In August 1990, Iraqi military forces, led by Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait. President George H. W. Bush and the United States established a coalition of nations to, first, defend Saudi Arabia from further Iraqi aggression and then to rid Kuwait of the military takeover. In what later was called the first “Gulf War,” U.S. military commanders named the operation to protect Saudi Arabia, Operation Desert Shield, and the operation to expel enemy military forces from Kuwait, Operation Desert Storm.
The Gulf War was the largest deployment of Marines since the Vietnam War. Leathernecks of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade began arriving in Saudi Arabia in late August, followed by other personnel and equipment of I Marine Expeditionary Force: the First Marine Division, the Third Marine Aircraft Wing and the First Force Service Support Group.
Also en route were elements of 1st, 4th and 5th MEBs and II MEF units from 2dMarDiv, 2d MAW, 2d FSSG and 2d Surveillance Reconnaissance and Intelligence Group.
The Marines were reinforced by units from III MEF and the 4thMarDiv and 4th MAW as well as other Reserve elements and individual augmentees. Half the active-duty forces of the Marine Corps were in the Middle East.
On 16 Jan. 1991, Operation Desert Storm began with massive air strikes over Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq launched an attack on the Saudi town of Khafji on 29 Jan. The Battle of Khafji was the first major ground combat action of the Gulf War.
The Marine Corps History Division’s official records note that on 24 Feb. 1991, “the I Marine Expeditionary Force and coalition forces began a ground assault on Iraqi defenses in the final chapter of Operation Desert Storm. Located just south of the Kuwaiti border along the Persian Gulf, the Second Marine Division and the [1stMarDiv] with its four main task forces—Ripper, Papa Bear, Taro and Grizzly—stormed into the teeth of Iraqi defenses and convinced the defenders that it was the main effort of attack. Meanwhile, heavily armored allied forces attacked the Iraqi defenses in Iraq from behind. At the same time, Marine units of the 4th and 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigades afloat in the Persian Gulf pinned down large numbers of Iraqi troops who expected an amphibious assault. In 100 hours, U.S. and allied forces defeated the Iraqi Army”—the result being a decisive victory with very few U.S. casualties. President Bush declared a cease-fire 28 Feb., ending Desert Storm.
U.S. Army General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander during the war, said: “I can’t say enough about the two Marine divisions. If I use words like brilliant, it would really be an under-description of the absolutely superb job that they did. [It was] an absolutely superb operation—a textbook operation.”
Summing up the Navy-Marine team’s performance, Gen Alfred M. Gray Jr., 29th Commandant, said, “I have never felt more privileged to share the title Marine, and I have never been more proud to be your Commandant. In an extraordinarily complex theater of operations, you have not only proven America’s resolve to categorically reject unprovoked aggression, but have reaffirmed that our nation’s investment in her Navy-Marine Corps team stands on unbeatable grounds.”
After a period of “hurry up and wait,” Marines boarded their transportation home, arriving in the States to rows and rows of yellow ribbons, cheering crowds, welcome home signs and most important, family and loved ones. The Marines had done their job well. The storm was over.