Anniston Army Depot civilians look back on first deployment
Depot mechanics work on the turret of a M1 Abrams tank in Saudi Arabia in 1991.

ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- It's the holidays and the depot currently has a number of employees deployed, which brings to mind the first time depot civilians were called to overseas duty.

Twenty-two years ago, Iraq invaded Kuwait, setting off one of the largest and fastest deployments of U.S. forces and equipment since the Vietnam War.

Anniston Army Depot also deployed to Southwest Asia, sending more than 300 employees to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, to support and upgrade over 900 M1 tanks with firepower and survivability enhancements.

Recently, I took the opportunity to talk with some these great Americans about their experiences during the Gulf War.

Larry Phillips was a welder at the time and said "it didn't matter what we were asked to do, we just did it."

It was normal for one welder to use a 35 pound spool of wire in one day attaching additional armor to the combat vehicles. Depot employees were upgrading up to 40 tanks per day.

Phillips said when the time came to issue tanks to Soldiers, "if it didn't move you, there was something wrong with you."

Judy Lewallen told a funny story about her time overseas. 1st Lt. Jonathan Carroll from Gadsden, Ala., a Soldier assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, stopped by the nearby mask facility run by Picatinny Arsenal. As he was asking them for equipment, the folks from Picatinny said he talked funny and that there were some people across the way that "talk like you."

About a week later, Carroll saw Lewallen and said, "Hi, I'm Lt. Carroll and I heard you all talk like me."

Lewallen and others still keep up with Col. Carroll to this day.

Randy Heflin took his final for his bachelor's degree on a Friday and flew out Saturday morning. As he reminisced about his time in Southwest Asia, he quoted Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

"It was the best of times; It was the worst of times," he said. To this day, Heflin only drinks black coffee because he could never find cream and sugar. His favorite meals-ready-to-eat were beef stew and chicken ala king.

Heflin put the whole experience in perspective with three words; "I grew up."

Everyone told the story of how Tommy Carlisle spliced into a general's phone line, providing many people the luxury to call back to the states. It didn't last long and, soon, Carlisle was hauled away for questioning and on the verge of getting kicked out of the country.

Everything worked out because, in Carlisle's words, his mom always told him, "It's not a lie if you tell the truth."

Carlisle spent his initial first weeks in Saudi Arabia living out of a cardboard box on the airfield tarmac, watching for tail-numbers of flights that held the depot's critical tools and equipment.

Carlisle's only regret about his time in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War was missing his son's first Christmas.

Jimmy Williams recalled when a man was throwing rocks at the bus, upsetting Johnny Moore, who, at six-feet-nine-inches tall, made the bus stop, got out and sent the guy running. The most significant memory Williams had was when generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf came to thank the employees and shook their hands.

Ed "Once a Marine, always a Marine" Morris, recalls the time a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel friend asked him where his weapon was. Morris told him, "We ain't got none, sir." To which the lieutenant colonel replied, "Well, I need people to fight!"

Another memory Morris had was the time a generator went out on a tank and a general said the tank couldn't go on the ship.

Though the general said it couldn't be done, Morris and Carlisle got it fixed and left the general in awe.

Rod Brodeur worked on missile guidance systems, installing an upgraded Gunners Primary Sight.

The most memorable moment Brodeur and many others witnessed was when the first tank was issued to the 1st Cavalry Division.

The division gave the youngest Soldier a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne, which he broke across the tank's hull, christening it.

Brodeur said it was the most emotional event the whole time they were there and there wasn't a dry eye to be seen.

Many of you may recall the scud attack which injured almost 100 people and killed 28 members of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment on Feb. 25, 1991. Doug Turner remembers the city went black that night, with sirens going off. He said everyone got into their MOPP-4 gear.

Soon, casualties were transported to the unfinished hospital where depot employees were staying. The casualties were literally dropped off at the front of the building.

Turner immediately began administering first aid and, to this day, does not know how a large, black medical duffle bag showed up, providing him with critical medical supplies.

For his actions, Turner was called to the Pentagon and presented the Civilian Award for Humanitarian Service medal, which now hangs proudly on his office wall.

What I thought might be a simple 10 minute question-and-answer session turned into a one- or two-hour interview with these great Americans.

It wasn't about them; it was about the importance of the mission, the support to the Soldiers and the satisfaction they received from what they were doing. That is the true heart of Anniston Army Depot.

Page last updated Thu December 20th, 2012 at 16:07