Lo­cal’s ex­pe­ri­ence serv­ing in the first Gulf War

The Covington News - - The second front - PETE MECCA COLUM­NIST Pete Mecca is a Viet­nam vet­eran, free­lance writer and colum­nist. You can contact him at avet­er­ansstory@gmail.com.

Doug Hin­ton’s kin­folk set­tled in Rock­dale County in the 1800s. His par­ents and grand­par­ents rest in peace at Green Mead­ows; a great-un­cle killed on Iwo Jima and his great­grand par­ents are in­terred at Eastview, and his Civil War rel­a­tives rest in peace at Smyrna Pres­by­te­rian Camp Ground. His new bride Cindy, was born and raised in Yan­kee town, Fla. Go fig­ure.

A 1985 grad­u­ate of Her­itage High School, Hin­ton re­ceived an ap­point­ment to the Mer­chant Marine Academy from Se­na­tor Sam Nunn. He said, “ROTC at Her­itage pre­pared me for the Academy, but within two years I de­cided on an­other path.” That path was at­tend­ing Val­dosta State with his first wife. “I needed a de­gree to re­ceive a com­mis­sion in the U.S. Marines, but I came to re­al­ize a mil­i­tary life would not be con­ducive to fam­ily life, so I chose the Re­serves in 1988.”

Aug. 2, 1990 – Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Iraqi Army in­vades neigh­bor­ing Kuwait. The in­ter­na­tional re­ac­tion en­tered world his­tory as the Gulf War. One week be­fore Thanks­giv­ing, Hin­ton’s unit, C Com­pany of the 8th Marine Tank Bat­tal­ion, is called up for ac­tive duty. He said, “Our fam­ily Thanks­giv­ing wasn’t a happy af­fair since I had to re­port for duty on Mon­day.”

Sent to Camp Le­je­une, N.C. for de­ploy­ment, Hin­ton said, “It was the big­gest sin­gle gath­er­ing of Marines since World War II — 23,000 Leath­er­necks prim­ing for war.” Hin­ton flew via com­mer­cial air­line into the Port City of Jubail (Al Jubayl), Saudi Ara­bia as part of the 2nd Marine Division.

No al­co­hol, no girly mag­a­zines, leave the women alone, and be dis­creet with your Bi­bles. Hin­ton and the U.S. Marines were def­i­nitely on for­eign soil. “The first thing we did was re­paint our equip­ment in desert cam­ou­flage since ev­ery­thing was still painted green and stuck out like sore thumbs,” he said.

Hin­ton was as­signed a huge wrecker with a big boom on back for re­triev­ing stuck or bat­tle-dam­aged ve­hi­cles, and un­load­ing tank ammo. Asked if he had re­ceived train­ing to un­load mu­ni­tions, Hin­ton said, “Nope.” Asked if they’d been trained in desert war­fare, he said, “Nope.”

Christ­mas Eve, 1990 – The Marines move north to­ward the Kuwaiti bor­der. The sand rock hard, the tem­per­a­ture a sur­pris­ing 80 de­grees, the nights chilly, rain and hail in the bar­ren desert, Marines don jack­ets in Jan­uary to break the chill.

Jan 17, 1991 – The air war be­gins. Hin­ton said, “We saw planes over­head as they ap­proached the bor­der with their run­ning lights on. As soon as they hit the bor­der those run­ning lights dis­ap­peared and you only heard the thun­der of jet en­gines.”

One week later – “It was a bright, clear day. We started hear­ing rum­bles, louder and louder. Over the hori­zon, we saw a group of B-52s ap­proach­ing, aw­fully low. They crossed the bor­der, did a U-turn then re­leased their bombs. We were al­most 10 miles away and could feel the ground shake for over a minute.”

Feb. 23 – The ground war com­mences. Hin­ton’s unit is equipped with the M-60 Viet­nam-era tank, nowhere near the ca­pa­bil­ity of the M-1 Abrams. The M-60s will be used to breech mine fields with an an­tic­i­pated ca­su­alty rate from mines and ar­tillery at 70 per­cent.

