By Retired Air Force Col. Greg Eanes
Past Public Relations Officer, AMVETS Department of Virginia
AMVETS Collinsville Post #35, Virginia
The death of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf has surfaced an emotional well to a time over 20 years ago when I was a young Air Force Capt. serving as the Escape and Evasion (E&E) Intelligence Officer on the Special Operations Command-Central (SOCCENT) staff during Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, now commonly referred to now as Gulf War I.
I saw Gen. Schwarzkopf twice during the war and once afterwards. He came for a command visit shortly after SOCCENT established its headquarters at King Fahd International Airport, outside of Daharan, Saudi Arabia in August 1990. I had never worked for him before and had no prior knowledge of this man. He came through and shook hands with a few of the command staff. He was very quiet and made no speeches or pep talks. He reminded some of us, in his appearance, of NBC’s Today Show weatherman Willard Scott. The visit was uneventful and admittedly I was not overly impressed at that time. That would soon change.
Around November, I was on a coordination visit to his headquarters in Riyadh. I stopped to visit Air Force Capt. Fritz Baier, an old friend, who was working with Iraqi Air Defense threats and periodically briefing ‘the Bear,’ as Gen. Schwarzkopf came to be known. While walking with Fritz to the main operations-intelligence center, we saw ‘the Bear’ with his security detail leaving and walking at a fast clip toward, what I inferred, another meeting to coordinate the details of the forthcoming liberation of Kuwait. There was a singleness of purpose and commitment in his face this time. He was all business and one could tell that he was 'in command,' detailing directions to one of his staff officers as they walked. I knew at that time I had a unique, momentary snapshot of a historical figure, during a historical event and I relished the moment. Seldom do we have such opportunities.
SOCCENT staff was scheduled to brief ‘the Bear’ just after Christmas. I was to brief him on our E&E activities, including our re-introduction of the ‘Blood Chit’, a World War II-era E&E tool that was phased out after Vietnam. We did a dry run in anticipation of his visit, but his trip was cancelled at the last minute. Just before combat operations started, he signed the ‘Blood Chit’ authorization.
Gen. Schwarzkopf was part of a triumvirate of our wartime leaders – the others being President George H.W. Bush and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Colin Powell. We had great faith and a soldier's love for all three men. During the first phase of Air and Special Forces operations, we eagerly tuned in to his daily press briefings. It was through these televised briefings that we came to better know this man. His uncanny briefing skills and an adept handling of the press endeared him to his troops and the nation. We came to love him as our ‘Eisenhower.’ Our conflict was a war of liberation of a people who were suffering under the occupation of a modern fascist regime. Our staff included our World War II allies: British and Australian forces. For many of us, it was a ‘great crusade’ akin to the liberation of Western Europe in World War II. The Kuwaiti Government in Exile and Kuwait Resistance (with whom we worked) even designated the day of victory as ‘V-G Day’ or Victory in the Gulf Day. When we finally entered Kuwait City, crowds greeted us as we witnessed scenes reminiscent of the newsreel images of the 1944 liberation of Paris. It was exhilarating. The campaign was a textbook operation.
Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be An American" was Gen. Schwarzkopf's favorite song. It was played by him and other subordinate commanders when they announced the start of the liberation of Kuwait to their staff members. It was a time when we were all 'proud to be an American' and Gen. Schwarzkopf was partially responsible.
I last saw Gen. Schwarzkopf at a bookstore in Washington, D.C., after his memoir was published in 1992. Fritz and I went to get a copy. We stood in line to get it autographed. We were both in uniform. The bookstore folks stated that Gen. Schwarzkopf would not pose for photos due to time limitations. We passed our camera to a bystander to take our photo as we were at the table. ‘The Bear’ seemed very happy to see ‘his troops’ and took the time to ask us questions about what we did in the war. When he saw the camera, he stopped everything to stand and pose with us for a photo. He was very gracious and appreciative of our service. That too was a moment to remember. I am honored to have served in his command.