Mahfouz recalls Operation Desert Storm with LNG, Fort Polk
April 25, 2011
- Louisiana National Guard's 527th Engineer Battalion returns to Louisiana after 20 years.
FORT POLK, La. - More than 20 years ago, the Louisiana National Guard's 527th Engineer Battalion, based in Ruston, La., arrived at Fort Polk before shipping out in support of Operation Desert Storm. It was, at the time, the largest mobilization of a Louisiana National Guard unit since World War II.
The unit returned to Fort Polk in May 1991 for remobilization after a six-month deployment to Kuwait and Iraq.
Maj. Judd Mahfouz, Fort Polk's assistant chief of staff - G3 (Plans), was a private in the 527th Eng Bn during its deployment and recently shared his memories of that time when the National Guard and Fort Polk worked together to prepare Louisiana Soldiers for war ...
"The Louisiana National Guard was not used in Vietnam and had not been mobilized since the Korean Conflict. I was a college student, as were most of the members of the 527th Engineer Battalion. We never expected to be called up to active duty; we were in it because the Louisiana National Guard paid our college tuition.
When the call came, it was the first week of the winter quarter at Louisiana Tech University. I was living with my brother in Jackson Parish when I got the message that read, 'This is a roaring bull alert notice. You will report to home station immediately.'
I remember when we all got to the unit in Ruston, the CO told us, 'I don't know about you guys, but I never really appreciated the weight of this uniform until today. Don't kid yourself - welcome to the U.S. Army.'
After four days of home station activities, we reported to Fort Polk for training. We got to North Fort and found out the barracks we were assigned to had been condemned, but since we were a heavy engineer battalion, we had a vertical engineer component with carpenters. We basically made chicken salad out of chicken s---.
We received a lot of support from garrison and the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division while at Fort Polk. Forces Command had the 5th Mech Inf Div give up motor pool space for us. We didn't know where we were going, but they had us paint our vehicles sand colored.
We wound up having to conduct our own training and validation. We were at Fort Polk for two months and were allowed to go home most weekends. They loaded us up each Friday on buses and dropped us off at armories around the state, then picked us up on Sunday nights. We never had anyone AWOL and no one really ever got into any trouble.
The night we left Fort Polk was when we learned where we were going. We took a bus to the Rapides Parish Coliseum in Alexandria. Our Families were there and we had two hours with them. They told us we were going to Saudi Arabia. It was a rough day for the Families. Once we got to the port over there, we learned that we were headed to Kuwait.
We were fortunate in that we had no serious casualties while we were deployed. The warehouse we stayed in when we first arrived was hit by a SCUD missile shortly after we left and there were lots of casualties.
As the start of the war neared, we were told not to be surprised if we lost someone when we crossed the berm. Our main mission was to keep supply routes open into Kuwait and Iraq. That's what we did.
The night the ground war started was the most incredible sight I've ever seen. It was raining down death. I know you've probably heard of the 'highway of death;' it was aptly named.
We opened the berm for the forces to go in, then breached minefields on order. We followed the 1st Infantry Division into Iraq as part of the VII Corps. I'll never forget the night it started. The sight was unbelievable. The Iraqis set the oil fields on fire as they fled; their SCUDs were flying, and all of our weapons looked like fireworks. It was indescribably bright to be night. It was surreal, an overwhelming violence of action. It was a significant emotional event - especially for the Vietnam vets.
It was an overwhelmingly decisive victory. It seemed like as soon as it started, it was over.
When the war ended, it was 'What do we do now'' The supply routes became egress routes for troops returning to Kuwait. We were tasked with building a rest and relaxation area. We built a Morale, Welfare and Recreations area called Desert Sands. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf showed up and cut the ribbon at the grand opening. It was a good place to stop and catch your breath before heading on to the port of embarkation.
We thought, 'Now, it's time for us to go home.' We were wrong. We became part of Operation Provide Comfort and built a refugee camp. It was now May and very hot. Dysentery was rampant with the refugees. We were all awarded the Humanitarian Service Medal for our work. We also found out we were scheduled to stay six more months.
Gen. Tommy Franks showed up in a helicopter and congratulated us on all we had accomplished. He asked what he could do for us. Our battalion commander, Lt. Col. Bennett Landreneau (now Maj. Gen. Landreneau, adjutant general for Louisiana) said, 'Let us go home with the rest of the VII Corps.' Franks said, 'OK,' and it happened.
On May 11, 1991, we boarded an Aloha Airlines jet and flew into Bangor, Maine, then England Air Force Base in Alexandria. Our Families, the Fort Polk commanding general, the governor, it seemed like the whole state was there to meet us. We loaded up on buses and headed back to the barracks on North Fort. We were put on 48-hour pass, went home for a couple of days, then went back to Fort Polk for out-processing. It took about two weeks, then we headed home. A couple of our guys got really sick, probably from breathing in the fumes over there. They stayed at Fort Polk a while longer before eventually going home. The deployment cemented what has become a great relationship between Fort Polk and the Louisiana National Guard. I believe that relationship was forged during our time here. We were the only unit that Fort Polk processed from start to end."