This is the second part of a series. The first part, “A Reflection on a Room: A 1991 Diary Entry from Desert Storm,” can be found here.
The war began early in the morning of January 17, 1991 (Riyadh time). This was the air offensive — the preparation of the battlefield. The ground offensive began 39 days later on February 24, 1991. Together they were the greatest release of offensive firepower known in human history. Nothing has exceeded the might and intensity of that time to this day. Choreography was everything. And it’s orchestration was near perfect.
“Near perfect” does not mean perfect; there were mistakes, confusion, and errors; it was, after all, war — and chaos had its role. There is only one thing that can penetrate and obliterate chaos, and that is the truth. But truth can be thwarted by institutional bias and agendas.
The commander’s role was well beyond warfighting; he was the diplomat, planner, leader, and orchestrator-in-chief. Every commander has his wartime priorities and for this commander it was people — they came first; they were the ones who would accomplish the mission and attain victory, the ones who would occupy and secure the ground.
This war was the last of the classical wars, the greatest victory since the Battle of Omdurman, and the first of the future wars; if you will permit me it was a transitional war — leveraging historical weaponry and new untested technology and methods. There ‘game changer’ in this war was the view of the battlefield.
The potential for a real-time broad view of the battlefield existed, but the system was still in the ‘testing stage’ and the military services were not ready or willing to give it to the commander.
This story is about the war before the war and the application of the real-time eyes on the battlefield during the war.
The “Enemy” Before the Real Enemy
To call them the “enemy” is an overstatement and it is unfair; but, not surprisingly, each of the military services had their own agendas. While all were wholly supportive of the mission, each had its own institutional plans and approach to the coming war.
A major point of contention during the pre-war combat force deployment phase was JSTARS (Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System). Its real-time side-looking radar system would enable, for the first time in history, a commander to observe the unfolding battle, giving a tactical (and strategic) advantage to the warfighters — the men and women on the ground. It offered the commander the high ground, enabling combat forces unprecedented advantage and maneuverability.
Keep in mind the context, the Gulf War took place at a different point in time; there was no internet, minimal communications connectivity between the services, and each branch of the military had limited interconnectivity among its own forces. This all worked against the commander — against a cohesive combat effort; absent JSTARS the commander would not have a big picture perspective of the battlefield — the battlefield-to-be.
To call them the “enemy” is an overstatement and it is unfair; but, not surprisingly, each of the military services had their own agendas.
The JSTARS was, at the beginning of Desert Shield, still in research and development, still in its testing and infancy stage, and, according to the Air Force, “not ready for deployment.” In fact, some in the Air Force and Army leadership argued against its deployment.
I and others, including some at the JSTARS’ home base (colleagues of mine from the Armed Forces Staff College), worked behind the scenes to develop a rationale for the deployment of the JSTARS; it was shared with the J-2 who, in-turn, presented it to the commander. The commander accepted the rationale and presented it to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. The Chairman and the Secretary of Defense agreed with the presentation. And much to the chagrin of some in blue and green uniforms an order was given for its deployment to Saudi Arabia.
Yes, it was “not ready for deployment” — but it was made as ready as it could be and it was deployed, with a host of contractors.
JSTARS was an innovative “command and control” system according to the Air Force operators. For those of us in the field of intelligence, it was an intelligence platform flown by operators in a manner directed by the intelligence needs of the battlefield. The ‘argument’ was real; at that time the integration of operations and intelligence was far from complete. The tension between the two was palpable.
There exists a text, Managing “Command and Control” in the Persian Gulf War by Mark David Mandeles, Thomas Hone, and Sanford S. Terry. Within the text, on the bottom of page 58 and top of 59 is a myth. It is not a myth, I believe, that was created by the authors; but someone did create it. Its perpetuation and existence is simply wrong. The myth supports a bias, an agenda, and undermines the truth.
The foregoing myth, and its conclusion, if employed today, would undermine every field commander. It is, in my opinion, on the wrong side of history.
