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Thirty years ago, then U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Dasing and other members of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment based at Fort Bliss in El Paso were on active duty in the Persian Gulf, part of Desert Storm, the coalition led by the United States that drove Iraq out of Kuwait.
The Gulf War began Aug. 2, 1991, when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein ordered the invasion of Kuwait, claiming it as Iraqi territory. Dasing, who retired from the U.S. Army in 1994 and is now commander of Disabled American Veterans Chapter 38 based in Mesilla, and other members of his Fort Bliss regiment shipped out less than two months later, on Sept. 30. They remained in the gulf until March 21, 1991.
Dasing landed at King Khalid Airforce Base in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
“As soon as we walked out, the heat hit us,” Dasing remembered. It was 115 degrees.
He and about 6,000 other troops from Fort Bliss were the only desert-trained personnel in the Army, Dasing said. Some soldiers from less arid parts of the U.S. came to be known as “zombies,” because they walked around all night, unable to sleep in the heat.
Positioned in Saudi Arabia near the Kuwait border, “We dug in and started living life,” Dasing said. “We became masters at making camps,” he said, as soldiers built a “tent city.”
Dasing’s role included trading with neighboring Marine and naval units for everything from water, toilet paper and pharmaceuticals to apples, oranges, coffee makers and generators.
At 33, “I was the old man of the unit,” Dasing said. Part of his charge was “to keep the kids (soldiers in their late teens and early 20s) busy,” he said. Troops engaged in “Desert Olympics,” wearing gasmasks and competing to see who could dig the deepest foxhole.
Dasing said he remembers an Army chaplain leading a small group of soldiers singing carols during Christmas time. “You would hear it echo across the desert, from camp to camp,” he said.
The soldiers were sometimes visited by American civilians who worked for U.S. oil companies, who would bring their wives and children to the camp to share ice cream and play football.
“We waited for war,” Dasing said.
That came for American troops Jan. 15, 1991, with the beginning of Operation Desert Storm, the codename of the combat phase of the Gulf War.
“My company led the whole 18th Airborne across the berms,” he said.
Often scouting ahead of other troops, Dasing said he and his unit saw combat with regular Iraqi troops and the fabled Republican Guard.
“We killed a lot of people. We did,” Dasing said. “That was our job. We had to do that. We destroyed a lot of tanks. We captured a lot of equipment.”
Dasing remembers being confronted by an Iraqi lieutenant in a bunker complex. The Iraqi pointed an AK-47 at him and pulled the trigger. The rifle misfired. Dasing returned fire and killed the Iraqi.
Dasing also remembers being so tired he walked across a battlefield during a firefight to get to his next position.
At one point, he and other soldiers met a group of Ethiopians who were on a pilgrimage in the Iraqi desert and didn’t know there was a war going on. He also remembers a soldier who kept a king scorpion as a pet, often walking it on a homemade leash. The scorpion came back with the soldier to Fort Bliss, but only survived about 40 days. Other soldiers had lizards as pets.
Moving across the desert, Dasing said a ceasefire was ordered just before his unit reached the Euphrates River. They were the first to return to their base at the border, he said, racing through the half-mile deep “Wadi of Death.”
“We weren’t going to be left in Iraq,” Dasing said.
Packing to return home meant finding space for a wide range of “souvenirs, that included Iraqi money and sniper scopes, Iraqi flags and uniforms and even watches with Saddam Hussein’s face on them.
Dasing brought home three full duffel bags, including one weighing 150 pounds, he said.
He also has albums full of photos – including many he took – of his time in the gulf.
Among his most enduring memories of the gulf, in addition to the extreme heat, were the Acapulco Chicken TV dinners, Mounds bars and lasagna that were supplied to the soldiers in great abundance and eaten “for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Dasing said.
Dasing held many different job titles in the Army, he said, and became one of only two noncommissioned officers in the Army to serve as an historian.
“I enjoyed my time,” he said. “I knew what had to be done and I just did it.”
Dasing’s service included 24 years in the Army, ages 17-41, and four in the ROTC. He still belongs to the U.S. Army Brotherhood of Tankers.