On 2 August 1990, I was driving to California to assume command of the I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and the Marine base at Camp Pendleton. Somewhere in west Texas I heard on my car radio that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. We hurried on to Pendleton, and a few days later I was on my way to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Prior to arriving in California, I knew MEF headquarters was not prepared to direct such a force in combat. It was undermanned on the premise that the Marine Corps was unlikely to fight as a MEF, and manpower was too precious to waste on a headquarters that was not going to war.
The supposition was that if it did go to war, the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) headquarters at Twentynine Palms would augment the staff. The 1st Marine Division in turn would subsume the brigade. Not only was the MEF headquarters undermanned, but in my opinion it had not spent enough time in the field to know how to direct a MEF in combat on a 24/7 basis over a sustained period of time. In short, my judgment was that the senior headquarters was unprepared for war.
We spent the next few weeks (fortunately, we were blessed with some time) in an almost frantic scramble to get the headquarters ready. Headquarters Marine Corps moved Marines to the MEF from all over the Corps, and I merged the reluctant 7th MEB headquarters into the MEF. It was not a pretty picture, but Marines brought such great individual skills to bear that by the time we stormed into Kuwait, the headquarters was functioning smoothly.
It serves no purpose to think about what would have happened if we had not had the time bring all this together; the lesson, however, was not lost on the Corps. Suffice it to say that when we returned home, we began paying more attention to the readiness of our MEF headquarters.
Healthy Command Relationships
I flew to Saudi Arabia ahead of the rest of the headquarters, and the first person I met was Lieutenant General Chuck Horner, Commander, Central Command Air Forces. We seemed to understand each other immediately, and it was the beginning of a long friendship. This relationship and others were critical to the success of the campaign.
The history of war is replete with stories of senior commanders who did not get along, to the detriment of mission accomplishment and their troops. In no other field of human endeavor are relationships more important. In business, bad relationships mean lost market share and customers. In combat, bad relationships mean lost lives.
It is common knowledge that the Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy had difficult doctrinal problems to work through regarding the control of air in theater. It was resolved with minimum acrimony—and with no reduction in close-air support to Marines—because Chuck Horner and I decided it was going to be that way.
This is not to imply that Major General Royal Moore, Commanding General, 1st Marine Air Wing, did not do brilliant work on this issue. But without my close relationship with Horner and the accompanying late-night telephone calls, it could have been an extremely divisive issue.
In addition to Horner, I developed equally strong relationships with Vice Admiral Stan Arthur, Commander, Naval Forces Central Command, and Lieutenant General John Yeosock, Commander, Army Forces Central Command.
The Navy-Marine Corps Team
Stan Arthur was crucial to almost every aspect of Marine Corps success. Together, we planned the concept for the presumed amphibious operation along with Major General Harry Jenkins, Commanding General, 4th MEB, who reported to Arthur, and Major General Jack Sheehan, also assigned to Arthur’s staff to help with amphibious planning. We were inextricably linked. Our relationship allowed us to work through some extremely tough issues, finding solutions that not only kept the peace among us but also enhanced mission accomplishment.
The most important relationship, of course, was the one I established with General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander-in-Chief, Central Command. We were not friends in the sense that Horner, Arthur, Yeosock, and I were, but our relationship was generally cordial and always professional. We met and talked often. To my knowledge, he kept nothing from me, nor did I from him. On board the USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19) early in the campaign, I told him I would never propose an amphibious operation unless it was essential to the accomplishment of my mission. I knew he believed me.
Long before the British 7th Armored Division was moved from my command to the U.S. Army, Schwarzkopf had alerted me to the pressure he was under to make such a move. And though this loss was a disappointment, I was not surprised. Yeosock and I had already begun to hammer out a replacement plan. Schwarzkopf moved the 1st Brigade of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division under my operational command, despite some concerns on the part of the Army. Perhaps the most revealing illustration of my relationship with the general was that I changed our plan of attack into Kuwait not once, but twice. He gave me his full support.
