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Veterans of '91 Gulf War hope U.S. finishes the job



Published: Fri, March 21, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



One recalls how the sun was blocked by the smoke of burning oil wells.

By WILLIAM K. ALCORN

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- "Maybe we'll finish the job this time."

That's the view of Charles Ochsenbine of Leavittsburg, voicing a consistent refrain among veterans who served during the 1991 Gulf War.

Ochsenbine, 40, was wounded when a Scud missile struck a warehouse in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 25, 1991, just a few days before the war ended. He said 28 Americans were killed, many from neighboring Pennsylvania, and 128 were wounded in the attack.

He was a specialist with the Pennsylvania Army Reserve's 475th Group, Farrell, a fuel and water outfit, where he was the colonel's driver.

"I was blown out the door by the concussion of the explosion. That's what saved me," he said.

He was thrown 40 or 50 feet by the blast and was knocked out for three or four minutes. He was treated for a broken hand and cuts and burns at a series of hospitals in the Persian Gulf and Germany, and ultimately was released back to duty from Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C.

He said the missile attack is "not a good memory."

Nevertheless, he believes it is better to face Saddam Hussein now than later.

"I was angry when they didn't get him the first time. I was worried my sons and other people's sons would have to do it all over again," he said. "Isn't it better to face a madman now, when he doesn't have nuclear weapons, than 10 years from now when he might?"

Change for the better

Likewise, Army Reserve 1st Lt. Kevin Compston, chaplain of the 423 Quartermaster Battalion at Kunkel Army Reserve Center in Lordstown, believes this war with Iraq will have a different conclusion that the one in 1991.

"This time, I think there will be governmental change and freedom for the people there. I think America will be respected in the long run, even though some don't see it right now," the Rev. Mr. Compston said.

In 1991, many "scratched our heads" when told to cease fire and pull back and leave Saddam in power, he said.

Another consistent theme voiced by veterans of the 1991 war is that the experience the U.S. military gained in that first war should prove valuable in America's second conflict there.

"A lot of our junior commanders, who were the nuts and bolts of the Persian Gulf campaign, are now the senior leaders," and have a better understanding of the area because of that experience, Mr. Compston said.

The chaplain was among about 40 members of the 423rd, a water supply unit, who were deployed Tuesday and could eventually end up in Iraq.

Unforgiving climate

Experience we gained in the Gulf War will definitely help us now in dealing with such things as the climate, said Major Erik Imajo, operations officer for the 423rd. "It is a pretty harsh environment. It's a shock. We know now what to take over to make life easier."

The terrain is barren. There's no color, and no features to navigate by, Imajo said.

"I remember getting back to Germany. The colors were so bright, especially the trees, it actually hurt my eyes," he said.

Mr. Compston, who lives in Londonderry near Chillicothe, was on active duty when he was called from Germany to the Persian Gulf in 1991. He served as a field artillery section chief with Service Battery, 1st Battalion, 17th Field Artillery, 75th Brigade. His unit was attached to the 2nd Brigade.

Mr. Compston and his unit were on the ground in Kuwait from the beginning of the air war to the cease fire. While they were coming back through Kuwait from Iraq, the sky was turned black by the smoke from burning oil wells.

"The sun was covered, so the temperatures dropped and it was raining black hail. It even snowed a little bit. Some places you couldn't see 20 yards," he said.

Mr. Compston, 42, an Evangelical Church Alliance pastor and high school history teacher, and his wife, Angie, have five children and a granddaughter.

100 percent support

Imajo, a native of Richmond, Va., who now lives in Stow, served in the Gulf War's Operation Positive Force after the ground war ended and Kuwait had started to rebuild. He was there on active duty for three months as a first lieutenant with the 1st Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Ochsenbine, 40, said he is "100 percent behind President Bush. I'm sure the President knows there's some kind of connection to the 9/11, and they really can't expose how they know. I'm sure they wouldn't go after him for nothing," he said.

Civilians in harm's way

Ochsenbine, a Warren native, graduated in 1981 from Warren Western Reserve High School. He lived in Niles at the time he served in the Persian Gulf, and is now a Department of Defense policeman at the Vienna Air Base. He and his wife, Lesa, have two children, Charles Jr. and Chaz.

He believes one of the major differences between Operation: Iraqi Freedom and the 1991 Gulf War, especially if the U.S. goes into Baghdad, is they'll be dealing with a lot of civilians. It could be hard to tell friends from enemies, he said.

"Maybe the Iraqi people will be so glad to get rid Saddam Hussein that they won't fight. I think that will be the big part of it," Ochsenbine said.

Mr. Compston asked Americans to support the troops.

"Remember that all these young men and women are volunteers. There is no draft. They are answering the call and doing their duty. It's a sense of calling. We love our country and its values," the chaplain said.

alcorn@vindy.com




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