DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
XVIII AIRBORNE CORPS
FORT BRAGG, NORTH CAROLINA
US ARMY CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY
WASHINGTON, D. C.
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
Oral History Interview
DSIT AE 017
LTC John R. Vines
4th Battalion, 325th Infantry (82d Airborne Division)
Interview Conducted 25 January 1991 at Rafha Airfield, Northern Province, Saudi Arabia
Interviewer: MAJ Dennis P. Levin (130th Military History Detachment)
OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM
7 August 1990 - 15 May 1991
Oral History Interview DSIT AE 017
MAJ LEVIN: This is an Operation DESERT STORM interview. It is the 25th of January, 1991; the time is 2013[C]; and the location is Rafha Airfield. This is MAJ Dennis Levin, Commander, 130th Military History Detachment, interviewer. I am interviewing?
LTC VINES: LTC John R. Vines, ***-**-****, Commander of the 4th Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment.1 I've commanded this battalion for 25 months.
MAJ LEVIN: Sir, could you tell me what was ... what happened, what were the events leading up to your deployment here?
LTC VINES: We were the Division Ready Force [DRF]-12 and I was called at approximately 2300[R] hours on the 6th of August . I had been given a warning order, late that afternoon, that there was going to be a deployment order issued by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but other than that, we really had no idea. And I was lead to believe, by Division G-3,3 that we it would probably be in several days. I was called about 2300, and essentially it was, get ready to go. It was one of those mission unspoken, destination unknown things. We didn't know where we were going to land. We didn't have a specified task.
And so the battalion assembled around about midnight that night and went to the corps marshalling area. And the mission was get to, in this case, the location we went through was Dhahran and deploy up to the vicinity of Al Jubayl immediately upon arrival. And we did that. We deployed on the afternoon of the 8th of August and we were the first element to deploy. Arrived here about mid-afternoon on the 9th, based on the time changes and the refueling and so forth.
We deployed by DC-10, long-range DC-10s, and it was pretty challenging getting out of Pope Air Force Base, [North Carolina], because no one had any idea what the air flow was. The Air Force didn't know what the air flow was. No one could tell you what the next airplane coming in was. So the lead elements of the task force arrived at Dhahran on the afternoon of 9 August and initially assembled at what is now known as Dragon City, where the [XVIII Airborne] Corps Main [Command Post (CP)] is. And then on about the 13th of August, I believe it was, we deployed to Al Jubayl with the initial mission of providing security of King Abdul Aziz Naval Base and securing the port at Jubayl for the arrival of the Marine Corps.
MAJ LEVIN: All right. What understanding did you have about the nature of the mission, the kind of equipment that you would need, and the forces that were potentially against you?
LTC VINES: Well, it was a very vague situation. Clearly, we knew that on the 2d of August that the Iraqis had seized Kuwait. Our initial guidance was to deploy with the DRF-1 as a heavy package, which is part of the Division Ready Brigade. A heavy package which is basically everything that you can deploy with. And what essentially happened was when we hit the corps marshalling area, we were told to cut that essentially in half. We deployed heavy on antitank weapon systems; we deployed light on medical assets, because that was supposedly going to be provided by 307th Med[ical Battalion]. We, in our particular case, were very light on deuce-and-a-halves,4 which also affected us in terms of ammunition.
So the total number of sorties, it became a last minute ... there was no surgical paring down the assets. We were told we had about an hour and a half to make the major cuts at the brigade level. We had no idea whether the entire division would be closing behind us, or whether or not it would be the Division Ready Brigade. And there were some major cuts on what the packages were, both at the brigade level and the DISCOM5 level that would support the Division Ready Brigade. So the main emphasis was to get over here, heavy on the antitank weapon systems and, obviously, the fighting loads of the individual soldiers. And the other assets we knew they were going to have to follow us.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you get the impression, during that time, that there was a pretty good understanding of what the mission would entail, or was there some confusion over that? And at what level do you think those discussions were taking place?
LTC VINES: I'd have to say the discussions were probably taking place at the Department of Defense level. I really don't believe, at that time, there was a specified task to defend a specific piece of terrain. We didn't deploy in a position to defend Dhahran, which was going to be the main gateway. My clear perception was, this was a show of force and a resolve to demonstrate to [Saddam] Hussein that the United States was willing to commit U.S. forces in ground combat if necessary. And I don't think a single paratrooper in that task force had any illusion that we were capable of doing anything significant in terms of stopping an Iraqi corps equivalent or larger, should it choose to come south. And my opinion was it was a show of resolve by the United States and that was the initial mission.
