January 16, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Gulf War Memories

Twelve years ago today, I sat in a darkened Combat Information Center onboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ranger, staring intently at a radar screen. It was the middle of the night, but the place was buzzing. Nerves were strung taut. We'd been drilling for weeks. Standing orders required us to carry our gas masks with us at all times, and we didn't know what to expect. But we'd come here with a purpose, to liberate Kuwait, and we wanted to get busy.

Then: the strident horns of the William Tell Overture—the theme from the Lone Ranger TV show—blasted from the ship's PA system. On the TV monitors, flames from our jets' afterburners lit up the flight deck. Laden with bombs, the planes were bound for Baghdad. This fanfare played out over and over again, at all hours of the day and night, for the next 44 days. In the end, the Ranger's air wing flew over 10,500 flight hours, more than any other air detachment during the Gulf War, and dropped over four million pounds of ordnance.

Despite being right there in the thick of it, though, at times it seemed unreal. We were in fact 250 miles from Iraq. My shipmates and I kept more up to date on the war's progress via CNN than from the intel in our own CIC. And the Ranger was such a gigantic ship (over 5,000 men) that the air wing's activities up on the flight deck seemed far removed from my daily routine.

In a guest editorial for the University of San Diego's school newspaper, I wrote at the time that "it has largely been a War Against Boredom." Looking back, I find my words somewhat naïve (even if true), considering the horrors that men and women—military and civilian—on both sides went through. My shipmates and I were damn lucky to be where we were. The closest I ever came to combat was walking on the flight deck and looking at all the bombs waiting to be loaded, messages like "This one's for you, Saddam" scrawled on them with Magic Markers.

Now, as our country prepares for another possible war in Iraq, I find myself contemplating the same questions I did then. Are we doing this for the right reasons? Is it worth it? Have we done everything else we can do short of armed conflict to resolve the crisis? While I was in the Gulf, my brother Denny wrote me, saying "the debate of war to achieve peace will go on to the end of the world." I agree with him now more than ever. Let's just hope that a war to achieve peace doesn't bring about the end of the world.


©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year, I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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1/15: Meet the New Boss
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