If you're going to conduct a successful attack, I learned that they could move, but that they couldn't co-ordinate it very well. It it became evident to us, after, the battle that it had not been extremely well co-ordinated, and that there had been a lot of confusion on their part. So I learned that about them. Second I learned that they are the gang that can't shoot straight. They couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. If you held it still for them. That was good news. And that was because they didn't train. Probably still don't. And third, which was perhaps the most important thing, we learned, was, that, in a fight with the Iraqis, if you bloody their nose, during round one, they do not want to come out for round two. So in that regard Khafji was very very important to us. It demonstrated some things that we were beginning to feel, but we had not been able to, quantify, solidify in our own minds and it was really at Khafji for the first time, I began to feel more and more confident. About accomplishing my mission, without getting a lot of Marines killed.
Interview with Lieutenant General Walt Boomer, MEF (Marine Air-Ground) Commander
Q: That meeting with Schwarzkopf, the briefing when everyone gathered and they unveiled the plan. What was he trying to achieve?
Boomer: I think he was trying to achieve two things. One of course was to liberate Kuwait, we never lost sight of that, and I don't think that he lost sight of it, and the second thing that was very clear from the briefing was that he wanted to destroy the Republican Guard. Two elements. And they both went hand in hand from my perspective.
Q: What at that briefing was the mission he was giving the Marines...a fixing attack?
Boomer: Well he gave us the mission of supporting attack, I never heard General Schwarzkopf use the term fixing attack. There was some Army planners who became fixated on, fixing attack, I never looked at it that way. And he never talked to me in those terms, he said you're the supporting attack. Incidentally you're going to go in Kuwait. And I said I understand that. But we had a conversation later on, and he said you know Walt, sometimes, the supporting attack, becomes the main attack. And I said, you're exactly right General, sometimes it does.
Q: How concerned were you at this early stage in November, about the casualties you'd take getting to Kuwait City?
Boomer: I was overwhelmingly concerned about casualties, particularly in the beginning, you know when we didn't understand all that we later came to learn about the Iraqis. We were outnumbered. We were outnumbered when we attacked into Kuwait sometimes people have lost sight of that. But in addition to being outnumbered there was this overriding concern about chemical warfare. This just occupied, most of my waking moments, how were we going to get to Kuwait, I'd already made up my mind, we were going to get to Kuwait, how do I get to Kuwait, without having a lot of casualties, how do we do this. And how do we do this, if they use chemical weapons. We haven't experienced chemical warfare, since 1917. Much deadlier today. So, we just began to train on the basics, as pertaining to chemical warfare, and...
Q: In terms of that attack, what was the nightmare scenario that you ran through in your head, at 3 a.m. in the morning?
Boomer: The nightmare scenario was that, we would somehow execute this poorly, get hung up in one of these mine fields, get bogged down, and they would drop chemicals on us. Before we really had a chance to gain any momentum. We were very much the leaders in the manerver warfare and all all of the people that were sort of carping at me about this frontal attack that I was going to conduct. We intended to do it very quickly. We intended to move as fast as we could on the battlefield, but my fear was that, this was a big attack, something would break down. You know, maybe we hadn't thought of something, maybe we hadn't rehearsed something well enough. And that would leave us vulnerable, to chemical weapons. And despite all of the work that we had done, in this area, all of the training, all the rehearsing, I don't think any of us knew, if if we could really handle large numbers of those, wounded by or affected by chemicals.
Q:- Your intelligence was that they had chemical weapons and they were going to use them.....?
Boomer: All of our intelligence indicated to me that they had them, and that they were going to use them. In the beginning I couldn't understand why they wouldn't use them, so that's where I was coming from, they are going to use them. So how do we work our way through this.
Q: Were you concerned that the Marines were going to be used as, bluntly, cannon fodder?
Boomer: No there was no concern on my part, that we were going to be used as cannon fodder, I mean, I wouldn't have allowed us to be used as cannon fodder.
Q: But , when one looks at the attacks that were planned, if there was one that was going to go wrong, in terms of casualties, it was yours.....
