Three local Marines will be featured in the Heroes Among Us speaker series in honor of '1st Gulf War, 25th Anniversary Night' next week in Veterans Memorial Park.
The Marines, all veterans of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, were part of coalition forces comprised of 34 nations led by the U.S. in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ray "Juice" Coleman, commanding officer of HT-18 aboard Whiting Field, was a 21-year-old Marine Corps reservist in 1990, working on his degree at Rutgers University. He was activated for duty at the start of Operation Desert Shield, the name for operations leading to the buildup of troops and the defense of Saudi Arabia.
"I was scared," Coleman said. "I was very nervous because there was a lot of media hype. The last major conflict had been Vietnam and we had a few little ones in between. So this was going to supposedly be a big one."
Marine Corps reservists hadn't been activated for long term out of Anacostia, a reservist unit outside of Washington, D.C., since Vietnam, and Coleman — in the middle of his officer's program — had no desire to go overseas.
"It was very traumatic for me to get off the plane in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," Coleman said. "It was hot in the middle of December!"
Once on the ground, Coleman's unit waited in the Operation Desert Shield phase, training and preparing for the events that were about to transpire. Once Operation Desert Shield moved into Operation Desert Storm, the young Marine said it was a blur because it happened so fast.
There were aircraft going deep into Bagdad, dropping bombs, and retired Marine Maj. Tom "Fitzie" Fitzgerald remembers having to brief the commander.
"Being close to ground war, we went out and did a lot of coordination of assets to take care of what was right in front us," Fitzgerald said. "We were doing deep airstrikes then it turned to close airstrikes. As we attacked, there was a lot of air coordination and I remember the Cobras being right over the top of us during the Battle of Khafji," he said, in reference to the first major ground engagement of the war.
Coleman and Fitzgerald were engaged in the war in different capacities but both remember the Marines' skills and courageousness.
"What sticks out the most for me is the professionalism and bravery of our pilots," Coleman said. "They flew into danger on a constant basis and went right at it."
"To liberate an entire country in less than 100 hours — it was fast, a blur," Coleman said of Operation Desert Storm. "From my perspective, it was nothing short of magnificent."
"I know people paid the ultimate sacrifice for the allied countries but it was unbelievable to be a part of something like that. You have to be able to experience that victory. It was overwhelming to see the 2nd Marine Division go through the breach and watch what the allied forces did in the air. It was awe inspiring."
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: "1st Gulf War, 25th Anniversary Night" Marine Corps League Heroes Among Us speaker series.
WHO: Veterans across eras and wars sharing their military service stories.
WHERE: Veterans Memorial Park, 200 South 10th Ave.; inclement weather location is Rosie's in Seville Quarter, 130 E. Government St.
WHEN: The last Friday of each month from May to October including Air Force Night, 1st Gulf War 25th Anniversary Night, United States Coast Guard Night, WWII Victory 70th Anniversary Night, Spec Ops and Sniper Night, and Khe Sanh Night.
CONTACT: Ed Rouse, public affairs officer for the Pensacola Marine Corps League and the Heroes Among Us committee, 623-3250, [email protected].
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