CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — A major who deployed here with the “Spears Ready” Soldiers of the Fort Bragg, North Carolina, based 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command to serve as the command systems integrator at 1st Theater Sustainment Command’s operational command post remembers when he first came to Kuwait as a young paratrooper.
“I was with 1st of the 39th Field Artillery Regiment, with the 82nd Airborne Division," said Maj. Christopher Royal, who grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where his father, who served in the Vicenza, Italy, based 173rd Airborne Brigade, and then the Fort Bragg-based 82nd Division, retired.
"I joined the Army in 1989. I joined the Army basically because of my father, and he was a Soldier, so I just followed in his footsteps," he said.
“He was a 173rd, 82nd man," said the major. "He just passed away in June, and he was a supply sergeant. He served three tours in Vietnam, and so I wanted to be just like him—I know he was out on patrols too, so when they were short in men, he would go out.”
Royal said he also was a supply sergeant when he first arrived in Kuwait.
“We slept in holes until we were left lying in the sand until the war started; life got a little better when we started getting tents,” he said.
"I remember the first time when I was deployed here during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I was a private," he said. "The last time I was here in Kuwait was we were liberating them, so this is my first time back ever since the war, so it feels good not to be in the hole digging a hole—it feels good to be in a place where bullets were not flying over my head."
The First Gulf War was the international response to Iraq's Aug. 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait, culminating with a coalition of 35 nations led by President George H.W. Bush. This coalition launched military operations to dislodge Iraqi forces Jan. 17, 1991, through Feb. 28, 1991.
The ramp-up to hostilities was called Operation Desert Shield, and the actual combat operations were called Operation Desert Storm. This war culminated in restoring Kuwait's sovereignty, and it led to America's enduring military partnership with Kuwait.
Royal said he saw combat up front, and its memories are still with him, especially the coalition forces' attack on retreating Iraqi troops as they jammed the roads north.
“When you are a 19-year-old kid and you see that much death and destruction, you never forget it,” Royal said, “so on the Highway of Death, when we were seeing all of the burnt-out vehicles…Oh, my goodness.”
“There was one thing,” the major recalled, “[an] Apache lit up a vehicle, and I had to actually—we had to get out of the truck and put up a perimeter, and I actually saw a guy,” he said.
“He was still in there. He was burnt up, and everything with him strapped to the wheel, where they had shot up the whole vehicle,” he said. “That stays with me a little bit, but I still function and everything, but that’s just a part of war, they were doing bad things, so the United States and the coalition forces did what they needed to do to free Kuwait.”
Another memory is the reaction of the Kuwaitis as U.S. forces rolled by, he said.
"The Kuwaitis were clapping for us," he said. "We had our flags up, and we were running through; they were glad that we were there. Then, we kept pushing, up north towards Iraq."
Royal said his unit continued to drive Iraqi forces north until the order came to stop.
"We were going through, and we were going: 'Wow, we actually liberated this country," because we know we have seen the destruction of the Iraqis, so it was one of those places where they were clapping for us," he said.
"They were happy to see us and the coalition forces, so we came and did our job, and we came back in and went back home."
Royal’s Iraq deployment leads to stronger bond with Vietnam veteran father
The major said his relationship with his father became closer after he returned to the Middle East to serve in the liberation of Iraq and the defense of the Iraq government against insurgents.
“I went to my father for a lot of advice, as far as with just everyday situation on what he would do in certain cases,” he said.
“When I got back, I didn't say a lot about the Gulf War, like he didn't, and it wasn't until 10, 12 years later when Iraq kicked off in 2003 when I was a platoon sergeant when we came here, that's the connection," the major said.
“We really started talking to each other because we can open up about war, and some of the things he went through, and some of the things I went through were similar because nobody, no matter where you put it, death is everywhere,” he said.
“We had a big, strong bond during that time, we got closer to talk to each other and made sure that he could understand, and I can understand him a little bit better now,” Royal said.
"My father was one of my influencers, so still loving the guy, he left this world in peace, but I understand where he was coming from now, I understand him better, now that he is gone than I ever would when he was alive," he said.
Those conversations with his father also helped him process his own experiences in combat, and now he still relies on his battle buddies, as his father did, he said.
“You never forget war,” he said. “You never forget the people you serve with—we still have a bond today. We still keep in touch just like he did with his 173rd friends before he passed—they were all there with him, so it's a bond that you'll never forget. That's got to give you some peace.”
Royal said he would never forget that when he found out his father was weakening, the 3rd ESC's acting commander Col. Christopher McCreery made sure he had time to be with his father before he passed.
“I was blessed because I was here, just a shout out to the command, Colonel McCreery, God bless him, he took care of me," he said. "He gave me that time; he was one of the guys that were instrumental with me, to say: 'Hey, spend time with your dad. You're going to need to.' He gave me that time to do that, so it was just taking care of your soldiers, so I'm truly grateful for him for that."
The major said of all the lessons he took from his father, the most important one was reinforced by his experience liberating Kuwait.
“I think freedom is one of the things we take for granted the most, and I will say that, and you can't take it for granted,” Royal said.
“It's one of those things; even my father said before he passed away: ‘America's one of the best countries in the world I get, we have our problems, but it's one of the best countries in the world,’” he said.
“He said: ‘I will choose America every time and I would die for it,’ so same here.”