'The Most Honorable Thing I've Done'
November 14, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Veterans Day iwas extra special for combat veterans like Rick Knight.
He spent Nov. 11 with his family at Huntsville's traditional Veterans Day parade downtown. He watched his 18-year-old son, Griffith, march as a member of Grissom High's JROTC. And he met up with some of the guys he served with in the Army.
"It's probably the most honorable thing I've ever done. Hands down," Knight said of his service in the Persian Gulf War. "I'll never be able to recreate that kind of teamwork or esprit de corps."
It was 1990 when Cpl. Knight, a Vero Beach, Fla., native, deployed from Germany to Southwest Asia for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He was a scout in the 4th Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment.
"I was young, 23, when we got notified (of the deployment). I was actually kind of excited about it," he said.
His unit landed in Saudi Arabia; and his aircraft had to be evacuated upon landing because it caught fire. "Premonitions of things to come," he said, laughing.
He remembers going to the port because they had to meet their Bradley Fighting Vehicles which were arriving on ships. The Soldiers were housed in warehouses and spent their days training and preparing for possible gas attacks.
"That's when I had my first Scud missile attack when the Iraqis were launching Scud missiles in retaliation," Knight said.
When his unit asked for volunteers for an advance party -- for teams to go out in the field and set up tents, dig bunkers and receive ammunition -- he stepped forward. He didn't want to get caught in another Scud attack.
In December 1990, Knight and his fellow Soldiers were ready with their vehicles and started training for the assault on Iraq. He was on guard duty for his camp when the air war began in the early morning hours. He heard aircraft flying overhead and saw antiaircraft fire.
"I remember going 'Oh (no), this is for real,'" he said.
He felt a mix of apprehension about the reality of war and excitement at finally getting to use his training. "You realize at that time it's coming. It ain't going to be no way out of it," he said.
Knight and his fellow Soldiers trained some more until the ground offensive launched in February 1991. His unit was part of the flanking maneuver against the Iraqis. "We went around Kuwait. We didn't go through it, we flanked it," he explained.
He remembers the sand, fine like baby powder, which blew into everything -- including your nostrils and your clothing. Sometimes there were sandstorms.
"Mostly you're doing your job," he said. "You don't think about being scared. You got to remember, I was a scout. I was a gunner on the Bradley."
When his unit crossed the border into Iraq, two hours into the attack they had their first contact with the enemy.
"We ran up across a couple of Iraqi tanks and a dismounted antiaircraft gun and some dismounts and some soldiers," Knight said. "I remember it was afternoon, I think, maybe morning -- I hadn't slept in a couple of days, it all molded together, trust me.
"They (the Iraqis) were moving around, trying to turn towards us. The lead scout fired his missile (from his Bradley) and then another scout vehicle fired his missile. So basically you got two Bradleys shooting at two tanks and they destroyed them. I fired a 25mm gun, which is the main gun on the Bradley, at the dismounted antiaircraft gun and destroyed it."
The firefight lasted minutes. The Iraqi tanks and dismounted antiaircraft gun were destroyed. Knight remembers the smell of gunpowder from his Bradley and the constant chatter from the radio.
His unit stayed in contact with the enemy from that time until within 6-8 hours before the ceasefire which ended the ground assault. "We had one or two (skirmishes) a day, maybe one or two at night," he said.
But all the training in the world could hardly prepare him and his comrades for the Battle of Medina Ridge.
They pulled out and rolled up on a little hill, a ridge. When they got to the top, they saw 30-50 enemy vehicles anywhere from 1,200 to 1,800 meters in front of them.
"So without even thinking about it we all raised our launchers and fired at the same time," Knight said. They fired and reloaded, fired and reloaded, for the next several hours. Knight fired 21 TOW missiles, nearly two full loads, from his Bradley.
"I had never heard so many tank guns going off at the same time in my life, before or since," he said. "It was a pretty damn good fight."
About 4 p.m., they got the orders to move forward. They went down the ridge. And within 3-4 minutes, the vehicles found themselves in a minefield.
And then out of the trench came about 200 Iraqi soldiers, all seemingly armed with rocket propelled grenade launchers.
Knight's platoon leader's Bradley got hit first. Next another vehicle got hit. The third of the six Bradleys, Knight's vehicle, got hit next. This all happened within 5-10 minutes.
"I remember two brilliant flashes of light," he said. "I woke up and I remember the gun wasn't going off. The radios were silent."
Knight was injured. He had burns. A bullet had grazed the top of his head. He still has fragments in the right side of his body. He had glass in both eyes.
"I thought I was a dead man when that flash went off," he recalled. "I can't tell you how long I was out. I really can't. All I know is I woke up and my fingers were still squeezing the trigger. Nothing was happening."
He escaped his vehicle through a back door and fled on foot. He found his driver dead. He found the vehicle commander with his left leg blown off.
Knight got into one of the three surviving Bradleys. They pulled back into an aid station. He could hear the explosions from the ongoing firefight.
His war was over. He was evacuated to a hospital in Germany. After three days, the Army sent him back to his home station in Germany.
Knight, 44, served in the Army nearly 13 years, from November 1987 until September 2000, and left as a staff sergeant. He served at Fort Stewart, Ga., the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La., and with the 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Polk. He is a logistics management specialist in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Project Office. He and his wife, Angela, reside in Harvest. Their five children include daughters Jessica, 22, and Alexandra, 20, and sons Griffith, 18, Brandon, 11, and Griffin, 9.
"Two of them have already talked to me about joining (the military)," Knight said. "On the father side of me, I'm scared for them. On the other hand, I couldn't be more proud of them."