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For Army Families, Emotions are the First Casualties of War

This story appeared on Page 1 of the Jan. 26, 1991 edition of the Racine Journal Times. It was based on observations during my second trip to Germany during the Persian Gulf War.

By Joseph Hanneman
Racine Journal Times

U.S. BASE, SOUTHERN GERMANY — Some of the first casualties of the Persian Gulf War were the emo­tions U.S. troops and families stationed in Europe, as they worried about loved ones in Saudi Arabia and expressed resentment toward anti-war protests back home.

In the first-week of combat between U.S.-led allies and Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces, one U.S. base in Germany displayed fear, anguish, anticipation and a host of other emotions.

People at the base clearly were in anguish. Many of them have relatives deployed in Saudi, as they call it here. Most of the deployed soldiers are in combat units.

Members of the Army’s VII Corps artillery units from this base are now at forward positions in Saudi Arabia. They would be in the thick of it if the United States starts a ground offensive into Kuwait.

“God Bless our Soldiers in Saudi Arabia,” proclaimed a banner inside one of the many post exchange shops on base. Employees wore yellow ribbons in remembrance.

At the U.S. Army hospital here, one nurse in the outpatient clinic said her husband was just deployed to the front lines.

Page 1 story from Jan. 26, 1991.

“I’ve just been pulling my hair out,” she said, adding that she has been glued to the TV set, watching Cable News Network’s coverage of the war. She said she fears a ground war is inevitable.

Discussion on the Army’s base shuttle bus turned to one active-duty soldier, who was supposed to be sent home last week because his unit was deactivated as the United States prepares to shut down some of its bases.

Three days before his plane was supposed to leave, he was told to report for duty in Saudi Arabia.

Fear has also become a staple in the daily routine.

The threat of terrorist attacks on U.S. bases is considered very real, and the military has employed many tools to reduce the risks.

Commercials on Armed Forces Radio and Television warn against speaking about military matters in public, for fear terrorists could be listening. It was reminiscent of the old war slogan, “Loose lips sink ships.”

Soldiers were also warned that Arab terrorists may try to buy military uniforms or identification cards.

Military families were told to venture off base sparingly, and try to blend into the German population as much as possible, lest they attract undue attention.

The Gulf War dominated global news in January 1991.

But the post commander appealed to parents not to pull their children from Defense Department schools on base. Many families here and elsewhere in Europe kept their children home in the wake of hostilities and terrorist threats.

Security was at a peak level, called “Threatcon Charlie.” That puts scores of heavily armed military police at every entrance, checking IDs and searching for bombs. At least two forms of photo identification were required, and every bag and package was searched.

There was growing resentment among soldiers and families as they watched news reports of anti-war protests at home.

Some soldiers who oppose Operation Desert Storm wondered aloud where the protesters were over the past 5 ½  months, when the United States built its war force in the Gulf. Others said it hurt knowing while they were overseas serving their country, some back home didn’t appreciate it.

The growing number of military reservists shipped here to fill in for regular troops sent to the Middle East complained of shabby treatment by regular Army personnel.

Some reservists said regular troops seem to resent the citizen-soldiers, and treat them accordingly. Reservists are performing a host of support duties, such as medical care, transportation and administration.

“The sacrifices we have made are not acknowledged by the regular army,” one reservist said. “They seem to consider us a burden.”

One thought was universal here — a desire for the war to end quickly. For military families, that will mean loved ones come back to Germany. For reservists, it will mean going home.

(Reporter Joseph Hanneman, who covers government and higher education for the Journal Times, travelled to Germany to visit his wife, Susan, an Army reservist called to active duty at the U.S. base in Germany.)

Feature image atop the story: A sculpture outside the museum at the former concentration camp near Dachau, Germany. Photo taken during my second trip to Germany in 1991.

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