4:45 a.m. – Hin­ton and a two man crew sit in their wrecker await­ing the word to move for­ward. They’re given three boxes of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) with 24 or 36 meals per box since the fog of war can iso­late troops with­out re­sup­ply. Doug said, “We moved out through the berms into the first mine field. We were so ner­vous, we ate a whole box of MREs.”

Humvees armed with anti-tank rock­ets, troop trucks and tanks are now in harm’s way. A tank hits a mine. Hin­ton said, “It blew the track off, but thank­fully the crew was OK.” The first row of mines started three miles be­yond the bor­der. “You could see them stick­ing up,” Hin­ton said.

Af­ter three more miles, the con­voy hits the sec­ond mine­field. “The barbed wire and mines were thick. You could see mines five feet apart.” The Marines wore the MOPP suits (chem­i­cal suits), just in case. “We couldn’t take chances,” Hin­ton said. “One of the trucks de­tected gas, but that was never con­firmed. Thank God they didn’t use the chem­i­cal weapons against us.”

Iraqi ar­tillery opens up on the con­voy. Hin­ton said, “A chop­per came up, let loose a salvo of rock­ets and ma­chine gun fire, and, well, ‘All’s quiet on the Western Front’ so to speak.” More Iraqi ar­tillery opens up then some­thing in­cred­i­ble hap­pens — the Iraqi start sur­ren­der­ing in droves. “We couldn’t be­lieve it,” Hin­ton said. “We’d get a to­ken round fired at us then they’d give up, hun­dreds of them.”

The much feared Iraqi army is starv­ing and piti­fully un­der-equipped to face the Al­lied Coali­tion. Hin­ton said, “Some of their sol­diers were still in street shoes, hav­ing been hi­jacked off city streets. Our tanks no longer stopped for POWs, there were too many, so we ended up deal­ing with pris­on­ers. Strange thing was, they didn’t re­ally act scared but grate­ful they’d been cap­tured, and happy to re­ceive de­cent food. They’d fight over a pack of Kool-Aid.”

By the end of the first day, 400 Iraqi pris­on­ers were be­ing guarded by M-16s and AK-47s. “We used the cap­tured AK-47s as back up, just in case,” Hin­ton said. The wrecker was used later that night. “The U.S. Army swung to the west for a flank­ing move­ment right into a mine­field. A Humvee went up in smoke and fire. We had to re­trieve the ve­hi­cle, the Humvee driver didn’t make it.”

Mov­ing steadily to­wards Kuwait City, Hin­ton and his unit wit­ness the hor­rors of war. “We saw the ‘high­way of death’ and other things that made us glad that we were not on the re­ceiv­ing end of our awe­some fire­power. Many Iraqi sol­diers died but that’s war, and it’s best to end it quickly.”

Sad­dam Hus­sein’s “Mother of all Bat­tles” lasted 100 hours; his army de­feated, his mil­i­tary hard­ware re­duced to junk. Hin­ton re­mained in Kuwait City for a cou­ple of weeks to as­sist the cit­i­zenry and even­tu­ally flew home from the same port city.

Af­ter an eight year stint in the Re­serves, Hin­ton re­turned to civil­ian life and earned a de­gree in civil engi­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy. As a reg­is­tered pro­fes­sional en­gi­neer, he presently works for Cor­po­ra­tion En­vi­ron­men­tal Risk Man­age­ment.

Doug and Cindy mar­ried on May 19 of this year and spent their hon­ey­moon as Guardians of World War II vet­er­ans on the May 22 Honor Flight to Wash­ing­ton, D.C. When asked why, Hin­ton said, “My war was over in a few months. Some of the vet­er­ans on the Honor Flight stayed over­seas in World War II for years. It’s the least Cindy and I could do for these guys.”

(Top) Hin­ton holds up an Iraqi cap­tured flag. (Left) Hin­ton, on left, 1991 in Iraq with cap­tured AK-47.

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