War on Terrorism

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

West Virginia Guard member looks back at Desert Storm

By Army Sgt. Debra Richardson
201st Field Artillery

CAMP BUEHRING, Kuwait (4/6/11) - Army Sgt. 1st Class John Oliverio is one of 20 soldiers currently deployed with West Virginia Army National Guard’s 201st Field Artillery, who served with the same unit during Operation Desert Shield and Storm about 20 years ago.

The 201st was one of only five National Guard units that deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield.

“We received our activation notice Dec. 4, 1990 and by Dec. 9, we were completely packed and enroute to Fort Campbell, Ky.,” said Oliverio, who was a supply sergeant at the time.

“We traded in our old Vietnam-era jeeps for new Humvees. We loaded up our assigned M109 howitzers on ships to send overseas.”

Following the new assignment, the unit’s green camouflage equipment had to be painted, desert tan.

“Because we were National Guard, we weren’t issued desert uniforms,” Oliverio said. “We wore our green BDUs up until we were preparing to return home.”

“This was a true integration of National Guard, Reserve and active Army,” he said. “This experience really portrayed the citizen-soldier as truly competent and capable soldiers.”

A 15-hour flight through Europe brought the 201st to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia on Feb. 2. After a few weeks, the battalion traveled 510 miles north to Rafha, Saudi Arabia to stage as part of the ground force.

“We were part of General Schwarzkopf’s famous ‘student body left’ or ‘Hail Mary’ move,” Oliverio said. “We were the western most located U.S. unit in Rafha. There were only two other units to our left: the French 6th Light Division and French Foreign Legion. To our right was the 82nd Airborne Division.”

The 201st was attached to the 18th Airborne Corps out of North Carolina.

“On Feb. 17, which was the 256th birthday of the 201st, we fired a few hundred rounds of preparatory fire into Iraq,” he said.

“A full week before the ground war began, we were targeting an escarpment, or cliff, where Iraqis were located,” Oliverio said. “We had to secure that route for the French and ourselves for future movement.”

A week later, the 201st was moving north with the French Legion in leap-frog fashion to reach As Salman, Iraq. It took two days.

Oliverio rode in a 2.5 ton truck, known as a deuce and a half, behind the howitzers as the 201st unit pressed north. There was little time for sleep, showers, or hot meals.

“I discovered you could only be so dirty until you started making everything else around you dirty,” he said. “We used baby wipes to maintain hygiene and we conserved as much water as possible.”

While traveling, the unit stopped at various supply points set up along the route. The points provided fuel, water, and food rations.

After obtaining its objective in Iraq, the 201st turned east toward Kuwait.

“Upon arriving in Kuwait, the cease-fire was announced,” Oliverio said. “We were all hopeful that the cease-fire meant we were going home.”

As active duty Army units began flying home, the 201st was instructed to return to Iraq to diffuse riots in Basrah.

“Throughout the campaign, we were told not to take prisoners,” Oliverio said.

“We were instructed to give them [Iraqi soldiers] water and an MRE, and instruct them to sling their rifles over their shoulders with the barrel pointing down,” he said.  “We confiscated their ammo and pointed them south, toward Saudi Arabia.”

After things calmed down, the 201st moved back into Saudi Arabia to the King Khalid Military City or KKMC.

“At KKMC, we finally received hot meals, showers and toilets,” Oliverio said. “I moved from primitive living to modern wooden latrines and showers. We had to burn the waste but it was still a step up and much appreciated.”

After many delays, the 201st arrived back at W.Va. mid May, 1991. The state heroes received individual welcome home receptions at all the local airports followed by a huge parade a few months later. The soldiers marched from east to west Fairmont as thousands of people cheered along the parade route.

“The parade was the highlight of coming home,” he said.

“The streets were filled with people and when we turned into the stadium, I was overwhelmed by sheer number of people filling the stands.” Oliverio said. “I was helping the first sergeant call cadence but the crowd was so deafening, the soldier beside me couldn’t even hear me. It’s a memory that will last a lifetime.”

“The cheers from the crowd were more deafening than the cannon fire during the campaign,” he said.

During the campaign, the 201st fired a total of 447 high explosive rounds. The unit traveled 1,850 miles, from start to finish and  is recorded as having traveled farther than any other unit during the ground war, for a total of 362 miles.

“While I am very proud of all our accomplishments in what became Desert Storm, I am most proud that throughout numerous enemy engagements, we didn’t suffer a single casualty,” Oliverio said. “All my West Virginia boys came back home, and in the end, that’s what really mattered.”

Oliverio, a human resource specialist is currently deployed in support of Operation New Dawn. This marks his third deployment, having also served in 2004-05 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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