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America's Battalion

Marines in the First Gulf War

Written by Otto J. Lehrack

Publication Year: 2005

Oral history by Marines who fought to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein's invading forces.

America's Battalion tells the experiences of one unit, the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, during Operation Desert Storm—the first Gulf War. Building from interviews with the members of the batallion, Otto Lehrack examines the nature of warfare in the Persian Gulf. The terrain of the Arabian Peninsula and the disposition of the enemy dictated conventional warfare requiring battalion and regimental assaults coordinated at the division level, so interviewees are primarily the officers and senior non-commissioned officers concerned.

The 3rd of the 3rd, also known as "America's Battalion," had just returned from deployment in the summer of 1990 when they were required to immediately re-deploy to a strange land to face a battle-hardened enemy after Iraq invaded Kuwait. Theirs was only the second Marine battalion to arrive in Saudi Arabia. They participated in the first allied ground operation of the war, played a key role in the battle for the city of Khafji, and were the first to infiltrate the Iraqi wire and minefield barrier in order to provide flank security for the beginning of the allied offensive.

Facing an enemy that had used some of the most fearsome weapons of mass destruction—chemical and biological agents—against its former opponents and against its own people, the Marines had been prepared for the worst. Lehrack has documented this unit's remarkable performance through the accounts of those who participated in the historic events in the Persian Gulf and returned home to tell of them.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

Those familiar with my first book, No Shining Armor: The Marines at War in Vietnam, will know that book attempts to portray the American infantry experience in Vietnam through the efforts of a single unit—the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. It was not a book about politics, generals, grand strategy, ...

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pp. xv

Several people deserve special thanks for helping me with this project. Major General Mike Myatt was kind enough to spend some time discussing his insights as the commanding general, 1st Marine Division, for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. As usual, the Marines and employees of the Marine Corps Historical Center were more than cooperative. ...

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pp. 1-5

At the time the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines were withdrawn from Vietnam, in the autumn of 1969, America was winding down its participation in its longest and most unsuccessful war. Within eighteen months the participation of our ground troops in that unhappy adventure would come to a halt. Lyndon Johnson was driven from the presidency by the war, and his successor, Richard Nixon, clearly ...

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1The Alert

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pp. 6-16

This was an extremely challenging time period. We were deployed in a demanding training schedule with the regiment plus deploying and redeploying two of our battalions. After the alert we continued a rigorous training schedule while simultaneously preparing for an emergency redeployment from Hawaii to Oahu and then on to the Persian Gulf. We continued to conduct ...

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2 India Company Leads the Way

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pp. 17-24

We had gotten some very, very basic briefs as to what Saddam Hussein had been doing. Our initial impression was that there is nothing over there to stop him from continuing what he is doing, to continue down south and invade Saudi Arabia too. The 7th Marines were there, but there wasn’t much else to slow them down. The biggest deterrent was just the fact that ...

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3 Saudi Arabia: The Warehouses

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pp. 25-31

When we got to Saudi Arabia it was about 110–115 degrees that day. We marched off to big tents that were set up for us to await transportation to wherever we were supposed to go, and we didn’t even know where that was. About fifteen minutes after we got to the tents, the press descended upon us. Reporters from Italy, Germany, the UK, Reuters, AP, the New York Times all ...

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4 Cement Ridge

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pp. 32-45

Then we moved out to the field, which was a place we called Cement Ridge, and we started doing a lot of exercises with F18s, Harriers, running SIMCAS [simulated close air support] shoots. We got real proficient. ...

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5 The Chemical Threat

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pp. 46-48

For once the Marines took NBC warfare as a serious threat. Chemical warfare hung over our heads. We didn’t know if the Scuds would have chemical warheads on them or not. We’d tell our Marines that they had better learn to use the gear. Their lives could depend on it. MOPP4 [mission-oriented protective posture, level 4] is full ...

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6 Holidays

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pp. 49-54

I was very attached to my Marines, but not to the point where it would obscure my judgment if I had to make hard decisions. Many a night I lay awake wondering if I had covered everything, but I never had. At one point in Saudi Arabia, I wrote to every one of my Marine’s families—about 150 letters. I sent them out in November and December just to say that they were okay ...

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7 Al Mishab Working with the Arabs

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pp. 55-63

When John Admire came in with the 3rd Marines in early September, one of the missions I gave him, as part of the defensive posture, was to work closely with the Saudi Arabian National Guard. That then became a larger force as they brought in other elements of the various forces around the Gulf—the Qataris, the Moroccans, and several others like that—but they ...

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8 The Air War Starts

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pp. 64-68

I don’t think there was any apprehension on the Marines’ part. They were ready to go. A little of it was the motivation to get the job done. They’d been there five months now, and it was time to get down to business. That’s one of the Marines’ favorite sayings: “Let’s get down to business.” The thing I heard a lot was “Saddam can sit around and talk the talk. We know he can’t ...

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9 Rockets

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pp. 69-76

The next night I was up talking to one of the Marines who was awake. He directed my attention out to the northwest. We saw some very slow-moving ®ashes arching up into the sky. There were about seven or eight of them. He asked me what they were, and I said that I didn’t know. They were too slow ...

