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There and back again

Campton man recalls experiences during first Gulf War

National Guard Capt. Tim White returned to Kuwait late last year for the first time since landing there as part of Operation Desert Storm 20 years ago. (Courtesy) (click for larger version)
March 02, 2011
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Tim White still finds it hard to believe sometimes that it's been 20 years since he first set foot on the scorching sands of Kuwait as one of thousands of U.S. troops taking part in Operation Desert Storm.

For the New Hampshire National Guard Captain and Campton resident, looking back at his experiences during the first Gulf War has been a vivid reminder of just how far he — and Kuwait itself — have come since Desert Storm began 20 years ago this month.

"It doesn't seem like it's been that long ago," White said last week during a telephone interview from Camp Arifjan in northern Kuwait, where his unit — the 197th Fires Brigade — was deployed in September to provide logistical support to American troops withdrawing from Iraq, and to those heading into Afghanistan.

A native of Morgantown, Ky., White enlisted in the U.S. Army shortly after graduating from high school, and was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. when the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's regime sparked the Gulf War. He had turned 20 just a few days before landing in Kuwait, and his first experience overseas would leave an indelible impression on him.

"I'll never forget the day we landed," White said, explaining that having never ventured far from home, he was completely unprepared for the 137-degree temperature on the tarmac.

"It was really unreal, the intensity of that environment," he said, adding that having to unload an aircraft amid such oppressive heat was an experience that will never leave him.

While his duties were limited to vehicle maintenance and security, keeping him out of combat, White did recall one harrowing night when a helicopter attempted to take off from his base using only the ambient light of the moon and night vision equipment to guide it to its destination.

The chopper, he said, hit a berm that the crew was unable to see in the darkness, and the impact tore off its landing gear.

Springing into action, White and the other troops on the ground quickly assembled a bed of discarded tires for the damaged chopper to land on and guided it down — a process that he said could have been dangerous for everyone involved.

White also vividly recalled an Iraqui S.C.U.D. missile attack that destroyed a building near the base, killing 24 American reservists.

"I grew up very quickly after that," he said.

Describing his service in Desert Storm as "one of the best things that could have happened to me," White said it proved to be a formative experience that played a major role in making him the solider — and the man — he is today.

After returning home from the Gulf, White fulfilled his obligation to the military by joining the Wisconsin Army National Guard. After leaving the service, he embarked on a new career as a Wisconsin State Trooper, but found himself drawn back to the military, and reenlisted in the Army Reserve as a military police officer in 1998.

In 2005, he was offered a position as an investigator with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration which brought him to Campton, along with his wife, Pamela (who he met while serving in Japan) and their two children.

Reflecting on the significance of Desert Storm to the events of the past few years, White said he does wonder, at times, whether the course of events that led to the current war in Iraq could have been changed had the U.S. continued into Iraq and not withdrawn its forces at the end of the first Gulf War.

The "completely different atmosphere" he sees in Kuwait today leaves him with no doubt, however, that America's presence there has been beneficial to the country.

During Desert Storm, he said, Kuwait's large population of foreign nationals (which accounts for roughly 60 percent of its labor force) were "shell shocked" by the oppression and abuse they had suffered at the hands of Hussein's occupying forces.

"It was a pretty brutal time," he said.

Now, "things are just so different," he added, explaining that the sense of fear and oppression is gone, and life in Kuwait has long since returned to normal.

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