by J.P. Ruiz
The effects of the Gulf War on soldiers.
|Some Gave All
It was January 1990 and I found myself at an airport in Louisville, KY it was dark outside and about 4:30 am. A group of very young people were gathered in an area that was designated by a sign that read Ft. Knox. This was the area where new recruits waited for their bus that would take them to their destination, their first day at Basic Training. Some were joking and laughing while others waited quietly while all were anxiously awaiting the unknown. All had heard their share of stories and watched their share of military movies but no one had a realistic expectation of what was to come.
Soon two big military buses arrived and these men wearing perfectly starched Army fatigues stepped out of the buses and began screaming and yelling. “Everyone up, get up, you no longer belong to your parents, I am the one who owns you now”. Speaking at the top of their voices they took us from “free to do what we want” people to those owned by the U.S. Army. The men identified themselves as drill sergeants and explained they would be the ones who would be ruling our lives from now on. It was an eye opening experience to most of us, and the beginning of a nightmare to others.
I had always dreamed of being a soldier and this experience was welcomed, I was ready to do what it took to transform me into a man, into a soldier. I had read all the books and seen all of the movies and knew in my mind that this was all part of the mental training that needed to take place in order to instill in us the ability to follow orders without question. The majority of us were running around like an ant bed that has just been stepped in. It was total confusion but it was organized confusion. Soon we were all loaded up into busses and we were off into the great unknown. I could see a mixture of emotions on the faces of those around me, some clearly displayed fear, others confusion, while some clearly displayed the look that a mistake may have been made. Then there were some like me who could not help but display clearly the look of excitement and welcomed the challenge ahead.
As we rode on the bus to our destination the excitement and all the other emotions seemed to increase, it was hard not to feel proud that this dream was actually becoming a reality. There are several reasons people join the military, for some this is a great way to have security in employment and it is simply a job; for some it is a way to earn much needed finances for college; for some it simply is a way to do something while they make up their mind what exactly they want to do with the rest of their lives; for some this is a great way to learn a trade and gain great on the job training while acquiring great leadership skills; as for me I am a patriot and though I welcomed all the other reasons as perks of this experience, I simply wanted to serve my country. I wanted to do my part in assuring freedom for my family and friends. I feel blessed to be living in a country where we have the freedom to live our lives as we chose to do so. It is amazing that we live in a country where we are free to serve and worship our God freely without fear of persecution. The United States of America has its share of issues but compared to other countries, we do live in the greatest land in the world. There is no comparison, in my travels I have been to many countries and no matter how beautiful they are, I am always happy to return to my home in Utopia, TX. It was interesting to find out how many people were like me and were here for the same reasons as I was. America has the best armed forces as they are a one hundred percent volunteer force.
We learned so much during our basic training. We learned how to shoot, how to fight, we learned first aid, we learned how to read maps and use a compass, we learned how to operate a radio and properly communicate on it, how to make proper decisions, we learned how to follow orders, we learned how to throw and use grenades, and most of all we learned how to follow orders and learn to be dependable on each other. In Basic Training I made new friends that were unlike any friends I had ever had before. These friends had placed their lives in my hands and I had placed my life in their hands. We learned to work as a team and to overcome obstacles as a group, all working together to solve a problem. It was amazing the things we learned to do and everyone genuinely cared for the safety of everyone else. It seemed to go so fast, it wasn’t very long and we were graduating Basic Training. We were all shipped to different places to go onto our MOS training; this was where we would learn the skills required to accomplish our individual jobs. I was send to Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX, where I learned to be a combat medic. As a medic I was assigned to the 82nd. Airborne division and was sent to Airborne School.
I was 18 years old and I received my orders that we were being deployed to the Middle East for Operation Desert Shield as Iraq had invaded Kuwait and we would be on standby to drive them out if it would be required. Saddam Hussein was the ruthless dictator and lead Iraq into Kuwait in order to overtake their country. The United States was not going to allow Hussein to come in and bully the people of Kuwait. Hussein was famous for attacking all those who opposed him and was known for using chemical and biological weapons against them. He had previously used chemical weapons upon the Iranians and the Kurds in the 1980’s during the Iran-Iraq War. Over 5,000 Kurds were killed, including women and children, during these attacks. The United Nations was not going to stand by and allow him to do this to the Kuwaiti people.
My unit was assigned to the advance party and would deploy before the other troops and get to Middle East early in order to begin to set up in preparation for the American troops. I was excited and I was scared, this is what I had been training for but it was the unknown that brought me fear. Was I prepared to go war and come under attack of the same chemical weapons Hussein had used against his own people? This would be a war like no other we had fought before. I had been married for a little over a year and it was going to be hard to leave them behind, but it was such an honor. We arrived in Kuwait in December 1990 and we prepared for war. On the 17th of January 1991 Coalition Forces began to bomb the Iraqi army in Kuwait and on the 24th of February the ground assault began. One hundred hours later a cease fire was called and the Iraqi troops were driven out of Kuwait.
During the ground assault I sustained a bullet injury during a firefight with Iraqi soldiers which exposed me to depleted uranium. During the war our unit provided security as the Marines destroyed a weapons cache that contained chemical weapons which exposed us to Sarin gas. The Iraqi soldiers bombarded us with SCUD missiles containing chemical weapons. It was an emotional rollercoaster and most of operated on very little sleep and we were on guard twenty-four hours a day. We assisted loading the injured soldiers and civilians into air ambulances as we sent them to U.S. We would continuously hear reports from home that the U.S. had not received any casualties when we witnessing our fellow soldiers get shot. This was upsetting to me even though I knew it was important to keep this type of information secret. This was the first most televised war in history, at any time a person could turn to CNN and watch what was happening from the comfort of their living rooms.
War is ugly and it was hard to see the injured soldiers as we loaded them up into medevac helicopter but it was more difficult to witness the effects the war was having on the people of Kuwait. Countless of innocent civilians were killed and injured, this included women and children. The most difficult battle was yet to come. It wasn’t until we returned home that the real battle began. The nightmares and thoughts of the horrors of the war were continuous and there was no break of depression and anxiety. The effects of PTSD invaded me and a great deal of the other soldiers who had experienced combat. The effects of the exposure to the chemical weapons began when we returned home but continually became worst as time went by until now that I am one hundred percent permanently disabled. The chemical weapons exposure attack a person’s major organs, muscles, and joints. I now suffer from chronic pain syndrome, chronic abdominal pain, chronic fatigue, migraine headaches, chronic nausea and vomiting, fibromyalgia, seizure disorder, among other medical issues. We really don’t know what exactly the cause of each of these symptoms is but it has been labeled as the “Gulf War Condition”.
I was in great health when I went to war and now I require a powered wheel chair to get around. I have trouble walking, standing, sitting, and it even hurts sometimes to lie down. My war was a short one but the effects have lasted all of my life. One out of every three soldiers that were involved in the Gulf War suffer from the same type of symptoms that I do. The government took many years before they owned up to the condition that we suffer from and it has been linked to everything from exposure to chemical weapon to the vaccines and preventative medications we had been given prior and during the war.
I have been asked many times if I had known then what was to become of us because of this war would I have still served? My answer to that is the same as all of the other soldiers, “Yes, I would proudly serve my country again with honor”. God Bless America.