A look back to look forward

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America is in a mess. For years I have written about the polarization we observed in Washington and how the government and the country must come together, heal our wounds, and put America above political affiliation. Unfortunately, we are in the worse condition that we have been in since the American Civil War. It has not always been like this and just a few short years ago civility was the rule and not the exception.

Last week we celebrated a military operation that galvanized a needy country and for a very short time an appreciative world. Earlier that year I had returned to my Saudi Arabian home in Abqaiq. A few days after landing I turned on a biased Saudi news channel to hear that talks hosted by Saudi Arabia in Jeddah between Kuwait and Iraq had adjourned but it was assured that the meetings would resume at a later time. At stake was financial support and contested oil fields that a needy Iraq demanded from a small but rich Kuwait. Later that night I fell asleep listening to the British Broadcasting Company, the BBC, as it brought clarity to the meeting. The talks collapsed and there were no future meetings scheduled. The broadcast also said that troops were moving toward the Kuwaiti border. I vividly recall thinking this is saber rattling since Kuwait had bank rolled Iraq in its failed and disastrous war with Iran. The BBC then went off the air at mid-night and I fell asleep listening to static.

The next morning I was awakened at 6 a.m. by the BBC trumpet blast that was reminiscent of Edward R. Murrel reporting from London during his World War II broadcasts to America. I was startled to hear that the entire broadcast was being taken up with the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq. This began a unification effort that built a coalition force like the world has never seen before in either breath of participation or depth of dedication. For two weeks I prepared to leave if Iraq invaded and travel cross country, and ultimately arrive in Dubai. I later discovered that the early SEAL team that arrived within hours of the conflict would have used the same route. Briefings for the labor force in Arabia was sketchy. The company I worked for told us that we were safe and just continue to work. The Pilipino consulate came out with a letter saying they did not have the money to rescue their citizens. If there was an invasion the poor laborers were on their own. Finally the American 82nd Airborne was in the air and we knew we were safe. Over the next five months the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia became an armed camp. The anticipation was intense. Nationalities from around the world were flying in to join the coalition. Tall well-built soldiers trained by the French Foreign Legion represented Senegal. European countries had troops present and even Syria fought with the American led coalition.

As amazing as the build up was, the most extraordinary part of Desert Shield was the unification displayed by the Americans back home. Flags waved, yellow ribbons were on trees, Lee Greenwood sang and rallies were held to support the troops. America was unified for one brief moment and it felt really good. There were no Democrats, no Republicans, just Americans.

Then one night I drove to Al Khobar and ate at the International Hotel. All the news agencies were there and we had free access to the news bureaus. I stumbled into the Kuwaiti information center and it was there that I heard the war would begin the next night. For the first time in five months I slept soundly; until 2:00 in the morning.

Thirty years ago last week I heard the phone ringing and reached over to answer it in a groggy voice. On the other end was Lou Stroble, a friend from Meridian, Mississippi living in Dhahran. “Tommy it has started,” he said in an excited voice. I told him I had talked to the Kuwaiti center and it would be tomorrow. He refuted it, held up the phone and told me to listen to the sirens.

I asked if two or three planes were taking off. If it was three then there was a wingman and they were on a mission. “I don’t know Tommy. They are flying out of here like bats out of hell one after the other with afterburners glowing and it’s been like this for the last 30 minutes.”

Last summer I was camping at Grand Canyon and met a pilot that was in Desert Storm. He told me that his grandson told him that he had not heard of Desert Storm. There was no reference to it in school. A golden opportunity to show what American pride really is has been lost.

If America can regain the energy that was demonstrated during Desert Storm, we will remain unstoppable. America must take an inward look at itself and throw out all the negative energy and funnel it to perform positive actions that will show the world that America is the cornerstone of Democracy. What has happened in the past is done, cannot be changed and will only harm America if we allow it to fester within us. It is what happens in the future that really matters. God Bless America.

Tuffy Fields may be reached by emailing thelouisianaexplorer@yahoo.com.