MAJ LEVIN: That's got to be a pretty uneasy mission, because it's not really a tactical mission, it's more of a political mission?
LTC VINES: Anybody that was not apprehensive and didn't realize that they might not survive this had to be asleep. All of us who had the capability, I think, wrote a last letter home and asked somebody to send it to our families. Clearly when we were called in nobody knew what the mission was. Nobody knew if and when we'd deploy and we didn't have access to telephones, so we had guys deploying with absolutely no access to any way to tell their families what had happened and what the concept was. And that was necessary, of course, for operational security. But anyone who was not apprehensive about it, had to have been asleep.
MAJ LEVIN: When the deployment took place, what generally was the reaction of your leadership, of your officers?
LTC VINES: I would say it was ... they were very resolved to take every measure possible to accomplish any assigned missions and bring every paratrooper back alive, if we possibly could. Our one hope was that the initial commitment of forces would clearly demonstrate to Hussein that the United States was willing to commit forces in ground combat if necessary and he would choose not to take that step.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay, once you moved up to the port, how long did it take before the Marines came in?
LTC VINES: Time begins to run together, but as I recall, it was ... the very first elements arrived somewhere in late August and it seems to me the elements of the first MEB6 began to dribble in somewhere around the 1st of September, and they were supposedly going to be in position somewhere around the 15th of September. Now, you're asking me to trust my memory there.
MAJ LEVIN: That's fine.
LTC VINES: But we initially had the mission of providing security at the port of Jubayl to protect ... until they could establish their own security measures.
MAJ LEVIN: What was the working relationship between the Marine forces and the 82d?
LTC VINES: There was no direct command relationship, it was one of coordination. And clearly, we wanted to do everything we could to assist the Marines. Everybody realized we were in this together and the appearance of any additional forces was a very reassuring sight. The Marines brought in ... while they got there slower than we did ... brought in enormous capabilities in terms of logistics and spare parts and things we simply had to leave behind. So while we initially provided them some advice and assistance on how to deal with the Saudis and that initial security, once they got on the ground then they provided us initially with some logistics that were just not available. Because all our stuff was coming by air, and the initial priority was to get combat forces there and logistics later. And logistics took a hind seat, probably for every Army unit, but certainly the ones deployed by air. And our logistics began to catch up with us significantly later.
MAJ LEVIN: What was the initial reception on the part of the Saudis like?
LTC VINES: They seemed very relieved to see U.S. forces on the ground. I think it was ... they wanted to believe that the U.S. would commit ground forces and they probably were even confident we would, but certainly there was relief that, in fact, we had done it.
MAJ LEVIN: What kind of actual direct assistance did you receive from the Saudis during that time?
LTC VINES: They provided liaison officers and, initially, there was a very tight control on movement, and the simple act of leaving the compound ... we lived in one of the compounds that workers who had constructed some of the massive refinery facilities at Jubayl had used. And a vehicle leaving the compound was required ... at one time brigade approval. And there was this perception there was going to be an international incident. And we ... and we had, initially ... to move vehicles, the Saudis wanted to provide us escorts. And that probably took place for a couple of weeks. But once the forces began to arrive and they realized the volume of traffic that they were really proposing to control, it clearly had overwhelmed them.
So they provided liaison officers who were very effective and supportive. They helped us coordinate the use of terrain. And what we found was, initially, we were very cautious about establishing training areas, and what we found was we essentially occupied by force. We'd go out and find an occupied piece of terrain and make it suit our needs. And the Saudis certainly accepted that. If we had asked, it may have taken forever. But in many cases, we just went and did it. We established some ground rules about operating around refineries and the GOSPs, the gas and oil separation plants, and staying away from pipelines. And there were some fundamental rules that the Saudi Army recommended we follow, and we followed those and, to my knowledge, we had absolutely no incidents, as regards the 82d.
MAJ LEVIN: Is that how the various larger ranges were established?
LTC VINES: SULTAN or ALI.
MAJ LEVIN: Yes.
LTC VINES: To the best of my knowledge, those were established through coordination with the Emirs, which as I understand it, are rough equivalents of mayors. But you would have to ask the division-level guys that. I know we got permission to establish a range at Andar from the Emir there. But for the larger ordinance, for the artillery and tanks and so forth, I would say that that probably had to come at a different and higher level.