Boomer: That's true. I think from a casualty perspective we were in most danger. But at the same time we were working day and night, to figure out how to do this, without a lot of casualties. Ultimately that planning, paid off but no there was no no fear that we were going to be, used that way, as a matter of fact, General Powell expressed concern to me, as did General Schwarzkopf about this whole issue of casualties, we were all concerned about it, and their fear was exactly the opposite of what you expressed, and that is, not that we were going to be used as cannon fodder. But that we would be so aggressive, as Marines, that we would get ourselves, hurt. When in fact we were the supporting attack and it might not be necessary, so ....
Q: But there are some rules where you would say, if that's what it takes, fine. That's what we're here for. Why not casualties in this case?
Boomer: The whole issue of casualties has become one that needs to be studied and talked about because we have raised up in the world, people who have come to believe, that we can go to a war, and fight it and win without casualties, that places a tremendous additional burden on the commander who's always been concerned about casualties, any commander worth his salt has been concerned about his casualties, but it becomes a little bizarre when people say oh go do this, and, and by the way, we don't want you to have anybody hurt.
Well that that imposes quite a burden and it affects your tactics and your strategy too, as a matter of fact. But, I anticipated that we would have some people killed. As a result of this attack into Kuwait. But I felt very strongly that it was my job to ensure that this was kept to an absolute minimum, commensurate with the task that we had been assigned and that's the way I sort of worked, through it.
Q: Amphibious attack. How much pressure was there on you to launch an amphibious attack for political reasons?
Boomer: Let's talk about the amphibious attack and we can start with General Grey. General Grey has a very strong sense of morality and, while he might have been politically concerned about the outcome of the war and its effects on the Marine Corps ten years down the road in Washington, he never said to me that I recall, you need to conduct an amphibious assault for that kind of reason.
Q: Why did you feel it necessary to give General Schwarzkopf such an assurance -- that the Marines would be concerned about casualties?
Boomer: As I reflect back on it perhaps I sensed that, knowing Marines and our aggressive style, that they might have felt that this was something that we would do to further our own particular agenda, as a Marine Corps. And I just wanted to assure General Schwarzkopf that we were not going to do this. That I was not going to do this, I would be no part of it.
Look we're talking about young Marines, and them being hurt or not being hurt, and my responsibility to them as their commander. The rest of this, was just crap that you cannot be influenced by. The only thing that you can be influenced by is your own men and women, and how you're going to accomplish your mission. The rest of it, is garbage.
Q: In the end you chose basically a frontal attack, why?
Boomer: I chose a frontal attack because there wasn't any other way to do it. And if you walked the terrain as we had walked it, prior to us, going into Kuwait, you understood that there really wasn't another way. Now, early on, I had suggested to General Schwarzkopf there is the possibility, that we could attack, up north and perhaps try to get to Basra, and that would really divert the Iraqis attention for a whole host of reasons.
Q: Amphibuously or, ...
Boomer: Amphibuously. And we explored that option, I mean we explored, dozens of options, and the Gulf is not a a particularly good place to conduct an amphibious assault, I mean that's simply a fact. The water is very shallowin many places, particularly as you get up towards the northern end. But I felt that that was a real option that I would have liked to have have explored a little more, I couldn't interest General Schwarzkopf in that option, for reasons that I'm not sure about, he did express some concern about Iran, and the fact that we would be bumping up very close to the Iranian border if we were doing this. Technically it would have been hard to pull off, but I felt that we could have done it. Particularly with our new air cushion vehicles which enable you to get over that shallow kinds of stuff. But I think in the end, he perhaps felt that it was a little too risky. So once you began to eliminate those options, either because people didn't want them explored any further, or because, you explored them and and determined that they weren't viable. You really came down toa frontal attack. But the most important thing is that it needs to be executed well. And you need to move fast, and you need to incorporate a lot of deception into your attack. All of which we did.
Q: Can you recall what happened on the Blue Ridge, that meeting, can you just tell that story?
Boomer: We had a meeting on the Blue Ridge that was very important because it was called to address this issue of the amphibious assault. Now remember I said earlier, that I had told General Schwarzkopf that I would never recommend an amphibious assault simply for the sake of doing one. But for a long period of time, I believed that we really needed one, because we knew there were two maybe three Iraqi divisions on the coast. We felt that logistically, we would need a port in order to get material into us, especially if the fight drug out. So, we had been planning, all along to conduct an amphibious assault in conjunction with an attack up through the center of Kuwait. Always concerned about it, worried about it, and as it turned out General Powell was worried about it too. And he mentioned and I believed that this was at the second meeting that we held with General Powell and Secretary Cheney, but at that meeting General Powell said something about casualties and the amphibious assault, and, we needed to be careful and take a look at it, and he really wasn't sure that it was the right thing to do. And I appreciated those concerns, we had the same concerns. I think it it triggered er General Schwarzkopf to take a little closer look at it.
