By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
AL-SUBIYA, Kuwait, Feb. 26, 2011 - Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Todd Simmons was a young soldier 20 years ago when his 82nd Airborne Division arrived in Saudi Arabia after Saddam Hussein ordered his troops to take over Kuwait.
Simmons was among about 300 U.S. military members of every service who participated in a massive celebration of freedom and partnership.
The Desert Storm anniversary celebration began last month, leading up to today's "Liberation Day" activities that included a huge parade of marching troops, ground vehicles and airpower.
Simmons, now an embedded military advisor to the Kuwaiti land forces assigned to the Office of Military Cooperation Kuwait, remembered back to the day his 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment hit the ground – Aug. 7, 1990.
They became the lead in a massive coalition that would grow to nearly 1 million leading up to a coalition air campaign. After Saddam Hussein defied a U.N. mandate to withdraw his forces from Kuwait, they crossed the border into Iraq and launched the 100-day ground war that led to Kuwait's liberation.
Like Simmons, Army Maj. Miguel Juarez recalls those dark days when Kuwaitis suffered at the hands of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard forces.
Juarez was a young enlisted soldier and husband of just two weeks when his 343rd Air Defense Artillery unit deployed to Saudi Arabia from Fort Bliss, Texas, on Sept. 26, 1990.
Their Patriot air defense missiles were quickly put to work defending against the Iraqi army's Scud missiles.
"I remember telling my wife back then, 'We have to fight this fight so that my children don't have to fight this fight,'" Juarez said.
Little did he know at the time that he and thousands of other U.S. forces ultimately would return here – this time during Operation Iraqi Freedom and now, Operation New Dawn.
He deployed to Iraq three times, from 2004 to 2005, from 2006 to 2008, then from 2009 to 2010.
Now working with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Area Support Group, based at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Juarez said he's thrilled to help the Kuwaitis celebrate the 20th anniversary of their liberation. It's particularly meaningful, he said, because it correlates with the year the United States will draw down all its forces in Iraq.
"For me, this is closure," Juarez said. "I can honestly write my wife and tell her that our kids will not have to fight this fight – at least not this one, anyway."
Army Staff Sgt. Scott Hamilton, a West Virginia National Guardsmen, was among thousands of reserve-component forces mobilized to support Operation Desert Storm.
A howitzer driver and cannon crew member with the 1st Battalion, 201st Field Artillery, he deployed with just one week's notice in December 1990 as part of the massive military buildup here.
"I was young and kind of scared," Hamilton admitted, facing an uncertain enemy and missing the birth of his first daughter.
But the deployment changed him forever. "It made you really appreciate what you have in the United States, and the freedom we have," he said.
It also gave him insights into the Arab world, and understanding he said proved invaluable during later deployments to the region.
Like Juarez, Hamilton said returning here for the 20th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm brought closure and gratification and an appreciation of the U.S.-Kuwaiti relationship forged during the campaign. "They have become a stronger and better country," he said.
Many U.S. military participants in today's festivities, including Army Sgt. Steve Drefke from the Washington, D.C.-based 3rd Infantry Division, were too young to experience Operation Desert Storm personally.
Drefke, among about 120 "Old Guard" soldiers here, including a color guard carrying guidons of every Army unit in the Desert Storm campaign, remembers the war from the perspective of an 11-year-old boy fascinated by events on the TV news.
"It had a huge influence on me, and a lot to do with me coming into the Army," he said.
Twenty years later, with 12 years of Army service under his belt, Drefke said he's happy to see the transformation that's occurred in Kuwait and the friendship that's endured.
"It's really neat that we are such great partners with the Kuwaitis," he said.
Today, Simmons and his fellow Operation Desert Storm veterans say they're gratified to see the fruits of their labors here – in terms of Kuwaiti military capabilities, and the freedoms being celebrated today.
As a Kuwaiti army advisor, Simmons said he's built close ties to his Kuwaiti counterparts he said are "using the good-quality equipment they have and making a good effort to do a really, really good job protecting themselves."
As the force matures, Simmons said its members are anxious for advice as they acquire new technologies and increase their capabilities. Sometimes they take it, he said, and sometimes, increasingly self-confident, they choose their own ways of doing business.
"The important thing is, we are here for them, whatever it is they as a military want to do," Simmons said.
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U.S., Kuwait Mark Gulf War 20th Anniversary