The ground offensive was in full force. The complexity of the war had magnified by a factor of x — “x” equaling the focus, tension, and dynamic engagement at the moment as determined by the commander and field commanders, and more importantly, magnified by the literal engagement of humanity in a deadly struggle. War is about people.
On that night, in the war room, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the commander of the Royal Saudi Ground Forces and commander of the joint Arab forces, was in close and quiet conversation with the commander. They were sharing information; but it was not sharing in a dialogue manner, it was more of a monologue by the Prince.
I was sitting at the J-2 position doing my best to keep up with the pace of activity. I was also doing my best to keep out of the line of fire in the room. This was a futile endeavor, one I should have realized.
On that night, in the war room, Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the commander of the Royal Saudi Ground Forces and commander of the joint Arab forces, was in close and quiet conversation with the commander.
While the Prince and commander were ‘closeted’ at the front table, an officer from the commander’s Joint Intelligence Center (JIC) came into the room and handed me a note. Thankfully, he took the time to bring it to my attention and explain its significance.
I took the information and plotted it on my map. I wondered of its significance in light of all the information before me: enemy troops were moving. I knew it was significant. However, its presentation and the timing of such was my choice. Does a major interrupt a total of seven stars on the shoulders of two generals?
“J2!” The commander’s voice hit me. I was no longer in control of my destiny.
“I want to know what is going on here” and accompanying the query the commander pointed to the map before him and at specific area. He was finally using his infrared pointer, the size of a small brick; its red dot was revolving in a specific region just across the Saudi border.
“Sir,” as I stood up I realized the information given to me by the JIC officer was about to come into play, “I have a report before me . . . just handed to me . . .” I was buying time as I maneuvered my way around the desks in the small room to the map before the Prince and the commander. In doing so, I was re-reading the report. I had to know the information cold and present it with confidence.
Once before the leadership, I said, “We just received a report from the JIC that JSTARS has identified 30–35 movers heading from the northeast to the southwest at a speed of about ______ .”
“What are the movers?” And this is the question for which I had no precise answer, but did give a reply.
“Sir, we’re not exactly certain, but for the JSTARS to have picked up the hits, they are most certainly mechanized given the speed of their movement” and I added, “I doubt they are tanks.” The latter I could say. Given the intensity of the air campaign, I was certain that every tank had been killed multiple times in the previous days.
“And where are the movers exactly?”
“Sir, at the time of the JSTARS hits they were in coordinate area ____.” And then I did something instinctively, I handed the report to the commander.
“Thank you, Major.” These were my dismissal instructions. I needed to sit down. My heart was pounding and moving into my throat: adrenaline. In addition to the Prince and the commander, everyone in the room was my audience; all were listening.
I know I must have sighed in relief. Little did I know that the pace was going to quicken and a storm was going to be heading my way.
With the Prince still present, the commander picked up his phone and called General Horner, the commander of the Central Air Forces, and stated, “Chuck, we have Saudi forces in the area of _____, and we have hostiles moving toward their right flank at _______.” And the commander continued speaking, deliberate and calmly. It was amazing to hear the commander give a verbatim presentation of my briefing. It was then I learned: he has a mind like a steel trap.
Then came the command: “I want them hit and I want them hit now . . . Thanks Chuck.” The call was finished.
There was no doubt General Horner had responded affirmatively; fidelity was one of General Horner’s attributes.
The commander turned to the Prince, “Don’t worry about it; we’ll take care of the targets.”
The Prince, with an appropriate thanks, left the room.
Deducing from the exchange, Saudi ground forces were moving north and west — a part of the left hook entering Iraq. And Saudi scouts ahead and to the east of the main force had seen the Iraqi movements. The Saudi scouts had radioed their leadership of the pending hostile attack and this is what brought the Prince into the war room to speak with the commander. It was luck and good fortune that a perceptive intelligence officer had given me the information when he did.
A sense of relief came over me. I had survived the moment. Then . . .
A phone rang. It was the Deputy Operations officer (DJ-3), a brigadier general, who answered. At first I paid the call little attention, then I heard him say, “I didn’t give that briefing.”