MAJ LEVIN: From what I can recall of that time period, it did take a lot longer than I would have expected, for ranges to be established and live fire to take place.
LTC VINES: Well, there was absolutely no procedure in effect. The Royal Commission which controls for the Eastern Province [INTERRUPTION] I think really nobody, to include the Saudis had the slightest idea who would have to approve this. When you consider that all power emanates from the King. So I think they were totally unsure as to who could approve something. So when you would request, it would go ... it was a circle. It was a maze and you could never figure out who really had the authority to do that. And the only ... .
Even, for example, there was a little range on the naval base there at Jubayl and even though there was an admiral that was the commander of the naval base, he wasn't sure he had the authority to let us fire there. So there was a very conscious effort also, by the brigade commander and probably at all levels, to proceed very cautiously and not appear to come in and just take over their country. And every effort was made to be cooperative, as opposed to assertive.
If you had asked me six months ago, could you bring in 450,000 troops into a country like this, and then at the end of six months have the Saudis extolling our discipline and extolling the restraint that we used and so forth, I would have said that couldn't be. That there would be many, many incidents. It hasn't happened and I had confidence in our 82d's discipline and so forth, but the overall controls being exerted by commanders throughout the DESERT STORM and DESERT SHIELD has just been incredible, in my opinion.
MAJ LEVIN: To what extent do you think the lack of alcohol has had something to do with that?
LTC VINES: It's hard to say. In my heart I know that it's a significant portion. I think it really has to have been a significant portion. But at the task force level, we have very few alcohol-related incidents anyway. But on a larger scale ... my experience has been that units that have an established chain of command, a squad, a platoon, tend to exert a lot of control. Units that have a less structured chain of command (and I'm not picking on a truck company or a medical unit) where it's not absolutely clear who's in charge of who, there tends to be a little more of that. That is my opinion. Not to say our guys might not have gotten out of line, but we have very few alcohol incidents back at Bragg. But I'm told that the number of blotter-type incidents is one tenth of what it normally is in the Army. That's what I'm told. I don't have no way of knowing.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you establish joint operations with the Marines, after they came ashore?
LTC VINES: Not really. We shared ranges with them and we shared some basic doctrine. The aviation certainly did; they used their helicopters. But in terms of us conducting, other than coordination for training areas ... to the west of Jubayl there were some training areas and we'd go in and say we're going to be operating over here and you're over there and we'd draw the line so everybody understand who'd be where. But no, our particular battalion did not. We were relatively sure we would have no joint operations, so we didn't pursue that.
MAJ LEVIN: What actions were taken to secure the port?
LTC VINES: We just provided basic security to deny access to unauthorized personnel. I mean, it was not a massive cordon. There was also some security provided for a Navy admiral and there was also some security provided for the actual naval base for the build up. The base itself ended up with a huge build up and a staging area for the Marines, and that was the original plan. The original plan was to secure the base. But then there was a requirement for some security at the port. So it was, I think, a potential, at least in some persons' eyes, for over-the-horizon-type operation for small boats, and we put some people down on the beach, primarily.
MAJ LEVIN: Did you consider that to be a much more do-able mission than what you had anticipated, when you first came?
LTC VINES: It was very do-able. You know, I had assumed that they would have put us across an avenue of approach and say, deny penetration. And I suspect everybody recognized that there were so many avenues of approach, and there was the level of force they could generate against was so enormous, that until there were more forces on the ground that there was no possibility of a coherent defense. So I assume that nobody really saw that. The short answer is yes, it was very do-able.
MAJ LEVIN: So it actually turned into more of a rear area security mission?
LTC VINES: That would be one way of describing it.
MAJ LEVIN: Once you passed the mission over to the Marines, what was the mission of your battalion then?
LTC VINES: Initially, it was a defense of the Jubayl area, where if you orient ... we were far further north than most of the forces coming in. Dammam and Dhahran were most of the forces came in, so Jubayl was much further north. And we were, in fact, far further north than the rest of the division. So we had a plan for the defense of the areas, for the avenues of approach into Jubayl.