Q: And so he turns up...
Boomer: So he called a meeting on the Blue Ridge and of course the Navy was the key piece here. The Marines aboard the Navy ships worked for Admiral Stan Arthur, a great great commander, they didn't belong to me, but of course once they got ashore, they would have linked up with my forces ashore, and they would have become part of my command. But the amphibious assault would have been an integral part of my plan had we conducted it. So we met aboard the Blue Ridge, and the Navy began to brief General Schwarzkopf and me...... and during that briefing it became evident to us, that it was going to take them weeks to clear the mine fields. Weeks. I was beginning to sense that General Schwarzkopf was under some pressure to get this attack launched, and we were reaching a point in terms of training, and, in terms of morale, in terms of keeping for this attack where, I didn't want it to go on forever, either.
So, number one, it's going to take us weeks to clear these mines, I couldn't believe it. Number two, there's going to be a lot of collateral damage. Where they thought that they would attack, and where we had, agreed upon would be good for both of us, was in an area in which we would have had to have destroyed, you know, maybe a half mile of beach front and apartments and houses, and we had been very careful about collateral damage to Kuwait City, throughout. And then finally the question of casualties. And, I don't put that last. That was certainly the most important issue from a Marine perspective, we could have gotten across the beach, where from relatively light casualties, but, we would have had casualties.
So, after hearing that, and what now seems, to me to be a dramatic moment, General Schwarzkopf turned around and looked at me and he said,' Walt can you, accomplish your mission, without the amphibious assault?' And I thought gulp. Decision time folks. And I said yes we can, but you have got to continue, with a deception that will cause the Iraqis to believe that we're going to conduct an amphibious assault, because, I'm at the point now, where I believe I can accomplish my mission, without it, but I do not need these two or three divisions turning and attacking me from the flank, so they've got to be held down.
So that was the decision, and that was how it was made, to not conduct that assault. There have been a lot of myths that have developed about this, I mean in in one book, I was even accused of throwing a fit because we weren't going to be allowed to conduct this assault, and I've already said that that was never my aim in the beginning. It took place just as I described it.
Q: This was a big decision?
Boomer: It was a big decision. A big decision. And, you know we wrestled with it for a couple of days, or I did, and and wondered if it was the right decision, but I didn't dwell on it, because I was trusting my own instincts in this regard, and I felt they were pretty good.
Q: The attack on Khafji. Do you recall the moment when you heard that the Iraqis had launched an attack?
Boomer: It's usually not as dramatic, as 'the Iraqi's are attacking.' But it soon became evident that they were. And we were not overly concerned, about this attack. The build up had occurred to the point where we were confident that, should they come down into Saudi Arabia, contrary to our earlier fears about them coming down, we were almost at that point, saying, let them come. I mean we will destroy them. So there was no huge concern about this, not panic.
But interestingly enough for the Marines, there was another piece of the Khafji attack which was much more important than the attack on Khafji itself, because the Iraqis attempted to come down, farther to the west, towards where we were were building our logistics base, and I had taken a considerable risk and had begun to build this logistics base, in a very vulnerable place, without a lot of infantry protection. It was a risk that I felt, was acceptable, and that was my greatest concern. This attack to the west, not the attack of Khafji coming down ....
Q: What were you thinking. What were you saying?
Boomer: Well, I was thinking, ou let it hang out here, Walt, and now perhaps your worst fear is is being realised. That being said we were going to be able to respond to that, I mean it wasn't a stupid risk, but nevertheless I didn't want anybody hurt as a result of my having put them out there, sort of at the end of the string, without a lot of protection. We had done that incidentally because we we needed to accomplish that build up in a hurry, and there just wasn't any other way to do it, but the distance was such that, I didn't think I had any other choice. But a very very important, little battle took place out there. And it never has received, very much coverage, because the war was focused on Khafji which I didn't care very much about. From a tactical perspective.
