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I am very proud and honored to bring you this Story about the "Lessons Learned" about the Vietnam War and the Desert Storm Victory. I hope you enjoy it!






By: Barry R. McCaffrey

President George H.W. Bush expressed hope at the end of the 1991 Desert Storm victory that the dramatic 100-hour air-ground-sea American blitzkrieg had put to rest the ghosts of Vietnam. Hardly. However, the Gulf War proved to be in most ways the "anti-Vietnam." We were blessed by political and military leadership at the strategic, operational and tactical levels of command that capitalized on all that had gone so wrong a generation earlier. The memories and trauma of Vietnam continue to affect our leaders and policymakers. The Gulf War leadership and those they mentored are affected to this day by the lessons of Vietnam, now burned into our culture.

For 25 years, we have frequently and inappropriately used these supposed lessons as a yardstick to measure new foreign-policy challenges. We feared a morass like Vietnam in Central America in the 1970s and then were uncertain when we prevailed. Our revulsion for casualties caused us to skitter away from danger in places like Beirut and Mogadishu. We shrank back from the risk of ground combat in Bosnia and Kosovo. We articulated an absolute strategic imperative for an exit strategy before we would consider involvement in vital humanitarian operations of little real physical threat to our military power, such as the tragic disasters in Rwanda and Liberia. Vietnam remains with us in the numbed collective psyche of our national-security calculus. The Gulf War did allow the brilliant leadership of our civilian and military senior team to skillfully employ enormous military power fully integrated with economic, political and diplomatic leverage. The outcome was a stunning victory that accomplished our national-security purpose with a rapid and lopsided defeat of the Iraqi aggressors. A giant coalition was patiently assembled to provide the legitimacy of multinational cooperation. A mighty force of 500,000 U.S. troops with 200,000 Allied was assembled and deployed in six months. The massive mobilization of Reserves and National Guard garnered the emotional commitment of the American people. Our battle plans involved the skillful joint integration of air, land and sea forces in a battle of maneuver that shattered the enemy's will to resist with overwhelming violence and speed. The American people were politically prepared and informed. They saw an evil in Saddam Hussein, an evil to be exterminated. They saw an innocent Kuwait to be freed and a danger to be forestalled by preventing Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. It is worth analysis in coming years to sort out how this dramatic and total military victory was so poorly exploited for subsequent political and strategic gain. The generals and admirals of Desert Storm were the lieutenants and ensigns of Vietnam. They were determined to avoid the painful and humiliating disasters that engulfed our forces in Southeast Asia. Hours before the 24th Infantry Division I commanded in the Gulf War began its 350-mile left-hook attack. I assembled the senior leadership team for a final walk-through of our battle plans. The five of us - two assistant division commanders, the division chief of staff, the division sergeant major and I - all lingered at the end of the briefing, tense with anticipation for the coming attack. All of us had multiple tours in combat. In a lighthearted and typically macabre infantry bit of humor, I quipped that this would be the last time all of us would be together alive. Brig. Gen. Terry Scott, one of the Army's treasured Vietnam heroes with four years in previous combat that resulted in severe battle wounds and jump injuries, fired back in his West Texas twang that he'd rather be killed in the coming battle than spend the rest of his life explaining "how we screwed it up." This was the legacy of Vietnam in the military. The nine Army and Marine division commanders, the three Army and Marine Corps commanders, the air war planners like Gens. Chuck Horner and Buster Glosson, the Naval Force battle leaders like Adm. Stan Arthur and logistics leaders like Gen. Gus Pagonis were not going to let down our troops or America. We also were incredibly grateful for the wisdom, mutual trust and leadership of our experienced combat veteran Commander in Chief George H.W. Bush, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, who received a Purple Heart in Vietnam, and our irascible genius Central Command Commander in Chief Norman Schwarzkopf, who served two Vietnam tours. We were the products of our age. For 15 years, our mantra had been to never again make the fundamental mistakes of Vietnam.

