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Some vets say job wasn't done in Desert Storm

February 16, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Some vets say job wasn't done in Desert Storm

James Barbour was one of the first soldiers who crossed into Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, bearing down on the elite Republican Guard.

Seven years later, the Gerrardstown, W.Va., resident said he feels his effort was wasted. Saddam Hussein once more is flouting a U.N. resolution and the United States again is contemplating military action.




"We should have finished it last time, which we didn't," said Barbour, who was an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division. "I think a lot of politics got in the way. There's only one way to resolve that (situation): Sweep the whole country and take him out."

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Barbour, 30, said his unit was rolling ahead in 1991, but once it reached the Euphrates River, the message was clear:

"Baghdad was off-limits," he said. "When they called the cease-fire, there was a lot of us that couldn't believe it."

As the United States prepares for another confrontation with Iraq, Tri-State area Gulf War veterans have expressed varying degrees of frustration and apprehension.

Some veterans said they should have been allowed to finish the job - and get Saddam.

"Pretty much, you knew it was going to happen again with him in power," said Mark Hutzel, of Hagerstown, who was stationed aboard the USS Roosevelt during the war.

Hutzel, 27, said the United States must force Iraq to comply with a U.N. resolution requiring the nation to allow international inspectors to search for evidence of biological and chemical weapons.

"It's making the U.S. look like we're bluffing," he said.

Thomas K. Timmons, of Sharpsburg, a member of the 3rd Armored Division, said taking Baghdad would have been easy.

"We were halfway to Basra when we were told to stop. We didn't understand it," he said.

Other veterans, however, said taking Saddam out was not part of the original mission.

"We were pushing north without a problem. We were close to Baghdad as it was. We could have taken it pretty easily," said Greencastle, Pa., resident Todd Moats. "But that wasn't our mission."

Moats, 27, who was part of the 82nd Airborne Division that cut off retreating Iraqi troops from Kuwait, said the United States would have risked alienating other Arab countries if it had expanded the mission.

If the United States decides to attack again, support from those nations will be critical, Moats said.

Frank Vincent, of Hagerstown, who worked radar at a makeshift resupply zone just inside Iraq during the war, said he was disappointed when the invasion was halted. But he said he has come to realize that annihilating Iraq could have destabilized the region.

Still, if the United States launches air strikes this time, military planners should keep Saddam in mind, he said.

"It might not be a bad idea to go directly for him," he said.

Some Gulf War veterans said the United States must clearly define its objectives if it takes action against Iraq. Rallying support against Iraq was easy when its troops invaded Kuwait, said Greencastle, Pa., native Curtis W. Myers. But he said the goals are more ambiguous now.

"Whenever I went, the game plan was pretty mapped out," said Myers, 35. "Now, with the U.N. resolutions, I don't know whether it's worth sending my son or daughter out there to die."

Myers, who lives in Phoenix, said he doubts whether bombing would even achieve those objectives. Plans, according to news accounts, call for four days of air strikes.

"That's pocket change. What are we going to accomplish with that?" he said.

Jan P. Seilhamer, 25, said U.S. forces missed a golden opportunity in 1991. A unit supply specialist with the 101st Airborne Division, the graduate of Boonsboro High School said she saw dozens of Iraqis surrender at the first sight of an American helicopter.

"I don't think it's going to be that way this time around. I think they're a lot bolder," said Seilhamer, now a police officer in Little Rock, Ark.

While some veterans expressed concern that the United States does not have the support of most of its 1991 coalition partners, some said that might make military action easier.

Barbour said U.S. forces would not be constricted by other countries.

"The United States is never going to win another war as long as the United Nations is involved in the decision-making," he said.

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