xactly 26 years ago Friday, Operation Desert Storm began with hundreds of tanks, armored vehicles, and helicopters targeting and piercing Iraqi defenses.
Thousands of soldiers breached the berm between Kuwait and Iraq, in a war that lasted a total of 100 hours.
Friday, the 1st Infantry Division created a mock berm at the Custer Hill Parade Field and simulated the breach that had taken place almost three decades before.
Soldiers ran through a breach surrounded by concertina wire to the sound of artificial machine gun and mortar fire in honor of what their predecessors had done. The morning was cold, not unlike the morning of the actual breach, and when the run began it was still dark.
The simulated breach was attended by Desert Storm veterans who participated in the berm breach 26 years ago, including Col. (R) Gregory Fontenot and Junction City Mayor Phyllis Fitzgerald.
“The initial attack had 116 tanks and roughly the same number of Bradleys — so it was a big event,” Fontenot said.
“Days like that, you never forgot,” Fitzgerald said.
Unlike Fontenot, she flew over the berm in a blackhawk helicopter.
“Twenty-six years ago, my husband and I went across that berm,” she said.
Fitzgerald was in the air while her husband was on the ground during the breach.
Both appreciated the simulation that took place on Fort Riley Friday.
“I am really delighted that the 1st Infantry Division cares enough about its history to honor the veterans of a largely forgotten war,” Fontenot said.
The breach provided closure for some who fought in the war.
Acting senior commander of Fort Riley Brig. Gen. Patrick Frank is also a veteran of Desert Storm, though he didn’t take part in the berm breach.
“We wanted to bring these veterans in and celebrate their time in the division with our current soldiers so that the soldiers that are in the division today could see the generations that have come before them,” he said.
Fitzgerald chose to run with the active-duty soldiers.
Looking back to the past is particularly important for the 1st Infantry Division this year. The division is coming up on its 100th anniversary June 8 and Friday’s berm breach kicked off the celebration.
“We thank them for their service, but there were so many of them that came to us while we were there and thanked us for our time, too,” she said. “We’re all Big Red One soldiers.”
Military Affairs Council director John Seitz didn’t fight in Desert Storm, but he remembers the war and he attended the simulated berm breach.
“The Division continues to preserve its history, and the history is a great one, because the Division’s done great things in every war where they’ve been involved,” he said. “It’s nice that the Division remembers the veterans who served in those encounters.”
Though the simulated breach put the focus on the past, it also mirrored the future in a way.
The 1st Infantry Division recently wrapped up Danger Focus II.
“That’s focused on what we call decisive action operations,” Frank said. “When you reach back to Desert Storm, that was decisive action operations — combined arms, joint operations, executing actions like the breach ... We are once again focusing our soldiers on that type of fight.”