 of the medical battalion of the 7th Light Infantry Division (The Rag Tops) to an Army Hospital. The 7th had just finished up Operation Just Cause in Panama for which I had been deployed with 3 hours notice. I had gone to work one day, and went to Panama instead of home at 5 P.M. That night, dinner was MRE’s sitting on the floor of a C-5. But I was finally back with my family after being in Panama for the invasion and its aftermath. Life was sweet, I was wearing Class “B” uniforms, not BDU’s, getting a shower every day, and eating my wife’s good cooking. The jungles of Panama were behind me.
As I watched the news about Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait unfold on T.V., I knew instinctively that even though the jungle was behind me, the desert was in front of me. Even though I was now sitting behind a desk in my own office in a hospital, I would sooner or later be in a tent in the desert. And I was right. A few weeks later, I got orders to leave my nice hospital job and fly to the Persian Gulf to set up field hospitals for the expected 10,000 casualties. My wife, Diane, started to pack my TA-50, my field gear. She knew to leave out the sleeping bag, to put the 30-cup coffee pot and 9 pounds of coffee in the bag instead. She bought me some cheap cigars and some extra skivvies. There was no desert cammo available to buy on post, so I took my woodland flak jacket and a couple pair of BDU’s, and got on a commercial flight to 3rd Army Headquarters at midnight, with my wife, my 16 year-old daughter and my 2 year-old son waving tearfully as I crossed that black tarmac. It would be the 2nd Christmas in a row I was at war.
Within 6 days I was in the Gulf, flying all over 3 countries, setting up field hospitals, signing contracts with local governments and businesses for supplies and services to be ready for the Reserve units that were going to be staffing those hospitals. It was called Operation Desert Shield at that time. I briefed General Pagonis weekly about the state of medical logistics in the theater of operations. After I had been there about 4 months, Operation Desert Storm began. I heard the news in Muscat, Oman, and I caught a military plane back to HQ in Saudi Arabia. I slept 3 hours a night for 4 months. After the 100-hour war, I was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq to set up street clinics for locals and field hospitals for workers putting out oil well fires. I traveled the “Highway of Death” leading from Kuwait to Iraq. It was literally a 100 mile charnel house and garbage dump.
Things slowed down some - I was able to sleep 6 hours a night for a few weeks.
After the U.S. military had entered the nation-building phase of operations in the Persian Gulf, a terrible typhoon hit Bangladesh. The State Department tasked me with managing the U.S. relief effort for Bangladesh. I was given 1 million dollars and told to have 75 tons of food and medical supplies ready for “wheels-up” at the airport within 36 hours. I had to locate the necessary supplies in Saudi Arabia, coordinate delivery to the airport for palletizing, weighing and staging to be loaded onto to C-5 Galaxy planes. 75 tons. In 36 hours. I hitched a ride on one of the planes and personally delivered the supplies to the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh.
I got a day off when I returned from Bangladesh. I slept in ‘til 7 AM, ran 10 miles around the compound, and finally found a makeshift PX where I could buy some souvenirs for my family. The next day I was tasked with the re-deployment for echelon above Corps level for the entire theater of operations. I moved to Daharan for that mission. It was back to 3 hours of sleep a night, because every unit that wanted to go home had to go through me, and I wouldn’t let them go until their equipment was on a ship or a plane. They didn’t move until Little Larry accounted for everything they had, had it inspected for contraband by some of the 60 FDA inspectors I had working for me, saw it loaded and secured on the correct vessel. That was a 24/7 operation, because everybody, including me, wanted to go home.
After everybody else got home, so did I. I arrived on a commercial plane to an airport full of people there just to meet me. They were dressed in red, white and blue and wearing yellow ribbons; except for my now-three-year-old who was wearing desert cammo shirt and shorts. Thanks to my wife Diane, he recognized me, and fell asleep in my arms as soon as we got home from the airport, surrounded by a crush of well-wishers filling our tiny on-post house.
It is, indeed, an honor to serve one’s country wearing a military uniform. I did it for 30 years. It has been the most meaningful experience of my life; and I am sure it is the same for Mr. Frank Corte, who is soon to deploy as a member of the Marine Corps Reserves. I wish him Godspeed.