And in mid-September, there was some pressure, apparently by the CINCCENT7 to get forces into the Ab Qaiq area. Now it was not clear to me what were the security requirements at Ab Qaiq. Whether it was to protect against ground attack or a Level 3 threat from terrorism, because when we got down there the ARAMCO,8 particularly the Saudis, wanted to know part of it, since they felt we would scare the local workers and we'd give them the impression there was a major threat there. So that we got almost no cooperation from the Saudis. The Americans there were thrilled to see us for a variety of reasons and they literally adopted us. But we developed really two plans. A defense of the approach to Ab Qaiq from the west, defense in depth, and that was the overall division plan. And then a plan to protect key facilities in and around Ab Qaiq. And Ab Qaiq, as I understand it, was the origin of the ARAMCO dynasty. It is where many of the refineries and the gas/oil separation plants and the pumping stations originated. So Ab Qaiq is a very large complex.
MAJ LEVIN: Could you describe the kind of facilities that were provided for you and your troops?
LTC VINES: At Jubayl it was, as I said, a guest worker camp. It was prefabricated modular trailer-type buildings, I guess, would be the easiest description. It had mess halls. It was very adequate. It was crowded, there was four to a room and in some cases even more, but the sanitary facilities were fine. The mess halls, they were operational. They were adequate to the task, other than there were some initial problems there. Jubayl was climate controlled, so to speak. When we got into Dragon City, at first, of course there was nothing. But we were in Jubayl, I guess, for about a month.
Then we moved to Ab Qaiq. When we arrived at Ab Qaiq, my particular battalion was in, I believe, what they call Hadj tents, which are the Bedouin tents. And we stayed in Bedouin tents from somewhere in mid-September to New Years. And so we were in tents originally with a GP9 for mess tents, outdoor showers. And then gradually we built up a protective screen around them to protect from the wind and dust. And then, finally, we got some heating elements to provide a little bit of heated water as the winter came on. Of course, prefab toilets.
MAJ LEVIN: What was the day-to-day routine in the Ab Qaiq area?
LTC VINES: Typically, it would be ... as the weather got cooler, PT10 would be at 6:30. Originally, it had been earlier to get away from the sun. At Jubayl, if the sun ever broke the horizon, it just seemed depressive. So with PT, it typically would be from 6:00 to 6:30, an hour-plus PT. Hit the showers. And then depending on the mission, we'd work on squad drills. We'd established a series of little lanes with barbed wire and bunkers. There were battle drills for clearing bunkers; battle drills for a react to chance contact; react to chemical attack. Some light--night land navigation.
We had a defensive sector that we were developing, so we'd move out and occupy that. It would start out with company FTXs11, followed by battalion FTXs, and we had a couple of brigade FTXs. Road marches, because the assumption was we'd have to move across places that the transportation couldn't carry us.
Starting out, we got a couple of TVs and gradually evolved and got a big-screen projection TV for their off hours at night. We had some boom boxes that we put in the mess halls for the meal hours. And then, gradually the packages began to start arriving and people would have their little Sony Walkmans or their radios, so they were some relaxation.
The ARAMCO U.S. personnel ... this was unofficial ... but the U.S. citizens that worked for ARAMCO started the host-a-soldier-program, where typically, three or four times a week, we would send anywhere from between 25 or 50 soldiers to visit their homes and have dinner, typically get to make a phone call home. They would, in some cases, get a shower, although there was no need for that. I think that was more for the ARAMCONs benefit than for our guys. That was an incalculable value morale wise. There's just no way to describe how much value that was to us.
But typically, in a given week, they would spend two or three days, out in the ... what we call the western training area, which was where we defended, or where we would be prepared to defend. We also conducted some evaluated missions there, where we evaluated the company level or building, conducted night driving, moving to contact ... hasty attack out there and we focused on a terrain we would have to defend in.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. So all of the training was oriented on defense?
LTC VINES: It began to evolve in about ... it became clear to me in late October that, you know, the defensive mission was bit by bit becoming less likely. An offensive operation was going to become more logical, so our training began to evolve there. So again, we had the squad drills--clear a trench line, clear a bunker. We worked on our air assault drills, loading and unloading helicopters. We worked on the movement to contact, hasty attack, as I indicated, at platoon and company level. We had squad, platoon live fires to emphasize the same things. We built a tire house that we had to clear using grenades in squad drill. KD12 range, we established actually a pretty sophisticated little KD range. We set up some train the trainer courses on machine guns, machine gun leaders' courses, some night driving. The short answer is, I'd say in mid-October, we began to transition from defensive to offensive, at least at my level. It was not necessary for specific guidance, but that's what I did.
MAJ LEVIN: During the course of all this, there probably was not a lot of access to training materials. Was there any kind of adaptation that had to be done, in order to provide the kind of training that the men needed?
