Desert Storm vet to march in 25th anniversary ceremony
North East man one of 11 from Md.
— Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jim Ayres gets a little choked up when asked how he might feel during the upcoming 25th anniversary remembrance march for Operation Desert Storm to take place in Washington, D.C., this weekend.
“I get to do what my greatgrandfather did, walk down Constitution Avenue as my family watches. And I get to walk with 499 others who I consider to be heroes,” the North East man said. “For the servicemen and women, it’s a big deal to have your
family be a part of it with you, because they weren’t able to be there with you when it happened.”
The march, which will coincide with the capital’s annual Memorial Day parade on Monday, harkens back to June 8, 1991, when almost 9,000 service members marched in the National Victory Celebration for the Gulf War, parading along Constitution Avenue and crossing the Memorial Bridge into Arlington National Cemetery, where they could pay their respects to the 383 men and women who did not make it home. Ayres, who was unable to attend the last parade because he was a member of the 1709 Provisional Air Wing that stayed after combat ended in Iraq, said he is thrilled to be among the 11 veterans to represent Maryland in the parade.
Born and raised in Timonium as one of seven children, Ayres joined the service to see the world and find a career. He enlisted in the Air Force after high school to work on airplanes and was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where he became trained as a parachute rigger and life support specialist.
In his time in the service, Ayres has been around the world several times, but few assignments compared to the one he got in October 1990.
“I was deployed Oct. 10, 1990, and I spent my 29th birthday flying into Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We didn’t necessarily know what we would be doing, but we knew it was only a matter of time until we hit Iraq. Wherever the Marines went, we were their flying gas station.”
His wife was 7 months pregnant at the time of his deployment and he was only able to talk to her twice while overseas. The combat in the Gulf War lasted only 43 days, however, and Ayres returned home at the end of February 1991. As support personnel, he wasn’t on the front lines engaging the Iraqi Army, but nonetheless, the campaign left an impression on him.
“The outcome was phenomenal, with a lot of credit to U.S. Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf,” he said. “Desert Storm is definitely the example for how to engage: you go in, kick butt and come home.”
Ayres later went on to serve as part of the No Fly Zone established during Operation Decisive Endeavor of the Bosnian War. He re- tired in 2003 after 22 years in the Air Force.
While he’s immensely proud of his military service, he’s perhaps even more proud of raising a healthy family, whom he relocated to Cecil County six years ago. He was on Facebook recently when a friend sent him a link about the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, seeking to find veterans to march in the annual Memorial Day parade. He applied and submitted for a records check, only to receive an invitation by email in the days later. He was one of 500 chosen out of the 640,000 who served in the Gulf War.
The parade will serve to remember the 383 who were killed in the Gulf War as well as raise awareness about fundraising efforts to build a National Desert Storm War Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
“While foremost our mission at the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association is to build a monument to our fallen brothers and sisters, we are also committed to honoring the many hundreds of thousands of men and women who left homes, jobs, and families to stand up for America’s values,” said Scott Stump, founder, president and CEO of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association. “We are so glad that veterans like Master Sgt. Jim Ayres is marching with us to teach Americans about the service and sacrifice made by all veterans of Operation Desert Storm.”
For Ayres, the monument has been a passionate cause, as he wants to make sure that all who served in the Gulf War will be able to see it.
“Let’s get this thing moving and get it done, because if we wait much longer a lot of those who served in it won’t be around anymore,” he said.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jim Ayres is seen here in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, assigned to King Abdulaziz International Airport as part of the 1709 Provisional Air Wing, in 1990-91.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Jim Ayres holds a commemorative T-shirt that he will wear Monday in the 25th anniversary march for Operation Desert Storm.