We had put out a reconnaissance screen ahead of this logistics base, right up along the border, and we had them in what we call light armored vehicles, these vehicles are designedto provide you intelligence, they have some weapons mounted on them, butthey're not designed to fight tanks. Never were, never will be and in our training we had always said, you have a reconnaissance mission, don't don't take on tanks, or we miss something, and that is the fact, that we've got Marines in these light armored vehicles, and they took them on. With missiles, and with their guns, and with aviation. And they turned this attack back and in essence routed the Iraqis. Ran them off the battlefield.
Q: What did the battle at Khafji tell you about the Iraqis?
Boomer: As I began to piece it together after, it told me three things-- One, you need to be able to move, shoot, communicate at the same time, if you're going to conduct a successful attack, I learned that they could move, but that they couldn't co-ordinate it very well. It it became evident to us, after, the battle that it had not been extremely well co-ordinated, and that there had been a lot of confusion on their part. So I learned that about them. Second I learned that they are the gang that can't shoot straight. They couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. If you held it still for them. That was good news. And that was because they didn't train. Probably still don't. And third, which was perhaps the most important thing, we learned, was, that, in a fight with the Iraqis, if you bloody their nose, during round one, they do not want to come out for round two. So in that regard Khafji was very very important to us. It demonstrated some things that we were beginning to feel, but we had not been able to, quantify, solidify in our own minds and it was really at Khafji for the first time, I began to feel more and more confident. About accomplishing my mission, without getting a lot of Marines killed.
Q: What was the decisive factor in repulsing this attack?
Boomer: The attack was repulsed primarily by some very brave, helicopter pilots, who took on the Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles, to the north of Khafji. Destroyed them. It was repulsed by some good artillery shooting, on the part of the U.S. Marines. And that enabled the Saudis to accomplish something that was really important psychologically to them and that is to obtain a victory. So let's call it sort of a joint effort, that paid off for the Saudis, and we were delighted to see that. But, of course on the line that victory was our support and we knew exactly what we were doing. John Admire had absolute control of that. He was managing it well, quite frankly I didn't focus on it too much, except to talk to John, and get an update.
Q: And can I ask you a straight question? There the Saudis on your right flank--How concerned were you at that time that they were a weak link in the chain? Were they?
Boomer: I developed a real good relationship with the Saudis, and have great respect for them. But for reasons that I have a difficult time understanding, they don't like to train as hard at this business of warfare as you need to do in order to be successful. We train 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from the time we hit the Saudi soil, until the time we attacked, almost. That's just what we do, because we recognise this is a complex business and you can't do it without training. They don't have the same vitality about the profession of arms as we do. We recognise this as a weakness, and worked around it, with them. As individuals, they're very courageous, yeah. But you've got to as a fighting force, you have to make accommodations for this, lack of of training and understanding of warfare, at any level above the company.
Q: The reconnaissance team said the most terrifying thing they experienced was the Saudi counter attack....
Boomer: Coordination with the Saudis was always difficult, but I think we should have expected it to be difficult. There's a language barrier, there's a knowledge gap there in terms of how you go about this business of fighting, tremendous cultural differences. So it was something that we were always concerned about-- how do you coordinate? How do you ensure that we don't shoot each other, and when you look back on it, we were pretty darn successful because I do not recall, an intermural fire fight friendly against friendly, with the Saudis. Even though I know at times, some of our guys were absolutely terrified, that this could break out. And there might have been one or two incidences of it, but it was relatively minor.
Q: As the commander of the Marines there, was the air war doing what you wanted it to do?
Boomer: The air war was truly well executed by General Chuck Horner, but there were times when I felt that there was an emphasis on Baghdad, rather than an emphasis on the Iraqi troops, that were in front of me, and that I was going to have to fight my way through in order to get to Kuwait City. So there was this constant dialogue about how should our air assets be utilised.
Q: What do you mean by 'constant dialogue?'
Boomer: Majors fighting majors and lieutenant colonels fighting lieutenant colonels, on where these planes were going to go and where they were going to drop their bombs. And that's what you would expect. When it got to my level and to Chuck's we were able to work it out and talk about it, because I told you earlier that, one of the first things, General Horner said to me, was we just want to win this war. Not worry about whose airplanes, are doing what or, I don't want your airplanes. So we worked our way through this, Now, you know that the Air Force believes that they know everything that there is to know about planes, and bombs. Well they don't quite frankly, and what they don't know about is the effect of their bombs on the ground. We know about that because we're down there, sometimes in and amongst those bombs. But it's very hard to get them to listen to you. But for the most part, they did.