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10 Marines in Khafji

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pp. 77-80

I was the senior recon team leader at the time the air war started. I was woken at 3:15 and was told that the air war had started and they wanted us up in Khafji. Of course, Khafji was a border town. I got my team together. We got an S2 [intelligence] brief. We got ammo and all that stuff and took off at 0600. ...

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11 Cross-Training

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pp. 81-83

The Saudis were inexperienced in heavily mechanized warfare in the open desert. It was reinforced to them over and over again—by General Myatt, by Colonel Admire, and by me and the ANGLICO team I was located with—that when push came to shove, if war were actually going to happen, that the Americans would stand shoulder to shoulder with them and we ...

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12 The First American Ground Action

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pp. 84-89

During the six months of Operation Desert Shield, our Marines spent a great deal of time studying how the Iraqis fight and looked extensively at the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. We learned that the Iraqi artillery was very effective in trapping Iranian soldiers time and time again in confined areas called “¤re-sacks,” where thousands of Iranians perished. We knew that there were ...

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13 The Alarms Go Off

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pp. 90-96

We were tasked to go up and provide a defensive position in Khafji. There was apprehension on my part about whether or not we were capable of defending Khafji with a company-size force. I felt we were not. Having been up there before, we did a recon. We know Khafji is mostly brick buildings in ...

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14 The Battle for Khafji

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pp. 97-107

There were these eight Beau Geste desert forts strung out along a line from the coast. On the evening of January 29th the Iraqis launched a three-pronged attack across the border, where an LAI [light armored infantry] company commanded by Captain Rock Pollard bumped into a convoy of fifty tanks and lost twelve kids. They had gotten a report that one of the outposts, with a Special Forces A Team, and an ANGLICO team, and some ...

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15 With the Recon Teams in the City [Contains Image Plates]

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pp. 108-115

We got our order to go in and had picked a house the time before. We knew which one to go into and thought we could get in without anyone seeing us. There was hardly anyone in the city. We didn’t see anyone in any of the houses or anything, and everything was fine. We were expecting to stay in ...

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16 Melissa and Friends

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pp. 125-133

This was the same day those two soldiers got captured. Craig Huddleston, the XO, went on a rescue attempt, which went in with Humvees and heavy guns, and they ran into Iraqis, screeched to a halt, and spun around. The Iraqis were probably doing the same thing. My guys got out and called in the ...

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17 Khafji Retaken

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pp. 134-155

About this time the recon company commander comes walking over and he said he just talked to the teams and now they need to be rescued. So I agreed to do it. The Saudis show up, and we’re just about to start getting our language straight and the Saudi commander said he was going to attack in fifteen minutes. I told him that if he would wait about ...

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18 Movement West to Attack Position

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pp. 156-166

The Saudis, after Khafji, were con

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19 Moving up to the Minefields

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pp. 167-169

Our mission there was to infiltrate up, get to the attack position, then infiltrate through the minefield and block in case mechanized forces came from the east. So what we’re going to do is tell the Iraqis, “Hey, they’re coming,” shoot as much as we can, and then hide in a hole, get down in the holes so we can destroy as much of them as possible as they come blazing through us. ...

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20 The Breach

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pp. 170-195

The first night we went up to a place called Casino. The next night we were supposed to go through the breach. We left about 1800 and it was dark out. About 0500 we got there and started digging in. Our job was to stay under cover from the Iraqis. We got word that there were Iraqi forces in the area. We wanted to skirt around them and then get into the breach site. ...

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21 Prisoners

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pp. 196-200

I’m glad the Iraqis didn’t defend. In any case, as it became apparent to all the Marine forces that this first offensive was going to be a piece of cake, the mission started changing; we had a boundary change between us and our adjacent unit, which was Task Force Poppa Bear. One of their ¤rst objectives they ignored and gave ...

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22 Kuwait International Airport

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pp. 201-205

They went into Kuwait International. Americans, Task Force Taro, was held outside the city. The Saudis liberated the city. The Force Reconnaissance Platoon leader that was with me, Brian Knolls, drove up there the night before, linked up with some Kuwaiti resistance, drove to the American embassy, and actually raised ...

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23 Yellow Ribbons

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pp. 206-211

The low point of the whole thing was waiting to get out. We turned our equipment and ammunition in and had absolutely nothing to do except wait to go home. ...

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24 Parting Shots

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pp. 212-217

I thought at first that maybe there was something wrong with me at Kuwait International Airport. I was actually a little disappointed that it was all over. I think this is typical of what the troops think of an officer, that all he wants to see is the fights and the recognition. It wasn’t that. For one, I knew I’m ...

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25 The Years After

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pp. 218-220

Captain, now Colonel, Molofsky was right—as were others of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines who wished Saddam Hussein had been toppled in 1991 or who predicted that the job would have to be finished at a later date. They had to wait for a dozen years for it to happen. ...


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pp. 221-228


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pp. 229-231


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pp. 233-236

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380571
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817354978

Publication Year: 2005

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Khafji, Battle of, Raʼs al-Khafjī, Saudi Arabia, 1991.
  • Persian Gulf War, 1991 -- Campaigns.
  • United States Marine Corps. Division, 3rd. Battalion, 3rd -- History -- 20th century.
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