LTC VINES: Sure. I mean, we had to fabricate our own pop-up targets, using ammunition cans and cold wires. The MILES13 began to come in, only we never did get a chance to use MILES. Blank ammunition didn't exist, so we had to use force on force. We used variations of scopes [in the] exercises. We established standards for platoon movements and this is at the battalion level. I don't know what the other battalions did, but ...
MAJ LEVIN: Let's pause a minute.
LTC VINES: In lieu of using MILES, for example, the standard would be no rush by an individual soldier while he's under indirect fire that would exceed 5 seconds. Or any place that he stops, would have to take advantage of the available cover for concealment, and if he failed to do that, he would be assessed a casualty. Then we came up with little casualty cards much like the MILES systems have. And, depending on the grossness of the violation, for example, if it was a 10-second rush, he would normally be a debilitating casualty that would require immediate treatment or would require him to be carried on a stretcher. We tried to make the units pay a heavy penalty for the grossness of the violation, so we modified ... we dealt with standards, basically. We tried to be as objective as we could, but nonetheless, it was not MILES, but we think it worked well.
MAJ LEVIN: What aspects of working in this area were limiting factors on the kinds of training, things that the men were not used to?
LTC VINES: Well, for example, on the force on force, you would be doing a company move to contact against a platoon that was dug in. Now, we had to come up with signals to show that you're receiving fire, so it was have the signals show. At night we would have a green star cluster would mean enemy direct fire. And so we would have controllers and, for example, I'd be a controller for the company. Say you were receiving direct fire from that position, so there would be a green star cluster that goes up and you'd say direct fire. And at my end I would throw, for example, a trip flare or something to show that it's effectively engaging this element, as opposed to another element. So we had to have a series of signals or a simulator to show you were receiving indirect. So you have to have cues for the individuals to say, okay. They're shooting, and they're shooting at me, as opposed to someone else.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay.
LTC VINES: And you didn't have the blank ammunition going off so you could hear and say, yes, he is shooting.
MAJ LEVIN: How did the men shoot, without any ammunition?
LTC VINES: Well, I chose not to make them go through the "bang, bang." I find it demeaning. So essentially, I required them to deploy and what I required was cross-talk between the leaders and the soldiers. For example, "riflemen or SGT Smith, I've got a bunker three fingers to the right of that knoll, I'm engaging that with well-aimed shots." And, for example, I required that OCs14, to make the change. And said, "okay, you've expended and you continuing to engage." They'd have to do a magazine change, for example. So they would just basically describe, "okay, I'm engaging that position right over there" and "okay, how are you trying to suppress--single shots? Okay." And after twenty seconds there or so, okay, magazine change required. And if, in fact, someone ... a friendly was moving and there was no one suppressing, then he was more vulnerable to a casualty. So we might assess a casualty saying "hey, all you know, all you guys were changing magazines," for example. It required more observer controllers, and more imagination on the OC's part. And I had to come up with some things that were, at least in my opinion, standards to reflect what would have happened if you'd failed to have fire discipline in distribution and rates of fire.
MAJ LEVIN: Did this slow down the training operations?
LTC VINES: No, not really. Once you explained to the soldiers, I think they clearly understood the intent. One advantage, I think ... one technique that I use, I try to do troop talks every week and explain to them, here's one we've got to do this and here's one that it's important that you understand the control measures we're using. And I'm not saying that's the only way of doing it, but if you're not careful, you'll find junior leaders (and it could be platoon leaders or it could be squad leaders) who don't understand it. It doesn't get translated down right and they say, this is bullshit. You know, here I am having to move and how do you know when you're being engaged. So when you lay it all out and you more or less go to the top, and by the top, I'm talking about go to the soldier and you cut through the middlemen and you're saying, guys, all of this has been briefed to your chain of command.
It puts the burden on their chain of command, you see, so in some cases, to avoid lazy leaders undercutting the effort. We have very few lazy leaders, but yet you sometimes have to appeal directly to your soldiers and say, here's what your leader's been briefed on. So now, they realize the standards that should be in effect. So when I had to do something that was unusual, like a force on force with no blank ammunition, I'd make a point in troop talks to explain here's how we're doing this and here's why we're doing it, and here's what your leaders ought to be doing. Then they understood it, at least the feedback that I got.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. Now this went on at Ab Qaiq until just really the other day, didn't it?
LTC VINES: It sure did.
MAJ LEVIN: Now once the mission changed, what changed in terms of the operation of the battalion, anything?