But I think what occurred was just what you would expect to occur. I'm focused on this piece in front of me, that's where I want every asset focused, if I could have gotten every single Air Force plane and of course they all couldn't have gotten into that space, and focused them on, the enemy in front of me, I would have said great, Chuck I love this, bring me more. So he should have believed that I was going to be on his case about more airplanes, and I was. That being said, there were times when I didn't feel we got enough, that they were sent places where they accomplished less than they would have accomplished if they had been out in front of me.
Q: Could the Air Force on its own have ejected the Iraqis from Kuwait?
Boomer: I don't think the Air Force on its own could have ejected the Iraqis from Kuwait-- what would you have done--would you have levelled all of Kuwait City in order to cause the Iraqis to leave? I don't think so. And they had dropped a lot of bombs, as well as Air Force planes on that ground in front of me. And we attacked, they were still there. We ran them out. When they finally saw that they were going to be attacked on the ground, they did one of two things, give up, fight, or run like hell, to try to get back to Iraq.
Q:-- Describe your move towards Kuwait City...
Boomer: We were moving very quickly towards Kuwait City and we knew that we needed to move fast in order to be able to accomplish this mission. We were concerned about their artillery, chemical weapons, so we had made a decision to bypass Iraqi forces unless they were so big that they were going to cause us a problems. We didn't really anticipate them being in the middle of this burning oil field and launching an attack from there, which they did. Good move on their part. On the other hand the First Division Commander had acquired some intelligence, which caused him to make them spring that attack early. So we had some things going for us. But there was enough of a force there, so that it was potentially serious.
Q: How tired were you?
Boomer: We were all tired. The young Marines had been training for months in a very unhospitable land. The staffs had been working and planning around the clock for months.
Q: Could you sum up what breaking that counter attack signified?
Boomer: Once we broke that counter attack, we broke their back. That was the last gasp on their part to throw us back out of Kuwait, and from then on we had pretty straight shot into the city, not
that there weren't small battles and skirmishes that went on, but nothing co-ordinated on their part. It would usually be tank against tank, platoon against pl
Q:- With the battle still going on, and with tanks still burning , plumes of smoke everywhere, the oil fields, what could you see as you advanced towards Kuwait City?
Boomer: I remember saying to someone if you want a picture of hell, here it is. Black smoke, flames from these huge wells shooting up into the air. The usual chaos of the battlefield, compounded by bad weather. Maybe it's what you should always expect. But we got it, we had it. In spades.
Q: Can you recall for me your first sight of Kuwait City and going into the city?
Boomer: We took Kuwait International airport--the First Marine Division did--and I was able to cross the battlefield that morning and come up behind them pretty quickly, after they had taken the airport--they had wrapped it up about dawn. But then some significant fighting there, through the evening. But I pulled up into the airport, and was beginning to sense we really are there. But I shad not been at the airport very long when I begin to get a little restless, We had made arrangements for the Arab coalition forces to go into the city. It was appropriate for them to liberate Kuwait city. So, that had occurred that morning, after we had isolated the city. And I was sitting there getting a little restless, and wondering o.k., what are we going to do, I'm tired of sitting here, so, I gathered my guys up, my command post, and said we're going to go into the city, and only go check the
American Embassy. You know, it's just an excuse to do something at that point in time.
What I didn't realise was that we were essentially the first Americans into Kuwait City, this little command post--mobile command post,which consisted of some light armored vehicles, some jeeps and we had a few cars. Had some reporters linked up with us, who smelled a pretty good story. So we drove into the city. And the outpouring was something I'll never forget. I don't know where all the people came from. I knew that everybody hadn't left Kuwait city, I mean there were thousands and thousands of Kuwaiti citizens still there, but they somehow sensed that, we were driving through, it seemed to me, and they came down into the side of the road, by the thousands literally. And they had Kuwaiti flags, and some had American flags. Some were crying. It was really chaotic. Vehicles that the Iraqis hadn't stolen, or destroyed, they had acquired some of those, so they were driving around us in this mad circle, I felt sure we were going to crush a vehicle. But what they were saying was--and not to make it too dramatic--but it was dramatic, in many cases with tears
streaming down their faces, what they were saying was, God bless you America, God bless you we love you. Very very emotional moment, for us, after all of this
Q: What were you feeling?