Deducing from the exchange, Saudi ground forces were moving north and west — a part of the left hook entering Iraq.
Then the DJ-3 said, “J-2, what’s your phone number?” I responded and gave it to the DJ-3. The DJ-3, in turn, gave my number to the person on the other end of the line and hung up the phone.
The DJ-3 said nothing to me — or anyone else in the room.
Within seconds, my phone rang.
“Who am I speaking to?”
“Sir, this is Major Treviño.”
“Major, this is Major General _____ . . . do you know who I am?”
“I have no idea sir.” It was an honest answer, but perhaps not well received.
A brief silence ensued.
“Major, I am the Director of Air Operations at CENTAF” (Central Air Forces).
“Yes sir, how can I help you?”
No silence ensued; it was a hard and intimidating voice that said, “Major, I understand you just gave a briefing to General Schwarzkopf; tell me about the briefing.”
So I repeated the briefing given to the commander.
The major general after listening to my recitation then blew a gasket, “Do you know what you’ve just done?!”
“Sir, ‘what I’ve just done?’ — well, sir, I answered the commander’s question.” Again honest, but not what the major general wanted to hear.
“No _____-damn it; do you know what you’ve just done?”
“Sir, I’m sure you’re about to let me know.” And he did!
Now the general was shouting: “Major, I have just diverted ___ aircraft to attack the target you presented in your briefing. This means that targets in the present ATO (air tasking order) are not going to be hit! And this means, as a consequence of your briefing the next ATO, which has already been published, will have to be altered to hit the targets not being hit tonight!”
The general continued, “And, major, you’ve made things worse!”
“How so, sir?” My calmness of tone belied my stress.
“Major, I had to divert aircraft against your target carrying hard bombs. Do you know what that means?” My targets?!
“Sir, hard bombs are intended to penetrate hardened targets.” A textbook response.
“You’re damn right, major. So tonight hardened targets are not going to be hit; because of you, we’re wasting bombs, and we’re wasting money, and we’re just going to drill holes in the ground. Major, for soft targets we need soft bombs.”
Now I was getting mad — and, on reflection, intentionally pushing back. “Sir, begging your pardon; but it is my belief that the bombs, money, and holes will not go to waste.”
“What the hell are you talking about major?! Do you know anything about air warfare?!”
“Sir, I know the enemy. And when bombs begin landing on or around the Iraqi advance, they will scatter. Their plans will change. They will not attack the Saudi forces as intended. The Iraqis lack the discipline to proceed when under fire. And you will have halted their attack.”
“Damn it major; you still don’t seem to understand . . .” The general was having none of my concession.
At this point, I was physically shaking; but my voice was in control; and, now, I was going to push back deliberately and firmly. I interrupted, “Sir, this is what I do understand: the O-10 [the four star general, the commander] asked the 0–4 [the major, me] a question; the O-4 answered the 0–10's question — and gave him the right answer. It seems to me that the O-8 [the general with whom I was speaking] has a problem not only with the O-4's answer, which was the truth, but also the O-10's decision. Perhaps the O-8 would like to speak with the O-10?” I was angry, likely beyond angry, about ‘bombs, money, and holes in the ground’ and an evident lack of concern for the troops in harm’s way. For the commander, war was about people.
Silence . . . followed by more silence.
The major general broke the silence.
“Major, I have a question for you.”
“Major, where did you get that information from?”
“Sir? Why I got the information from your JSTARS team.”
Then a deliberate and manifestly controlled voice replied. “Major, I know you’re just doing your job, but do me a favor; before you contact my JSTARS team again, call me first.” So the major general agreed that JSTARS belonged to him, not the commander. I wondered if the commander would agree. But I kept the thoughts to myself.
“Sir, I would be happy to do so, time permitting.”
The major general, no doubt, received the caveat and its implication(s). And then he added, “Major, remember, one day you’re coming back to the Air Force and I am going to make certain I am sitting on your promotion board.” The threat was laid before me.
