Some 30 years ago, the world appeared to be entering a better place. From the end of World War II until the fall of the Berlin Wall, Cold War tensions had reached at times a breaking point. But with good leaders focused on the good of their people, and good people yearning for freedom, the doomsday clock paused. It seemed like we could all exhale.
Unfortunately, the world is not entirely full of good leaders and good people. So, the unthinkable happened in the summer of 1990. Saddam Hussein, the “Butcher of Baghdad,” chose to invade Kuwait. The man who began and fought a bloody war of attrition with Iran for eight years was emboldened to test the United Nations, the diplomatic and political stability of his neighbors, and the military power of a U.S.-led coalition that would ultimately liberate Kuwait.
In “Desert Redleg: Artillery Warfare in the First Gulf War” by L. Scott Lingamfelter, U.S Army colonel (retired), we are transported back to this time to experience the largest artillery barrage since World War II.
Most followers of Virginia politics know Delegate Lingamfelter who for 16 years represented Prince William and Fauquier Counties in the Virginia General Assembly. But when you read his book, you know what really enlivened this man: his 28 years of military service to the nation.
A Richmond native, VMI and UVA graduate, Mr. Lingamfelter is Virginian through-and-through. But his heart is with the 1st Infantry Division, the storied “Big Red One” that fired the first U.S. cannon round in World War I, led the invasion of Normandy in WWII and was the first division to breach Iraqi forces on its border with Saudi Arabia to sack Saddams’s Republican Guards. That division’s motto says it all: “No Mission Too Difficult, No Sacrifice Too Great; Duty First.”
Mr. Lingamfelter takes us on a personal journey as a Middle East foreign area officer, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Iran-Iraq War analyst, and eventually as the executive officer in the powerful division artillery of the Big Red One.
To be sure, this is a detailed read, but a fast-paced one where the reader is transported in just 30 pages from Kansas to California to Wisconsin to Iraq as the 1st Division prepared and deployed to the sands of the Middle East to liberate Kuwait.
Using his diary, the journals of his peers, and detailed, plans, maps and drawings, Mr. Lingamfelter takes you with him and his driver PFC Roger McGary, in their Humvee as the Division Artillery supported the Big Red One and set the conditions for the assault into Iraq. The reader — including this naval officer — experiences the ground war up close, as well as the importance of an eight-day artillery bombardment by 17 coalition field artillery battalions under the control of the Division Artillery. It’s a story a Hollywood producer would love.
While the war seemed like a cakewalk to those comfortably watching it on CNN, Mr. Lingamfelter thoroughly dispels that myth. From logistical nightmares and ill-aimed rockets, to the complexities and coordination required to get rounds on target, to the personal stories of soldiers, we experience the war with him.
Moreover, you don’t have to be an Army soldier to appreciate this story. Anyone who fought in Desert Strom will connect with this narrative. Indeed, as a naval officer, it took me back to the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002, when I deployed on short notice as the navigator of USS Ponce (LPD 15). And that’s the magic of this work. Mr. Lingamfelter reveals the challenges and struggles of combat, including the most important one: the willingness to “give the last full measure of devotion” for country, freedom and our fellow soldiers.
Ultimately, this book is about the importance of artillery in ground combat. As Mr. Lingamfelter notes, “The artillery’s contribution has been obscured by characterizations of the Gulf War as merely a 100-hour blitzkrieg executed by ground forces charging across the desert to defeat an incompetent enemy that the Air Force had pounded into submission.” When you read this book, you’ll discover how wrong that perception is.
You’ll also learn, as Mr. Lingamfelter describes it, “what we did: the difficulty, the uncertainty, the smells and sounds of battle … the camaraderie, both good and bad, the serious and the humorous, and the brilliant as well as the idiotic, as all of us pulled together to do our best to get the mission done. It wasn’t easy. And sometimes in combat you wind up wondering who is pulling with as well as against you, even on your own side of the battlefield.”
Indeed, whether you fought in the Middle East or had a family member or friend who did — you’ll have a better understanding of what they experienced. For the “Big Red One” it was all about their time-honored motto: “Duty First!”
• J.R. Hoeft is a retired U.S. Navy officer who currently works as a federal civilian public affairs specialist.
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DESERT REDLEG: ARTILLERY WARFARE IN THE FIRST GULF WAR
By L. Scott Lingamfelter
University Press of Kentucky, $32.95, 360 pages