Boomer: At that point the weight truly was off my shoulders. And I felt for the first time, that I could relax for a moment. Smile, it made all of the weeks, and months before seemworthwhile.
Q: What did you think about Vietnam as you went into the city?
Boomer: I didn't think about Vietnam, as I went into the city. But Vietnam was always lurking in the background for all of us, that had served there. In my case I served two tours. All of my commanders had been in Vietnam, at least two times. And I think what we were committed to more than anything else, was that we weren't going to make the same stupid mistakes, that we made in Vietnam. And we weren't going to do some of the dumb things, that we had been forced to do, as younger officers, we weren't going to tolerate it, and we didn't.
Q:- What else do you remember about that Kuwait City?
Boomer: When I reached the Iraqi convoy that had been stopped, going out of Kuwait. The Iraqis panicked probably on about day two of the attack, and really started to break and run, all their commanders broke and ran. And we caught this convoy trying to escape, Kuwait City, and make its way, back into Iraq, to Basra, and destroyed the convoy. There was not as many Iraqi casualties as people would have you believe because what happened
is the convoy, as they were driving up, they could see that in front of this convoy, catching hell from air, and they said this is not for me, so they stopped, bailed out of their vehicle, and went over to the side of the road,
God, they had huge amounts of equipment there, I mean they had the stuff of a very big war machine. The only think they lacked was the guts to fight it.
Q: Were you surprised when the hostilities ended?
Boomer: That has become a very important question about the ending of hostilities. I reported back to General Schwarzkopf that we
had accomplished our mission, that we had isolated Kuwait City. I've tried to recapture some of that conversation, and I believe, although I'm not certain, I believe that we talked about my capability to move ahead, and General Schwarzkopf knew that we were capable of doing this, and had given it some thought, in fact if you look on my battle map you'll see how I was going north towards Basra. So we were prepared to do that, and I think I told him that we were, but I also emphasised to him that we had, indeed accomplished the mission that he'd given us to do. Kuwait, and Kuwait city, was free of Iraqis.
Q: Why the assessment, in the beginning especially, that the Iraqis were ten feet tall?
Boomer: I'm not sure exactly why we credited them with as much ability as we did, in the beginning, except that, it's really stupid to
underestimate your enemy, you're right, we did underestimate., the North Vietnamese, er, so we certainly didn't want...
Q: Surely you overestimated their capability entirely?
Boomer: We did overestimate in the beginning their capability. But, you need to keep, a couple of things in mind. One, it's very very stupid, to underestimate, your enemy. We underestimated the North Vietnamese. We believed that the Iraqis had had some success in their battles with the Iranians. And looking back on it, we didn't know enough about those battles, we should have known more about them. They came down into Kuwait with huge numbers of troops and equipment, massive numbers of tanks, massive numbers of artillery pieces. And you simply can't look at that, and not be concerned about it, and that's what we were faced with in the beginning. So as we looked at this picture and we saw, x numbers of divisions there, all these pieces of equipment, we took a pretty conservative approach, and I think that was correct, I find no fault with that.
Q: And why did you guys slice through them so easily?
Boomer: Well for several reasons. As time went on, we began to discover that, the Iraqi division that we thought had x numbers, of soldiers in it, was not up to strength, that they were maybe at 50% strength, but it took some time to learn this, in fact it took, a couple of months to learn this. We begin to watch them and we weren't seeing them train, we were training every day, to the point that I had to call our guys off a little bit, in terms of training, and say wait a minute, let's not wear ourselves out, we're getting tired, from training. I watched them every day, and we couldn't see them train, our intelligence didn't indicate that they were training. They begin to surrender in small numbers, at first, and then begin to surrender in bigger bunches, and we finally just intervened in this process, and began to interview these P.O.W's, ourselves, just how they had wanted
to do that, but that finally became intolerable, and we said no.
