In November 1990 I was transferred to Bad Kreuznach, Germany, as public affairs officer for the 8th Infantry Division. When I arrived, the division had been drawing down its forces after German reunification in 1989. With the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, the draw down was put on hold, and the division began ramping up for a possible invasion of Iraq.
It was not long before I became actively involved in predeployment ceremonies of the 4,000 soldiers we would eventually send to Iraq. We began working 6½ days per week, and many of us wished we were deploying so we could get a break. The day for most of us started around 0545 hours for physical training in the dark, and most nights I would get home around 2030 hours or 8:30 p.m.
In January 1991 I woke up to the shock and awe of the monthlong bombing of Iraq before our troops invaded Kuwait.
For me the war was just beginning. Due to a total news blackout, I could not get even one photo out of the war zone in regards to our soldiers and it was impossible to tell the 8thj Infantry Division story to our family members and the world as our division headquarters was not in the war.
As soldiers and small units redeployed to Germany, I was able to get some of those stories told in Stars & Stripes and some local papers. The redeployment took some time, and as the units started to return, our workload dropped to six days per week.
In mid-April 1991 I was summoned to a staff meeting. Saddam Hussein’s forces had driven the Kurds into the mountains of northern Iraq, and the division’s combat aviation brigade was to deploy there immediately.
In less than a week, the brigade took off from Wiesbaden, Germany and flew to northern Iraq and hooked up with Special Operations Forces to bring food and supplies to the Kurds. This became known as Operation Provide Comfort.
My family had remained in the United States during this period as my wife was attending college in North Carolina. Two weeks before they arrived in Germany, I was told I was to deploy to northern Iraq and Turkey in early July. While the Gulf War may have taken only 100 hours to win, the Kurds’ mission had made this the 100-day war for our division.
My family arrived on July 4, and I was able to delay my deployment long enough to get them into housing; then I was gone in mid-July. After arriving in Turkey near the Iraq border, I worked for the coalition commander, Col. E.E. “Butch” Whitehead.
He welcomed me. He was a wonderful commander who allowed me to tell the story of our soldiers during Operation Provide Comfort. I don’t think I was there a day when I had CNN in my tent and all the European news media like ARD and ZDF television as well as all the Turkish papers.
During this time, I was able to create more than 1,000 video postcards of our soldiers that were shown all over the United States. We were able to get our story out through interviews with National Public Broadcasting and major American papers like the New York Times.
Unlike the Gulf War, we were able to tell the story of the Kurds and the nations that helped save them from Saddam Hussein. I was never so proud of our soldiers and our international coalition, and it was the highlight of my active Army career.
We were there until mid-October, and then we pulled out. I returned to Germany and just three short months later, my unit, the 8th Infantry Division went away.
Doug Curtis Jr. is a retired Army colonel who lives in Rockland.