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Desert Shield/Desert Storm

1990 - 1991

In August 1990 the United States launched its largest military operation since Vietnam, the deployment of over five-hundred thousand troops to the Persian Gulf. Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on 2 August, the United States moved quickly to protect its interests in the region. Using bases belonging to its ally Saudi Arabia the United States began the logistical buildup known as Operation DESERT SHIELD. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, was in charge of U.S. forces. Meanwhile, the United Nations imposed economic sanctions upon Iraq, and its Security Council condemned the invasion. In addition, a coalition of approximately thirty nations joined the United States in opposition to the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.


At the beginning of the conflict the U.S. military had just two leased telephone circuits and two record traffic circuits in Saudi Arabia. Automation support was nonexistent. As part of the buildup, the 11th Signal Brigade installed a state-of-the-art communications network. By the end of August the brigade was running the largest common user data communications system ever present in a theater of operations. This network enabled automated processing of personnel, financial, and logistical information. Data traffic in and out of the combat zone averaged ten million words a day. By November, when the brigade had completed its deployment to the Gulf, communication capabilities included automated message and telephone switching; satellite, tropospheric, and line-of-sight radios; and cable and wire lines. Fifteen voice and five message switches supplied communications support to more than ninety locations throughout the theater.


In a region with a limited telecommunications infrastructure, satellites proved essential to successful operations. They formed the backbone of both tactical and strategic communication systems, providing the connections between widely dispersed units as well as furnishing circuits back to the United States. Due to a shortage of military satellites, the Army leased circuits from commercial satellites. Satellites were also used to provide information about weather, terrain, and location. The network of satellites known as the Global Positioning System (GPS) broadcast navigation, positioning, and timing signals. This information made maneuver possible in the featureless desert environment. Fortunately, the Iraqis did not, and perhaps could not, jam these vital space-based signals.


The U.S. Army Information Systems Engineering Command, based at Fort Huachuca, installed an electronic mail (E-mail) system that allowed soldiers to correspond with family and friends. The system handled approximately fifteen thousand such messages each day in addition to its heavy load of official traffic. As in the past, the Military Affiliate Radio System provided its services. Commercial communications systems augmented military networks, particularly for sending messages between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Corporations such as AT&T and MCI provided facilities that allowed soldiers to phone home at reduced rates.


After five months of sanctions and diplomatic efforts, Saddam Hussein had not bowed to international pressure. When the 15 January 1991 deadline set by President George Bush for Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait passed without compliance, war became all but inevitable.


On 17 January America and its allies launched offensive operations, known as DESERT STORM. On that date U.S., Saudi, British, French, and Kuwaiti aviators began bombing military targets in Iraq and Kuwait. Following six weeks of aerial bombardment, the ground war began on 24 February. It was surprisingly short, lasting just 100 hours. The coalition forces liberated Kuwait City on 27 February, and fighting ended the following day. In early March the United States began withdrawing its troops, and by midsummer most combat units had returned to their home stations.


Find out more in "Getting the Message Through" at




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