Realizing I was not alone in the room, my response was no longer subdued but mildly enthusiastic and given for all to hear, “Sir, I would be honored to have you on my promotion board.” And I hung up the phone on a major general.
The room was absolutely silent. I dared not raise my head. But it was evident everyone in the room had heard my side of the conversation. My hands were shaking as the adrenaline flowed through my body. I tried to look busy and outwardly calm. I tried to control my breathing. Time passed. Then . . .
“Major, remember, one day you’re coming back to the Air Force and I am going to make certain I am sitting on your promotion board.” The threat was laid before me.
“J-2!” It was the commander staring at me; his eyes intent and focused.
A deep, deep breath was followed by a, “Sir?”
“Is everything okay?”
“Sir, it’s swell.” I lied.
The deputy commander, his head down, began to laugh — quietly, but it was an evident laugh. Yes, he, too, knew I had lied.
The commander simply turned his chair, which had been facing me, toward the front of the room and stared at the map before him . . . and was silent.
Everyone was silent. The war continued.
War is excruciating on body, mind, and soul. War is also, without question, a formative experience. But, the formative experience can build you up or break you down. If you do not have what it takes to bear its pressures before entering combat, war is not the time to discover one’s weaknesses. That is why the commander stated: “You know how you make good officers? The same way you make good steel. You beat the hell out of it.” It is better to have this done before war than during war. If one cannot bear up to pressure before war, they will not succeed in war.
“One needed the strength of will to return again to the fire, even if it meant the cycle was to repeat itself. The latter was important: you had to have the strength of will to return again and again, to demonstrate your willingness to grow. It was not my plan to grow; in my mind, I had no choice but to grow.
Fire, Truth, & People
In combat one has to know that the test of fire will not only come from the enemy, but from within, not self, but from those around you, from peers and leadership alike. This meant, “You had better tell the truth and be willing to live with the consequences.” Truth is what I conveyed to the commander and the major general; the former used it to save his people; the latter had an altogether different perspective — bombs, money, and holes in the ground. The latter was formed by an institutional perspective.
Fidelity is, in war, necessary in every relationship. The commander and General Horner had a unique relationship. I was present during many of their conversations and never did I see the commander raise his voice at or to General Horner. This does not mean it was not done; it simply means I never saw it and I know it did not happen that night (as is stated in the text above).
That night was a journey for me — a journey I had not intended to take nor did I seek. But, had I demonstrated an “unwillingness to undergo a journey” — I would have caved and lost all credibility. The “Will Kane Test” is real.
Setting the Record Straight
I worked in and with the JIC and in the war room. I never saw a “pronounced tendency of HQs USCENTCOM staff to influence dynamic engagements.” I did see the commander command, and if that caused a problem, then I do not believe it was the commander’s problem.
Contrary to the text, there was no imagery shown to Brigadier General Leide or General Schwarzkopf. General Leide was not in the room or the JIC during the evening in question. And I was the one who had the “words — coordinates and descriptive” — handing them to the commander. And the claim that the major general had asked General Leide “whether the targets had moved” cannot be so inasmuch as the JSTARS capability belonged to the major general, by his own admission, and the major general would or should have known the answer. The text’s portrayal or account is unfair to the major general and Jack Leide.
The claim that the issue was several hours old is belied by the entire scenario above — a scenario I lived, the briefing by the Prince, the JSTARS collection, the information received from the JIC, my presentation to the commander, the commander’s call to General Horner, and the major general’s subsequent and timely phone call with me: “Major, I had to divertaircraft against your target carrying hard bombs.”
The Historical Lesson
History is filled with agendas. History is in the eyes of the beholder. Eyewitness accounts will always differ. But that does not mean that truth must be forsaken. On the contrary, it must be continuously sought. What disturbs me most about the brief recollection within the text in question is the agenda (not the author’s agenda, but the agenda given them); the fact that there was a deliberate intent to remove the commander (and his staff) from targeting — effectively undermining the commander’s authority and responsibility.
