The Catholic Defender: The Longest Air Assualt

Posted by John Benko - July 10th, 2013

It was 1991 during the Gulf War. I was with a small Band of Soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division (3-187 Rakkasans).

I was among the early ones to go into Iraq to cut the head off of the snake. While waiting, I was the only member of the Battalion Aid Station that did not catch any major disease.

I thanked the Lord for this favor.Late at night, while keeping radio watch in the Battalion Aid Station, I would pray the Rosary.

I had my trusty New American Version of the Catholic Bible, which has great pictures, to help me meditate. Using my flashlight, those pictures would seem to come to life. By Day, we were always working on our defensive positions, digging in, filling sand bags, and training for war.

I would keep myself in shape by doing push ups, working out with a sledgehammer, sit ups, what ever I could do at the time. Running was out of the question.

That was one giant sand box. There was a particular Captain at our Battalion Trans, boasted of doing 600 push ups in one day. Because I couldn’t let an officer boast of a record, the next day I did 700 push ups and that was never challenged.

When we would be camped out somewhere along the boarder of Saudi Arabia, we would have all our camouflage nets set up, the latrine screen set up, and a makeshift shower point.

Because the temp was 120 plus, we didn’t have to worry about hot water.
Sometimes helicopters would fly low carrying water brevets and other supplies. When they did, the nets and tents would come to life.

A lot like those huge sand storms we would get from time to time. There was this one time our Brigade Commander happened to be visiting our area when one of these helicopters came flying overhead very low.

Everything was flying everywhere and everyone was diving for cover. The Brigade Commander went running out of the tent screaming and pointing to the pilot to land the helicopter. As he kept pointing to land that bird now, the pilot hovered above kind of watching for a few moments. Finally, he did land and he got reamed. We never had that problem again.

Those sand storms would be so thick you couldn’t see a foot in front of you. We always had something going on that would be interesting.

Back at Tent City (right near King Fad Airport), one night we were awakened by the loud noise of plane engines. They were in the airport idling awaiting orders to fly as you could hear them for miles. This night officially began the Air War.

We were no longer Desert Shield, but now Desert Storm. Hussain failed to leave Kuwait and when he missed his deadline, President Bush Sr. was ready to go. We were quickly on alert. Each day we kept up with the news. We were flying over 2200 sorties a day hitting targets and weakening the Iraqi defenses.

Our air superiority quickly took control over the skies and we were thankful that we did not get hit by enemy planes. To this day I’m thankful for our Air Force. Our helicopters were another great advantage in hitting our enemy.

By the time the ground war began, the Iraqi defenses, communication, travel, support were greatly impacted.

Just before the ground war. on the eve of the greatest Air Assault mission, we were preparing to move out when Mass was being offered for us.

I attended the Mass and found myself before TV cameras when leaving the camouflaged tent.

I was given an opportunity to answer questions, I was seen on all the major news stations and ultimately placed in the CNN’s Documentary of the Gulf War narrated by Bernard Shaw.

Mr. Shaw refereed to my prayer as “an answered prayer on the eve of battle”.

We ultimately flew over four Iraqi Divisions who were fortunately bogged down by severe rain.

Rain that is very rare in that area. With the Rakkasans, if it were not raining, it wasn’t training!

At Fort Campbell, we trained extensively using Black Hawk helicopters flying low just above the trees.

Here, there were no trees. It felt like a straight shot. This wasn’t a joy ride like a roller coaster, this was the real deal. We jumped out of the helicopters and into the mud in the Euphrates river valley.

We quickly set up hasty fighting positions until we were able to set up our Battalion Aid Station. I was on the advanced party so we mapped out our position and maintained it until the main force arrived.

There was sporadic enemy activity but the action was limited as we routed any Iraqi troops in the area. I carried a 100 pound plus Ruck Sack during this time. I had an AT-4 (anti-tank weapon), my medical gear, and everything else that everyone else had.
Turmoil was all around us.

One mayor in a nearby town was hung because he supported Hussein, while in another neighboring town, this mayor was hung because he was against Hussein.

We began receiving civilians trying to seek refuge or needing some kind of medical attention. Once, we received a prisoner of war who was brought in to be checked out that had polio as a child. His leg was almost a walking stick. He was being used as an Iraqi officer’s driver. I couldn’t help but have compassion on him. He was part of Hussein’s “Million man Army”?

We held this position for about 30 days when the BBC began broadcasting to the world that there were no American Soldiers left in Iraq. I was part of this team that was sitting at the most northern inward position in the Iraqi Theater of Operations. That was a bit chilling.

On the evening of March 5th, it rained terribly, a monsoon like rain. This was miserable. My foxhole had been swamped, all my things were soaked, the wind was bristling, my poncho was just popping. Water was standing everywhere around us. There was not a dry place to be found as everything had been packed up to leave the next day.

I just sat on an MRE box and waited it out. On a lighter note, after the ground war was officially called off and we had won the war, our Battalion Sergeant Major went throughout our perimeter informing us that we had to conduct police call (clean up the area around us before we left Iraq. That struck us all as odd.

It would be hours before we would leave the area and head for Camp Cobra, which was still in Iraq near the boarder with Saudi Arabia. During these times, it is easy to forget the times when explosions would sound off and we would all jump into our foxholes or cover.

I remember encouraging our Maintenance Officer who was certain we were all going to die. I was able to share the love of the Lord with him.

I remember celebrating Mass with the Catholic Priest who was assigned with us in this place. We would walk the perimeter praying the Rosary together.

There were no buildings in site, no vegetation, it was a miserable place to stay. What made it special for me was my faith. That helped me through this important period of my life. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WYv4KsUAPY&feature=related


HOME PAGE Blogtalkradio Show You Tube Channel Twitter Page E-MAIL US