LTC VINES: Nothing really. I mean, we can we continued to focus on ... since October, we'd been working on offensive missions and, you know, there's only a certain number you can do. Clearly, airborne operations is something that ... and we ran a jumpmaster proficiency course and we ran a series of assembly exercises. And again, this is ... at that time we didn't know for sure whether we'd do airborne operations. So we prepositioned vehicles and briefed the assembly plan and then marched the guys down the drop zone and had them go through and do a PLF.15 And then, at a predesignated time, turned on the assembly aids, and they had this hustle too, some. And they found out if they had not seen that terrain before at night, you know, they didn't have a good assembly plan, that they had trouble finding it.
So once the airborne operation had fallen away, there are certain things in terms of offensive operations, the squad drills that you always do. The short answer is, we continued to do those basic things. We had began to focus on some specific planning guidance given to us by division. Brigade did a pretty job in saying, if there's any tasks that you need to be doing that you don't know about, we'll tell you. But we're not going to draw you into the planning for two reasons, until it is fairly firm, (1) for operational security, and (2) so that you don't needlessly spin your wheels on that. And they did that and it worked out well.
MAJ LEVIN: Was your battalion involved in the attack on assimilated Iraqi triangle?
LTC VINES: It surely was.
MAJ LEVIN: Could you describe that operation?
LTC VINES: We did that essentially at battalion (minus) level. A reinforced rifle company and I say reinforced. We had two elements. We had a Team Breach, which was basically two platoons of Delta,16 an armor platoon with an infantry platoon on it, and an engineer platoon. And their main mission was to breach all the obstacles. And then you had a rifle company, essentially a rifle company (minus), whose mission was ... after the obstacles had been breached, using their engineering and heavy equipment, and sappers, primarily made up of engineers ... once the breaching was created, the infantry company assaulted the strong point itself. We made heavy use ... we used 105s,17 we fired [M-551] Sheridans with troops mounted on it, which to everybody's knowledge is the first time troops had been on tanks who were firing in recent history.
MAJ LEVIN: Did they enjoy that experience?
LTC VINES: Well, they enjoyed it and an appreciation for the capabilities of mechanized forces and they realized that a lot of guys think of mechanized guys as legs, but they got an appreciation for the fire power and shock action that mechanized forces have. So it ... the short answer is yes.
MAJ LEVIN: Do they employ LAVs18 at all?
LTC VINES: We did not employ LAVs. One of our sister battalions, I think, attempted to employ LAVs.
MAJ LEVIN: How far was the jump off point to the objective?
LTC VINES: It was, in our particular case, it was about two kilometers. And one of the things that strikes you about how the Iraqis deploy their defenses, is the depths of the belts. You'll have mine fields and then you'll have wire. And then you'll have tank ditches or get to a tank ditch first. And the depth between those were really killing zones, and they tend to play out the momentum. And some previous sister battalions that had attempted to attack dismounted, moving behind tanks, and moving two kilometers dismounted through heavy sand and perhaps carrying bangalore [torpedo]s and having their rucksacks or whatever. It takes a lot out of you if you're having to move in rushes. So we moved mounted. The troops were essentially mounted in the cargo HMMWVs. So the total depth of the attack was about two kilometers.
MAJ LEVIN: How fast were the HMMWVs running?
LTC VINES: They moved ... what we chose to do is Team Breach, which was mounted on the tanks and on the ... using dozers and the .50-cal. HMMWVs,19 they essentially conducted all the breaches. And then we kept the infantry company well to the rear, and I'm talking about a kilometer or so back, to minimize their exposure to indirect fire. Clearly, we knew all the obstacles would be covered by fire and so, until the breach was established ... we tried to synchronize it so the instant the breach was graded, the extra company could roll through. So the short answer is, they were probably driving 25 miles per hour across rough terrain, which is very quick.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. Hold on.
MAJ LEVIN: All right. Now, they were moving 25 miles an hour. Did you have any injuries? Did people ... ?
LTC VINES: No.
MAJ LEVIN: Nothing like that?
LTC VINES: No.
MAJ LEVIN: How close did they come in after fires was shifted?
LTC VINES: Generally speaking, the MSD (minimum safe distance) was 400 meters from indirect. So the fires were shifted ... you're talking about indirect fires?
MAJ LEVIN: Yes, sir.
LTC VINES: 400 meters was as close as we really had on indirect fires and that was mortar fire.
