America Goes To War

Mayor, veteran recalls Desert Storm, discusses Iraqi Freedom


Mayor Ken Murphy has seen at least two members of his Army National Guard unit deployed to the Middle East and wouldn't hesitate to join the 1,500 troops from Arizona assisting in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Murphy spent six months in Saudi Arabia as a medic during Desert Storm and vividly recalls his experience in the Middle East.

"I went back into the army in 1988 and was commissioned as a first lieutenant in 1989 and a year later, I was serving with the 403rd combat support hospital in Phoenix which was a little bigger than a MASH unit," Murphy said.

In August of 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and the unit was put on alert and later activated around Thanksgiving. After training at Fort Ord for six weeks, the unit was sent to Saudi Arabia.

"We stayed at the Kobar towers and when the air war started on Jan 17," Murphy recalls, "about 3 a.m. air raid sirens went off and we were told that Scuds (missiles) had been launched."

Murphy described a loud sound of rockets being launched.

"We didn't know it, but Patriot missile batteries were right next to Kobar towers," Murphy said.

"These Patriots took off and all of a sudden you'd hear this huge explosion in the sky as the Patriots hit the Scuds."

Patriot missiles are heat-seeking missiles that track and destroy the enemy launched missiles such as Scuds. Many of the Scuds were destroyed right over Kobar towers.

"Several minutes later, the debris started hitting the ground which was even more disconcerting because we didn't know if it was contaminated -- if it held nuclear, chemical or biological stuff."

As the debris was tested, Murphy and others waited for hours in their mop gear -- specially designed suits to protect against chemical and biological agents -- for the results.

"For about four or five hours we sat in mop gear waiting for the ‘all clear'," Murphy said.

The Kobar towers lies between Iraq and a U.S. air base and port in Dhahran, a strategic target for the Iraqi forces. Bombing was a daily occurrence.

"One day I was in line waiting for chow and I literally saw a Scud, a mile away, come down and go all the way to the ground with a Patriot that went up and followed it all the way to the ground," Murphy recalled.

Four weeks later, Murphy's unit moved north toward Iraq.

"Our unit was the most forward-deployed hospital in the war supporting the Seventh Corps," Murphy said.

The Seventh Corps, according to Murphy, was a big tank unit that moved in and surrounded the Republican Guard.

"What we saw was a lot of casualties from tank battles," Murphy said.

Murphy said that he felt sympathy for Iraqis drafted into the Republican Guard because they were ill-equipped and many had surrendered, wanting only to go home.

Murphy's unit treated many Iraqi troops who were injured during battle. Although they were enemy prisoners of war, the medics treated everyone equally.

"Theoretically, we are supposed to treat everybody the same and that's also the reality," Murphy said. "All the Iraqis that we took care of were thanking us and kissing our hands. The Iraqis didn't want to be there. They didn't want to fight for this guy (Saddam Hussein)."

During his duty in Desert Storm, Murphy and his medical unit treated a third of the injuries.

"We had a lot of wounded," Murphy said. "We did surgery for 24 hours, 7 days a week. We had three or four operating rooms going at once. We treated gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds, mostly from enemy contact but there were still people who inadvertently hit a mine or a cluster bomb."

When asked about Gulf War Syndrome, Murphy knew of no one personally who had it, but that some of the men in his unit had since died of cancer at young ages.

"All the immunizations you get, you're in a hostile environment, you're taking antidotes to nerve agents, you're exposed to pesticides and insecticides because of all the flies and bugs over there -- you get exposed to a lot of stuff," Murphy said.

When asked how Iraqi Freedom will differ from Desert Storm, Murphy sees Iraq at a greater disadvantage now than before.

"I think it will be less protracted. It will be a quick air and then ground campaign," Murphy said. "Twelve years later, we have improved our technology, but no one has improved theirs. They will be dealing with the same equipment they had 12 years ago and an army that's not committed."

"I'm confident that the Iraqi soldiers don't have the resolve and the wherewithal to fight," Murphy said. "What have they got to fight for -- so Saddam can build another palace?"

Murphy said that in the event that Saddam Hussein uses chemical or biological weapons against American troops, Hussein would pay a high price.

"If he uses biological and chemical weapons, he'll get nuked," Murphy said. "If anyone ever uses chemical or biological weapons against the United States, I'd bet my bottom dollar that we'd put a tactical nuclear weapon in some strategic spot to just let them know that was the wrong thing to do."

Murphy believes U.S. troops are as trained as possible for the event of chemical or biological warfare, but still has concerns.

"The suits that we have are hot, heavy, and it's very hard to do your job with your mop gear on," Murphy said. "For the desert environment, it's terrible."

One difference between Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom has been a lack of international support for the operation, something Murphy sees as inconsequential.

"We're a world power -- the last world power left," Murphy said. "The lack of resolve on the part of the United Nations just sends a message that, ‘hey, you can do whatever you want'."

Whether Iraqi Freedom will bring positive change to the Middle East region or further destabilize it remains in question. Murphy sees Iraq as "the sore spot in the Middle East."

"You don't have the problems in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that we've had in Iraq," Murphy said. "Even Iran has softened up and has opened up more dialog with the United States. Getting rid of Saddam will change a lot."

Murphy continues to serve in the National Guard at Camp Navajo and while most of the units have been activated either for the war or homeland security, his job, for the time being, will be providing support and assistance to the stateside families.

As a veteran of Desert Storm, Murphy understands the realities of war and has a deep respect for those who volunteer to serve their country.

"War is a terrible thing," Murphy said. "When you're looking at young kids that are going there, serving their country -- and an 18-year-old, whether they are rushing the beach at Normandy or driving a tank in Desert Storm -- they don't know what they're going to face. But they've got the courage and the commitment to do that."

"Every officer and enlisted person in every branch of the armed forces is a volunteer," Murphy said. "When you've got an army that's willing to serve the citizens of this country with that kind of attitude, you can't beat them."

Readers' comments

How do you feel about the war in Iraq?

I think it's something that has to be done, but I feel very, very bad about the people that are going to be hurt in this and those wonderful young people, both here and over there that are going to lose their lives. I believe that we are justified in doing what we're doing. We have to do something because we can't let this go on and on and have more 9/11s. -- Lois Lenocker

I think it's necessary. They've walked on us enough. We're doing the right thing. -- Pat Helmick

We need to come together and not grow apart and keep innocent people from getting hurt, especially children. God wants us to come together instead of fighting over who's the boss. It isn't right. Innocent people are being killed. -- Charlene Boyd

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