‘Hand-wringing’ at Headquarters
Despite what we knew in the theater to be a smoothly functioning situation, hand-wringing continued at Headquarters Marine Corps over whether Marines were sufficiently represented at the table in Riyadh and whether there should be a separate Marine component commander. The issue continued to be debated even after the war was over. Schwarzkopf and I knew it would not help either of us to impose another lieutenant general between ourselves, and we opposed such a suggestion. In addition, I was personally represented at Central Command by two extremely effective and knowledgeable general officers: Major General J. W. Pearson, followed by Major General Norm Ehlert. Ultimately, the issue went away.
An amphibious operation was part of our original plan. It involved the 4th MEB landing just south of Kuwait City and linking up with the 1st Marine Division as it drove north. In the end, there was no amphibious operation. What happened?
After the 2d Marine Division arrived, I felt I had the combat power I needed without using the 4th MEB—or the 5th MEB (which had arrived late in the planning stages). I did need them in reserve, as both divisions were fully committed. The Iraqis had placed mines in the southern portion of the the Persian Gulf, and two U.S. Navy ships suffered considerable damage as a result, but no lives were lost. Both were close calls. The presumption was that the entire gulf had been mined, but that was later found not to be the case.
It has been reported that Schwarzkopf was opposed to an amphibious landing, but I do not believe that to be true. He was concerned, however, as was I, about the complexity of the link-up, the mines in the gulf, his timetable for the campaign, and as it turned out, one other issue.
An Amphibious Assault?
In January, General Schwarzkopf, Admiral Arthur, and I met on board the Blue Ridge to discuss the amphibious operation. Prior to the meeting, Arthur had been conducting mine-clearing operations as fast as they could be conducted. Sitting at the table, Schwarzkopf asked two questions. The first was a surprise: “Will there be collateral damage to that part of Kuwait City where you land?” The answer was yes, because our intelligence indicated an Iraqi division was in place to oppose the landing. He reflected on the fact that thus far in the campaign he had been able to spare Kuwait City from any damage by Coalition forces, and he wanted to continue operating in that fashion.
Schwarzkopf then turned to Arthur and asked when the mines would be cleared sufficiently to conduct the operation. Stan’s answer was weeks, not days. This caused Schwarzkopf a great deal of consternation, because he felt waiting that long could possibly delay the entire operation. He looked at me down the table and asked: “Walt, can you accomplish your mission without the amphibious operation?” After reflecting for a few moments, I said: “Yes, General, I can. But we must put every effort into making the Iraqis believe there will be a landing, because we must keep the enemy division defending the coast tied up,” or words to that effect.
I did not want the 1st Marine Division vulnerable to a major attack on its right flank as it moved north. The deception plan, executed brilliantly by the Navy and the 4th and 5th MEBs, has been well-documented. They kept an entire division preoccupied until it was too late for the enemy troops to do anything but run for their lives. I had kept my word to General Schwarzkopf. We would not, in fact, conduct an unnecessary amphibious landing.
By D+4 Kuwait was liberated. We had captured 22,000 Iraqi soldiers and killed an unknown number of them, with very few Marine casualties. Kuwaiti citizens were celebrating in the streets. I briefed Schwarzkopf over the radio on our situation and told him we were prepared to continue the attack toward Basra. The next communication I received was word that the war had been declared over.
To this day, I continue to be asked if we stopped too soon. The answer, in retrospect, is yes. In another three days we could have killed or captured most of the remaining Iraqi soldiers who had fled Kuwait and were between the MEF and Basra. I believe the Army troops could have destroyed the remainder of the Iraqi forces opposing them in the same time frame. That would have left Saddam Hussein without an effective army, and the future for his regime would have been very bleak, in my view. Monday-morning quarterbacking, however, is easy. I did not question the President’s judgment then, nor do I now.