MAJ LEVIN: As far as direct fires?
LTC VINES: Well, we used ... the rule of thumb is, if its tripod mounted, it's 15 degrees. If it's not tripod mounted, it's 25 degrees. And I would be lying to you if I said that didn't get compressed some. We would have tanks firing with co-axes20 and infantry maneuvering to their flanks. So, I mean, forward of the tank, I think we cut the realism and the safety line about as fine as it could be cut.
MAJ LEVIN: How did the troops react to that kind of training?
LTC VINES: Very enthusiastically. They realized that if they get right in training, their chances of survival in combat are increased enormously. They reacted very well. We employed grenades at close quarters, which you can't really do on most stateside posts. We engaged bunkers with LAWS,21 again, in fairly close quarters. I'd like to believe that never once was the safety of the soldier compromised. Never once was it not foremost in our mind. On the other hand, you knew that Range Control was not going to give you a hard time. Ultimately, I had to answer to my conscience and accept responsibility for my actions, so I feel like that I have enough experience, at this point, that I can make a valid judgment on whether or not something meets reasonable safety parameters or not. After all, we are preparing for combat here and it's imminent.
MAJ LEVIN: If you were to run up against a position like the one that you assaulted on the range, what would you change?
LTC VINES: Well, clearly, I wouldn't want to take ... either two or three things. I'd want to breach it with heavier forces, certainly the D-7 dozer is not the optimum tool to do it with. Certainly, it's not optimum to take it head on. I'd like to do a vertical envelopment and take it down from the rear. I'd want to do it at night. You know, essentially we chose by design to do it the hard way and any way we could bypass those obstacles. Ideally, I'd land behind them or walk up and bayonet them in the back.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. Once you got the word that this thing is going to become an offensive operation, to what extent did that affect your planning or training, or anything. Did that really make a difference?
LTC VINES: No. As I indicated to you, I transitioned in October, just based on what my perceptions and beliefs were, and there are only a certain number of missions that you can do, and they all revolve around the basic squad and platoon skills. And we did some troop leading procedures and rehearsals on orders, but in terms of true offensive operations ... you know, we never put out of our mind that he could still do a spoiling attack. In fact, I think I had to brief the Assistant Division Commander of Operations22 sometime in late December on defense of Ab Qaiq. But, you know, once we transitioned to offensive training in October, the specifics of this mission didn't affect it. We'd already made that shift and, again, it will be theoretically movements to contact and MOUT23 operations, hasty attack, attack to seize key terrain, hasty defense, and those things are pretty much Mission Essential Tasks. And as long as you're focusing on those, you can do variations of them.
MAJ LEVIN: This particular brigade just became OPCON24 to the 6th French Light Division. Have you had any contact with the French, to this point?
LTC VINES: I have not.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. So there has not been any discussion between you and any of the French commanders?
LTC VINES: The brigade commander25 has talked to the division commander.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. And you're just waiting to find out what's going on?
LTC VINES: Well, I've been privy to some of the discussions and what the missions will be. And probably two weeks ago, they began to say, here's what the mission is looking like. The location it would be conducted in was a very closely guarded secret for obvious operational security reasons, and for everyone's protection they chose not to tell us the exact location.
MAJ LEVIN: Right.
LTC VINES: But the general mission, again, was to be prepared to seize key terrain, pass through friendly forces, then conduct the movement to contact, secure MSRs,26 those are things that we've done a good deal of training on.
MAJ LEVIN: Okay. Is there anything that I have not covered, so far in this oral history, that you feel are important and need to be brought out?
LTC VINES: Yeah, there are a couple of things. This battalion has had to luxury of a couple of things. It went to Panama,27 I think, so we have a large cadre of guys who feel a certain level of confidence in their skills and dealing with their fears. We've had a rotation through the JRTC,28 which is ... the division ... it's been a couple of years since any other battalion has been through JRTC. One of our sister battalions started to rotation and was pulled out because of DESERT SHIELD, and we had trained hard and well for that, and we learned a lot there. And I think we're infinitely better for that.
And we have a good blend, I think, of stability and guys who have been here a while, and some fairly new personnel backing them up. So the blend of experience and stability ... if I had to sit down and say, how would you prepare to take a battalion to combat. I would obviously want to do it after I'd had the maximum opportunity to prepare myself and any subordinates. I would want to have an opportunity to rotate through a national training center, to get as much ... get as many people as had been exposed to combat, no matter how brief, but I'd obviously want that. And the sun, moon and the seemed to have lined up in my particular case and I think we're as ready as we will be and can be.
