In August 1990, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein ordered his army to invade and then annex the small oil-rich country of Kuwait, threatening Middle Eastern oil exports and the security of Saudi Arabia.
Over the next few months, a United States-led coalition of more than 30 countries, including Arab allies, placed more than 900,000 troops in the region, most near the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border. The U.S. provided more than half the troops sent to the region. The operation known as Operation Desert Shield, and accompanying economic sanctions against Iraq, also were supported by the United Nations.
On November 29, 1990, the United Nations Security Council authorized using force against Iraq if Saddam Hussein did not withdraw his troops from Kuwait by January 15, 1991. Several thousand Americans and citizens of other countries trapped or held hostage, some as “human shields” against attacks on strategic locations, were released by December 1990. But Iraqi troops did not leave Kuwait.
On the evening of January 16, 1990, U.S. President George H. W. Bush announced the start the U.S.-led offensive known as Operation Desert Storm.
The next day, forces from the U.S. and 40 allied countries began an intense campaign of strategic bombing, attacking Iraqi positions and supply lines from the air and sea.
A ground invasion, known as Operation Desert Sabre, followed six weeks later. A cease-fire was declared after only 100 hours of fighting. Kuwait was liberated on February 28, 1991 and troops began a humanitarian mission of providing aid.
The 1990-91 Gulf War operations saw the first combat test of a variety of new military equipment including Abrams tanks, Apache attack helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, Black Hawk utility helicopters, and the Patriot missile system. It also was the first major military operation to make extensive use of space-enabled capabilities such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), Satellite communications and Friendly Force Tracking.
Desert Storm also was the first time live coverage of war was televised worldwide. The coverage established CNN as the first global, and at the time only, 24/7 news channel.
At Home In Clemson
Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia are a long way from Clemson, South Carolina. But the campus community followed the conflict in the Persian Gulf closely, debating and discussing the Iraqi invasion, the hostage situation and potential peaceful solutions. The Strom Thurmond Institute sponsored a panel discussion on "The Gulf Crisis" in late September, noting there was "great interest on campus and in the surrounding community in learning more about the prospects for war in the Persian Gulf."
The Clemson community also found ways to support students, alumni, college employees, professors, friends and family in the military who were being sent to the Persian Gulf.
As the world apprehensively approached the January 15th deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait, candlelight vigils were held on campus. Many watched President George H. W. Bush announce on television the beginning of Operation Desert Storm on January 16th.
Local news through The Tiger student newspaper explained what was happening and made connections between campus interests and international events.
With no idea what the future held, the campus continued to discuss and debate the conflict.
A few campus members spoke out against the war, and there was concern over a potential military draft, but the Clemson community mostly participated in activities to support the men and women who were serving their country in the Persian Gulf.
Following a successful project sending cookies to the troops over the holidays, ARA Food Services and Clemson students baked and sent 60 dozen cookies, along with letters of support, to troops in the Gulf for Valentine's Day.
Clemson's research also supported the troops in the Persian Gulf War. The Clemson Apparel Research Center already was working on "stitchless seams" to bond carbon-filter fabrics, making chemical protection suits used by the Army even safer.
Tigers in the Gulf
Pershing Rifles published a list of known students and alumni serving the Persian Gulf through January 1991. A final list would include additional alumni names as well as veterans who joined the Clemson community after their military service.
Air National Guardsman Todd Usher (BS 1993, MBA 1996, MCSM 2020), on leave as a Clemson student for active duty in Saudi Arabia with the 169th Tactical Fighter Group, represented Tigers in Operation Desert Storm with his Clemson Centennial flag.
Elizabeth “Libby” Steadman (AA Nursing 1968), was in charge of emergency and critical care during Operation Desert Storm. In a September 2020 Clemson News article she remembered arriving in Saudi Arabia in January 1991: "We got to Dummam a couple of days before the air war started. . . . We sat for 10 days or so at the port waiting for our equipment because it came by boat. While we were waiting there in warehouses, the air war started. . . .We could hear the Patriot missiles launch and then hear them destroy the Scuds [missiles]. One night it happened right over us, and we could hear the shrapnel raining down on the roof of the warehouse.” She later flew in Chinook helicopters to help MASH units, operating out of tents in the desert.
Read more about Colonel Steadman's life story here.
Paul (Gene) Blackwell (BS 1963, MS 1965, Asst. Prof. of Military Science 1970-73) had a key role in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as commander of the 3rd Armored Division. He received an honorary degree and was Clemson's commencement speaker in May 1991. Lieutenant General Blackwell also was recognized at the September 1991 Homecoming Game in honor of all of America’s Desert Storm soldiers.
Sandy Edge (BS 1972, AFROTC Detachment Commander and chair of the Department of Aerospace Studies 1997-2001, Director of the Business College Advising Center and Business Senior Lecturer 2001- present) served with the Air Force in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as air base ground defense forces commander and regional area provost marshal.
In this clip from a longer interview about his entire military career, Colonel Edge discusses arriving in Saudi Arabia in August 1990 at the beginning of Operation Desert Shield.
The interview with Col. Edge was conducted by the Clemson Veterans Project Creative Inquiry and is part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. The full interview, as well as interviews by other members of the Clemson community who served in the Persian Gulf and other conflicts, can be found at the Library of Congress Veterans History Project website.