We're beginning, we're beginning to get some clues about how badly they wanted to fight, and they all were saying the same thing, every P.O.W. said the same thing. I don't know why I'm here, in Kuwait, I do know I don't want to die here in Kuwait. Add to that what we learned, about them in Khafji, and soon we're beginning to put the picture together, but this doesn't happen overnight. So I think the number of troops that we called for was correct. It's been criticised now after the fact as being way too many, didn't need them all, well we didn't need them all. But Swchwarzkopf didn't know that in the beginning, I didn't know that it was going to turn out to be as easy, as it was in the beginning. So I make no apologies for that piece of it at all.
Q: In retrospect did the Army need to be there?
Boomer: In retrospect the Army needed to be there. I would not have wanted, to even think about doing this with just the Marines. Because remember this huge Republican Guard was sitting over here to the west and I didn't have to
tackle them. Somebody had to either destroy them, or keep them fixed in place for me to be able to get to Kuwait City. Now the original plan was for me to keep all those troops in Kuwait City, occupied, destroy and defeat them. So the Army doesn't have to deal with them, as they're attacking the Republican Guard. But had the Republican Guard been free to attack us, as we went into Kuwait, it could have been a whole different story,we would have been tremendously outnumbered. So it was absolutely essential that the Army be there.
Q: Why was it that the U.S. Army as Freddy Franks and people would freely admit, why weren't they able to decisively engage with the Republican Guard?
Boomer: The war stopped too soon. It's my belief that if General Franks had had another three days, he would have destroyed the Republican Guard, entirely, he would have wiped them off the face of the earth.
Q: Should it have gone on, in your opinion, should the war have gone on longer?
Boomer: Well in hindsight yes, it should have. You know but that's Monday morning quarterbacking again. I don't know why the president decided to stop the war when he did.
Q: And at the time that you were sitting there in Kuwait City, when you heard the president announce hostilities were going to cease. What did you think?
Boomer: I wasn't too puzzled, because remember I didn't have the complete picture as to what had taken place in the west. I knew that we had done what we had been asked to do. Kuwait was liberated. So, it didn't seem totally illogical to stop the war at that point in time. On the other hand now, knowing that, there was still a big chunk of the Iraqi army left, untouched, we should have continued, but, I don't know how you know those things.
Q: Do you remember the victory parade in Washington...or in New York?
Boomer: I guess I had always seen pictures of tickertape parades, in New York, and we marched right down that canyon with today's version of the tickertapes floating down, people on the sides of the street cheering. It was a good feeling, not so much personally, well it was a good feeling personally. But, the greatest thing about it was that the American people were recognizing these youngsters for having gone over there and done a great job. There there weren't any victory parades after Vietnam.
Q: You must have thought about Vietnam and the relationship between the military and the U.S. public as you walked down?
Boomer: I did. And it was evident that this was a new era, but we'd worked very hard in the intervening years to become the best military force in the world, and for Marine soldiers, sailors, airmen, had worked very hard, those of us that were senior had spent our lives really or a good piece of our lives, involved with this. And this was the pay off, and we were able to demonstrate to the American people that, you know your dollars did go for something.
We came out of Vietnam as a force that was not something that America could be proud of, not that the the youngsters in Vietnam hadn't performed well, I have very strong feelings about the people that went to Vietnam and those who died there, were wounded there, those who acquitted themselves so well there. So that's not what I'm talking about.
But I'm talking about the force as a whole, came out of Vietnam in not very good shape. And that then was coupled with all the unrest that was occurring in our country at the same time. So we really had in the early 70's only the shell of a fighting force. It was truly in horrible shape, and I don't think the American public realised how bad it was. But we knew, so we began to rebuild, and work and train, and we understood full well that we had almost come full circle, and the Gulf War was the proof of the pudding. As short as it was. And, despite the fact that the Iraqis really didn't fight as you would have expected them to even if they had, we would have won. So yes it was the end I guess of a long journey, probably a good way to express it.
Q: Norman Schwarzkopf, could you describe his style of leadership?
Boomer: General Schwarzkopf is a very bright guy, and a very complex individual. He gave me the greatest gift that any commander on the battle field can be given, and that is a mission, I understood his intent, and then he walked away and left me alone. I mean that's what you want to see in your commanders. That's what I hoped, people saw when they looked at me. So I'll always be grateful for that. Now did he have a temper, yes, but those things become unimportant, at least to me in the scheme of things. What was important to me, was accomplishing the mission. And accomplishing that mission without getting a lot of Marines killed. And I wanted a guy that would support me, a guy that would let me do it. Not try to micro manage me, as we were micro managed in Vietnam. And he met all those tests. So, no complaints, in fact a degree of gratitude.