We've had the luxury of a fairly precise date. As you know, you train for twenty years in some cases and the war may never come, or certainly, in a division like the 82d, you don't know when it's going to come. And that's like training for a football game that they call in the middle of the night. You don't know when that's going to happen. Although there's some surprise in initially getting called to come here, once the United Nations established 15 January as the date, you could pace your training. You knew you had certain ammunition you could expend. You knew, short of preemptive attacks on his part, you could pace the guys to prepare for that.
There have been a lot of tangibles, as well as intangibles, that I think helped them put a really fine edge on it. They've had a chance to prepare themselves both physically, technically and tactically, but just as important, emotionally so that they can say their last good-byes in some cases, either telephonically ... they've had access to commercial telephones. They've had the opportunity to write the letters that may be the last letters home, hopefully expressing love and confidence and put their personal affairs in order. And so, in terms of emotional preparation, I would hope all the forces deployed on DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM are as prepared in that line as we are.
That is the luxury that doesn't often present itself, I don't think. It didn't present itself in Panama. It didn't present itself on initial deployment, but after that first burst, everybody's had a chance to do that. So some guys got religion, some guys got tough. There's all sorts of things that people have done to prepare themselves for this and I don't see how we can be any readier.
So it's a cumulative effect of the things that have transpired since I've had the opportunity to serve in this battalion. The opportunity to stabilize certain key people. The high quality of people coming in and all of it has come together in a way that you hope for. And I think ... there's not the slightest doubt in my mind that this battalion is going to acquit itself very well. My standard will be to bring everybody back alive. That might not be obtainable. We lost one man in Panama. But only in ... I think the soldiers know that I will never expose one of them needlessly, because every time I ask someone to risk their life, I'll do it knowing there's a son, husband, father or brother that I'm asking to do that. And I think there's a mutual trust and confidence there, because I've been here long enough that they believe that. I was scheduled to change command a month ago and I think there was a certain element of concern, even though the new guy coming in was very, very highly regarded, because he was not a known quantity. The devil that you know is sometimes better than the unknown and I think that's probably the case here, because I'm a known quantity, despite certain elements of mediocrity in my character.
MAJ LEVIN: Well, sir, I thank you very much for this oral history. This has been very helpful.
LTC VINES: Well, I enjoyed it.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
1. 4th Battalion (Airborne), 325th Infantry; an element of the 2d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division.
2. The 82d Airborne Division organizes for contingencies. It has three brigade task forces, called Division Ready Brigades (DRBs), and nine battalion task forces, the DRFs. The lower the number, the more ready to deploy the task force is. DRF-1 is kept on a two-hour assembly requirement.
3. LTC(P) Dan K. McNeill.
4. 2.5-ton trucks.
5. 82d Airborne Division Support Command.
6. Marine expeditionary brigade.
7. Commander in Chief, US Central Command. GEN H. Norman Schwarzkopf.
8. Arab-American Oil Company.
9. Standard Army General Purpose tentage.
10. Physical training.
11. Field training exercises.
12. Known distance.
13. Multiple Engagement Laser System.
15. Parachute landing fall.
16. Company D. In the airborne battalion, this is the anti-armor company equipped with M-998-series High Mobility Multi-Wheel Vehicles (HMMWVs) mounting the heavy Tube-launched Optically-guided Weapon (TOW) antitank missile.
17. M-102 105mm towed howitzers.
18. Light Armored Vehicles. The 82d Airborne Division was in the process of doing an evaluation test of this Marine Corps vehicle and deployed a dozen to Saudi Arabia with the 3d Battalion, 73d Armor (whose major weapon system is the Sheridan).
19. Cargo HMMWVs with a welded field-expedient mounting for the M-2 .50-caliber machine gun.
20. Coaxial-mounted 7.62mm machine guns.
21. M-72A2 Light Anti-tank Weapon.
22. BG Richard F. Timmons. See also DSIT-AE-102.
23. Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain.
24. Operational Control; the 2d Brigade, 82d Airborne Division, passed to the operational control of the 6th (French) Light Armored Division when it moved from Ab Qaiq west to Rafha.
25. COL Ronald F. Rokosz.
26. Main Supply Routes.
27. LTC Vines led the battalion in Operation JUST CAUSE in Panama 20 December 1989-12 January 1990 as an element of the division's 1st Brigade
28. Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.