LOOKING BACK. Vietnam was a sea of blood. In 15 years of bitter combat, 58,000 Americans were killed and 303,000 wounded or injured. About 75,000 of these mostly teen-age boys were severely disabled. A million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong perished in absolute dedication to a nationalistic ideal and a Marxist economic theory that never worked. Communism would doom much of the earth to nearly three generations of slavery under ruthless dictators. More than 250,000 of our brave South Vietnamese died in battle, hoping to save their culture, their religions, their regional freedom - and because Americans said, "We will stand with you against the global evil of communism." Untold hundreds of thousands of civilians in the South and the North, in Cambodia and Laos and in Thailand's border regions, were murdered by VC retribution, starved to death, executed in post-war concentration camps or made refugees by the poorly targeted and massive use of U.S. firepower throughout the region. In the end, the communists triumphed and crushed the million-man South Vietnamese Armed Forces, driving the Americans and their failed policy into the sea of political and military defeat. The communist leaders who succeeded at war have gone on to create one of the most oppressive and ineffective nations on earth. They are stuck with an Asian police state based on a Soviet KGB model from the 1950s. It's a goofy and ineffective economic model, marked by lack of freedom of speech, assembly and workplace, as well as the complete repression of minority and religious rights. What are we to make of this? It is still difficult for those of us who struggled so valiantly in Vietnam to look analytically at this horrible struggle that consumed so much treasure and human life to such little American purpose. Ten percent of our generation served in the Southeast Asia Theater. Nearly 3.5 million troops served in-country between 1961, when President Kennedy sent the first 3,000 military advisers - including my brother-in-law Capt. Dave Ragin, who was killed in action in August 1964 and posthumously awarded one of the first Distinguished Service Crosses of the war - until April 30, 1975, when the last two Marines were killed at Ton San Nhut Airport during the chaotic final days of free Vietnam. The Vietnam experience was dramatically different for all of us. It depended on when and where you served and, most importantly, in what echelon and type of unit. In 1969, at the peak strengh of more than 540,000 troops battling in-country, less than 15 percent actually served in frontline combat units. They disproportionately suffered the bulk of casualties. Losses in rifle companies, reconnaissance units, attack helicopters and lift aircraft were horrific in the meat-grinder battles on the DMZ and Central Highlands, and in huge clashes along the sanctuary frontiers of Cambodia and Laos. My division, the 1st Cavalry, suffered 5,444 killed in action and 26,592 wounded during its service in Vietnam. Air Force combat pilots flying out of Thailand and naval aviators coming off the decks of carriers in the Tonkin Gulf left austere living conditions at base to face the fiercest and most effective air-defense system in military history. Hundreds of these brave men were killed by anti-aircraft artillery, weather, fatigue or years of unbearable barbarism in North Vietnamese cages. Another 40 percent to 50 percent of supporting military forces were intermittently shelled, rocketed, exposed to mines and occasional ambushes, sprayed with Agent Orange, or worked like animals in sweltering heat, bugs and loneliness 12,000 miles from home. All of this sacrifice took place in the context of a war that American political, media, academic and entertainment elites increasingly came to view as misguided, ineffective and wrong. Our poor soldiers. Their Congress, families and judges told them to do their duty. They were mostly volunteers; 25 percent were draftees, compared to 66 percent in World War II. They were the most educated soldiers ever put into battle. Seventy-nine percent were high-school graduates, compared to 66 percent in Korea and 45 percent in World War II. They were so young. Their average age was 19, compared to 26 for World War II troops; 61 percent of those killed were 21 or younger. They were all races and religions. More than 12 percent of those killed in action were black; 5.2 percent were hispanic. they came from all socioeconomic levels. Half were from middle-income families. They also were among the most dedicated troops ever in uniform. Those of us privileged to lead them in battle came to admire their courage, natural courtesy, sense of humor and the teamwork and trust they gave to each other. Ninety-seven percent of Vietnam veterans received honorable discharges. Ninety percent of those who saw heavy combat tell polisters they are proud to have served. The overwhelming majority who saw heavy fighting - 82 percent - say the war was lost because of lack of political will. Reassuringly, 87 percent of Americans hold Vietnam veterans in high esteem.

LOOKING AHEAD. In Vietnam, we never lost a battle - but we lost the war. In a larger sense, however, I suspect that historians will conclude in coming decades that the enormous valor of our men and women in uniform were a key part of the global strategy that successfully encircled and held at bay the menace of international communism that threatened the political and economic freedom of our allies. Vietnam was a painful tragedy that produced an enduring national political wariness. In the armed forces, however, the result was a stronger military force of volunteers with enormous professionalism and a much keener awareness of the requirements for coordinated military operations capably integrated with other agency resources. Most crucially, Vietnam taught us to never allow the political leadership of the nation to put us into battle without the support of the American people. Never again.

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Shirley Ruth Caron * 1221A Community Place * Indianapolis, IN 46227