Q: How big a problem is friendly fire?
Boomer: People ought to talk about friendly fire, I mean it it ought to be examined, laid open, discussed, and that is in fact what's going on internal to the military, we have spent since the Gulf War thousands of hours, trying to solve this problem. Friendly fire isn't new. I experienced it in Vietnam, I mean I was shot at in Vietnam by friendlies. So, this is something that we have experienced, and is always a problem in a chaotic situation, and, battle is always chaotic, and the winner is the guy who can make some sense out of the chaos.
But there is a new dimension now to the battlefield, and that is the missile. And the missile changes this whole friendly fire scenario. I mentioned that I had been, on the receiving end of friendly artillery. Well of course artillery can kill you, but you can also survive that, I mean a piece of that shrapnel misses you. Missiles don't miss and therein lies the problem. In this chaotic battle field, you launch that missile, and
you've launched it, mistakenly, but it's going to hit. And when it hits, everything around it, everything in that vehicle, is going to be destroyed. Whereas you could have fired an artillery round, dropped a bomb, 50 feet from it, or maybe even closer than that, which you would consider a successful attack, and everybody survives. Am I making sense? You don't survive the damn missile, because the thing hardly ever misses.
Q: How good was the intelligence, you were getting?
Boomer: The intelligence stunk. I mean it was lousy. We didn't have all the pictures that we needed, the dissemination of the intelligence that we did have was not as good as it should have been. And we weren't as good even within our own units as we should have been about disseminating intelligence. Tthat is an area that we really need to continue to work on. Within the U.S. armed forces. And the Marine Corps needs to continue to work on it, and we have devoted a lot of timeto it, since the Gulf War. Did we have intelligence? Yes. Was it useful? Yes. Was it better than it was in Vietnam? Absolutely. But it just wasn't as good as it should have been, that's why I said it stunk. Maybe that's a little harsh, I don't know, because we had a lot of guys working very hard to try to help us. But overall we should have been better in intelligence, from the ground commander's perspective. Doesn't do you any good if you've got all these great pictures back in Washington, if I can't get them to the platoon commander. Then the hell with it.
Q: What were your communications like?
Boomer: I had some problems with communications, generally they were o.k. But I had some problems with communications, which really had already, engineered a solution to, and that is a new radio which we were in the process of buying, and we had not outfitted ourselves with those new radios when the Gulf War began. And that has to do with money. We had not had enough money to buy them, or either we had decided to put something ahead of those on the priority list.
Q: You were leading this great force, why did you think this was a war worth fighting?
Boomer: I don't think within the international community we should allow bullies like Saddam Hussein, to be able to, brutalise our fellow human beings, that we share this planet with. Shouldn't be allowed to happen. The Iraqis did in fact brutalize the the Kuwaitis.
Q: So for you this wasn't a war about oil. It wasn't about liberating Kuwait .... it was a war really to stop this type of person?
Boomer: It was all of those. I mean I was well aware of the significance of the oil. People are quick to say well that's not worth fighting for. Well, why don't you go without electricity for the next year, and you'll figure out whether it's worth fighting for or not. So that was an important piece of it. The moral piece, equally important. And then of course once we got into it, just this matter of Marine pride I guess, at accomplishing the mission that you're given.
Q: And how vulnerable were you in those early days, in Saudi Arabia?
Boomer: Physically, probably pretty vulnerable. Mentally, we weren't vulnerable at all because somehow we figured out we were going to stop them. I had visions in my mind, of us down with pistols in the port, ha ha ha. Staving them off, but we just never allowed ourselves to believe, that we were not going to be able to turn them back, if they attacked into Saudi Arabia.
Q: What's your most vivid memory of Norman Schwarzkopf's briefing, to all the commanders gathered there?
Boomer: A huge crowd, too many people I thought. A big room, General Schwarzkopf there with the maps pointing to them, talking about them, pretty high himself, very confident. Good brief.
Q: What was the atmosphere like? Did people realise this was a moment of history, is that too high falutin'?
Boomer: Probably too high falutin'. We understood that this thing was beginning to gel, and that what we had expected was indeed going to happen, and we probably were going to attack.
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