It is the commander who is ultimately accountable for the war’s successes or failures. The lack of fidelity and truth, and the deliberate intent (as stated in the text above) to exclude the commander from decision making, and its subsequent non-focus on the commander’s priorities, people who were in the line of fire, speaks to the tragedy of any war: a systemic and institutional cultural bias, an over-reliance on a singular military service’s goals, technology, and way of war. Systems, money, and bombs do not die; people die.
War is about people. And we can only win wars by keeping our people, our men and women in uniform, alive.
The operations/intelligence apparatus in the military, irrespective of the color of its uniform, is all about “killing” the enemy; and by “killing” I mean actual and metaphorical — the latter being the negation of the enemy’s power to inflict harm either by deception, disruption, or disabling their capacity to do harm to one’s own combat forces.
But when the operations/intelligence apparatus becomes about power and denying truth to the combatant commanders, then our people will die.
War is about people. And we can only win wars by keeping our people, our men and women in uniform, alive.
Lastly, an offensive weapon may also serve defensive purposes; every offensive weapon may serve defensive purposes. And we, or so it seems self-evident to me, have an overriding moral obligation to use weapons as necessary, as the moment dictates, to safeguard the life of our men and women in harm’s way.
It is imperative that the reader understand that this story — this reflection — is about content and context. Yes, persons were involved on that fateful night. And there is no intent to disparage any of the characters.
The major general in this story is a man’s man — a pilot’s pilot. He is an extraordinary living legend of gallantry, bravery, and courage in combat. He is made of the right stuff and it is of him that we should be making movies and reading heroic stories. It is because of him and his force of character, in no small part, that the offensive air campaign was a resounding success. As stated earlier, I know General Horner’s fidelity and I know that General Horner would have only chosen the best — the major general — to be around him, to be on his staff. The major general is hewn from combat. He rightfully questioned me that night, “Do you know anything about air warfare?!” I don’t know anything about air warfare in comparison to him. I salute him and am ever thankful he was (if even only momentarily!) in my life.
The commander in this story was also forged in combat, from the same war as the major general. He is a soldier’s soldier, whether you liked his methods or not. His focus, however, was on the totality of forces — air, land, sea, and space — and on the men and women under his command. It was hisorchestration and willingness to grow that enabled our overall success.
There should be no question begged as to what brought the commander, the major general, and I together that night: the answer is the truth. This is not a reflection to distinguish between right and wrong. This is a reflection to let the reader — perhaps the active duty person in uniform — know that you, too, can find yourself at the center of a collision of two massive tectonic plates, two cultures colliding, two giants in history each with their own sense of evidence and how it ought to be applied . . . as I found myself that night.
There are forces so massive, so beyond our control, that as rational creatures caught in this collision we may be thrown off our reason’s control and we may resort to emotions or negligent passions. This we must resist. And this resistance must be rooted in solid and evident truth. We cannot resort to the “virus of wishful thinking" or equivocation. Our resolve must be solid, even if the consequences are not to our liking. Only in standing selflessly on the rock of truth can we be true warriors in life. On this, I have bet my life.
The author of this diary entry is the Reverend Eben H. Treviño, Jr., LtCol, USAF (Ret.), J.D. The Reverend is a graduate of U.S. Air War College, 1996, Maxwell Air Force Base, AL; was a National Defense Fellow, 1995–96, at the Mershon Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH; and a graduate of the U.S. Armed Forces Staff College, National Defense University, 1989, Norfolk, VA.
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 Google books online: Managing “Command and Control” in the Persian Gulf War by Mark David Mandeles, Thomas Hone, Sanford S. Terry, https://books.google.com/books?id=yPMjNr3eGnkC&pg=PA68&lpg=PA68&dq=jstars+gulf+war&source=bl&ots=SywJ76tsM2&sig=rFiwJUi3EnwJpxkrKANY-zr742g&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDwQ6AEwBGoVChMIj_XAw4mfxwIVBSQeCh1M1Qy5#v=onepage&q=jstars%20gulf%20war&f=false
 Turned Toward the Sun: An Autobiography by Michael Burn [Wilby, Norwich: 2003], pp. 70, and 69–78, 148.