Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of a milestone in U.S. history that may end up going unnoticed in many communities across the United States. On Jan. 16, 1990, U.S. and coalition forces launched their first sorties against Iraqi forces during the Persian Gulf War, or more commonly known as Operation Desert Storm.
Those of us serving in the military still remember that memorable evening quite vividly. I was the editor of the base newspaper at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., and had just returned from my office after putting the publication to "bed" that evening.
I had the car stereo playing while making the short drive home when I learned that we had started bombing the Iraqi military. Opening the door to the apartment, I probably got two or three steps inside when the phone rang with my boss recalling me back to work.
To this day, I remember the photo that we ran in the newspaper that week -- an image showing airmen from the base boarding a military aircraft to an undisclosed location in the Middle East. Initially, I was supposed to be one of the people tagged to deploy during Operation Desert Shield -- the lead up to Desert Storm -- but my supervisor ended up going instead.
In the first major conflict since the Cold War, the U.S. military and its coalition partners dominated the battlefield. On average, there were 2,500 combat missions launched each day aimed at crippling Iraq's airpower and its command and control capabilities.
Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf's daily press briefings showed quite clearly what our military had achieved. The one that really stood out in my mind was watching an F-117 stealth fighter dropping a bomb through the opening of a command and control building, blowing it apart from the inside.
Desert Storm showed the level of deadly precision our military had achieved, which allowed the coalition to gain air dominance in a very short time.
The ground war to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait was even shorter. In just 100 hours -- less than four days -- U.S. forces had driven out the last of the invaders.
At the end of the ground war, the United States declared victory and halted its offensive, which could've easily swept across Iraq to the streets of Baghdad to topple the country's regime. However, President George H. Bush made a promise to the allies that we wouldn't take such action and stuck to his words.
Our combat losses were extremely small compared to the casualties compared to World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Out of the nearly 150 reported deaths, a number of them were either accidental or attributed to "friendly fire."
One of the worst attacks happened the evening of Feb. 26, 1990, when a Russian-built Scud missile launched from Iraq destroyed a barracks in Saudi Arabia, killing 27 U.S. troops and wounding 98 others.
What many Americans likely forget is that Desert Storm was the beginning of a quarter century of nearly continuous warfare involving the U.S. military and Iraqi forces. We remember the repeated times that Saddam Hussein deployed his military forces along the border, usually right before the holiday season.
In response, the U.S. military deployed its troops to the region again and again in what became unofficially known as Operation Deny Christmas. And when Saddam targeted the Kurds in northern Iraq with what was left of his airpower, the United States responded with Operations Northern Watch, which was then followed by Operation Southern Watch.
Make no mistake. Each time our pilots flew, they put their lives on the line and engaged Iraqi MiGs in what became very lopsided battles.
Those armed engagements with Iraq continued up until the of Sept. 11, 2001, when we got sucker punched by terrorists on U.S. soil. Our response was immediate, swift and with little or no remorse to those who perpetrated those attacks.
The arguments on whether we should've completed our combat mission in Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden before going into Iraq is moot. The same is true on whether we should've completed our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan before drawing down our forces in recent years.
We can't change the past, but hopefully we can learn from it.
Today, the men and women of the U.S. military continue to face the threat of armed combat, and there are no signs that this will improve anytime soon. The rise of radical Islam and the threat of global terrorism and the cruelty it has unleashed remain unmatched in human history.
When I was a child, the greatest threat the United States faced was an all-out nuclear first strike from the former Soviet Union. Those of us that lived during the Cold War remember the "duck and cover" drills taught in schools.
Today, the greatest threat we face is a lone terrorist armed with a vial of weaponized anthrax or smallpox dispersing it in a crowded sports stadium or other public venue. These people owe no allegiance to any country or world power but have devoted themselves to an ideology of hatred and absolute control.
They want the entire world to bow to their every whim and will kill every man, woman and child that does not obey their every command. This is why the U.S. military and its allies must always remain vigilant.
Although those who serve our nation are weary after 25 years of constant warfare, this is a war we cannot afford to lose.
-- Brian S. Orban