Transcript of Road Home Program: The Podcast, Episode 7
The 30th Anniversary of Operations Desert Shield & Desert Storm
It’s been 30 years since Operation Desert Shield (the operations leading to the buildup of troops and defense of Saudi Arabia) and Operation Desert Storm (the combat phase) and Road Home Program team members share their deployment experiences during that time.
Christopher Miller, Outreach Coordinator at The Road Home Program at Rush: So, welcome to the Road Home Podcast. This is a special edition of our podcast. The 30th anniversary of the Desert Storm Desert Shield conflict. So I’m joined here today by three guests who you’ve met if you’ve listened to our prior podcasts. We’ve got our Director and CEO, Will Beiersdorf, joining us, Ray Prieto, who is the featured spotlight of our last podcast. And then we’ve got Chaps, Mark Schimmelpfennig, who’s joining us, who’s also been featured in the podcast. So you’ve met some of the faces that you’re going to be hearing from today. And today, we just want to tell a little bit of a story about, you know, what, what’s gone on over the last 30 years. Where these folks served during the Persian Gulf War and what their lives, you know, what direction things have gone since they’ve returned. So, Ray, what, let’s get started. When you got those orders, you know, what was that like? Where were you? What were you doing? And where did it take you?
Ramon Prieto, Outreach Coordinator at The Road Home Program at Rush: Well, Thanks, Chris. I appreciate this opportunity to participate in today’s discussion. And yeah, flashing back to 30 years, it’s hard to believe that it’s been 30 years, but I was I was stationed in Germany at that moment. Assigned to the Charlie Company 302nd at the time, out of (CITY) in Germany, our headquarters is in Frankfurt, Germany. My job at that moment in time, I was a signal soldier, communications guy assigned to this intel unit. Their mission was to capture imagery, imagery, intelligence of airborne platforms. So they assigned me to this unit. I worked in the communications van and during the 1990, early part of 1990, we were in the accreditation phase there. A brand new feeling of this system and so we were in a test phase and trying to work through the kinks and, you know, trying to get this thing operational, so that it can be fielded in the Army’s inventory. So as we moved through this accreditation piece, you know, into the summer and then of course, August came in, and Saddam Hussein went into Kuwait, you know, started getting our attention and, of course, started to get senior leadership’s attention of what we were doing and what our capabilities were. Keep in mind that we weren’t fully fielded or accredited. It’s amazing how things move quickly as you are in a potential serious situation and how they make things happen. So our accreditation get expedited and, the next thing you know, the rumors started to fly and telling us there was potential for deployment down to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and that area of operations. Well, that came to fruition and we wound up being deployed. It was approximately three weeks we and went into Kuwait on August 2. We landed in Saudi Arabia, near Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which is the capital. We landed there, we set up our systems, we became operational. It was pretty interesting. I was assigned to the Saudi Arabian Defense Ministry, a military liaison mission there in Saudi Arabia. We worked off their site and we began operations in intel collection and gathering. And that was pretty, a pretty exciting time, as you could imagine. Moving down into the area of hostilities, you know, as a signal soldier that wasn’t my main focus, you know. I wasn’t a Combat Arms guy, but you know, as a signal soldier, you know, we get sent places, and that happened. That came to fruition. Plus, I was with a bunch of intel folks, who we thought even, we’re even farther from their mindset of moving into a hostile situation. So as you can imagine, it was a pretty interesting experience. The train-up, the roll-up to get deployed was rather quick and intense. And yeah, so we put ourselves on the ground there and started operations as quickly as possible in preparation for whatever was to come. We didn’t know. And yeah, for the next four or five months prior to the kickoff of the actual war itself., we were in the collection mode, collection phase of our mission. So that’s a little quick summary of my, what brought me into the Gulf War.
Christopher Miller: Thanks. Yeah. It sounds like there was a technological expansion going on in the military at the time, if my memory serves me good.
Ramon Prieto: Without a doubt, And our vans, Chris, just at that point, were 40 feet long it took about two C-140s, maybe you throw in a C-5 there, with all of our equipment. So it was rather challenging to get down. But here we are.
Christopher Miller: Yeah, Chaps, speaking of cool toys and things to you know, play with over in the desert. What about you? Where were you when you got the orders? And what did you end up going?
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig, Staff Chaplain at The Road Home Program at Rush: You know, it’s hard to follow Ray. I mean, damn, that was quite a quite a presentation. Um, I was in Germany as well. West Germany. Remember, gentlemen. And, you know, at that point in time, the, the Eastern Bloc in the Soviet Union was starting to disintegrate. And we, I mean, you know, we didn’t know how that was all going to go down. Right? And so when Kuwait was invaded, it really took a lot of people by surprise. And I mean, a lot of people don’t know that Iraq and Iran fought a war, a terrible war for 10 years before Saddam invaded Kuwait. And oddly enough, politics makes very strange bedfellows. We were, there are pictures you can get of the Americans shaking the hands of Saddam Hussein while he was fighting the Iranians, right? Cause we were still angry about what happened with our hostages. So, there you go. So, it took a lot of us by surprise. Well, we were activated and we were in, we went into Turkey. And we staged out of two air bases in Turkey. And some of us ended up in Jordan. And the plan was to provide what they called ground truth. Ray, does that sound familiar?
Ramon Prieto: Yes.
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: We would go scooting around in our dune buggies and our jeeps and whatever. And we would do ground truth. It was pure reconnaissance. It was, you know, snooping and pooping, as they say. And our mission was to find chemical weapons storage bunkers, AAA sites, and Scuds. You know, any kind of ballistic missile capability, which were back then (SLANG)s and Scuds and, you know, bring that info, or, you know, get that info back to the Intel weenies. Oh, sorry, Ray. And let them process it and all of that. And I didn’t find this out til later, but as Ray mentioned, there was a whole strike package that was being developed over time. And, you know, when the air war finally began, they had these targets prioritized and they had strike packages ready to go and they knew exactly where everything was that needed to be taken out first. And, wow, it was, it was something to see, from the ground anyway.
Christopher Miller: Oh, yeah. So, Will, you know, where were you? You were in the Army at the time, what were you doing and where were the orders take you?
Will Beiersdorf, Executive Director at The Road Home Program at Rush: Yeah, thanks, Chris. It’s interesting to hear the other stories, you know, to hear from Ray and from, from Chaps. Kind of, and again, it goes back to you know, and, you know, we’re, at the time, you know, all Army we had, I mean, the Marines were involved, the Navy, the Air Force. I mean, it’s, I just want to reiterate, it was really a team effort, that whole thing, and it’s just amazing. And I was grateful to be a part of that. So, so basically, you know, my story, and again, I was part of a Military Police Company here in Chicago, the 933rd MP Company, and basically part of the Illinois Army National Guard. And so as a 95 Bravo, you know, as they would say, you know, you’re basically infantry with wheels, right? I mean, basically, it was so cool. Especially when the Hummers were coming out, right? That was fantastic, right? To have those compared to the old Korean War jeeps in the Vietnam, I mean, it’s horrible, but, but basically, we were part of the team. And so what happened was, basically, early January, when things started to, kind of, roll up from Desert Shield to eventually be in Desert Storm, we were activated and I was actually working for Arthur Andersen at the time, again, being a National Guardsman. So, I was actually at the State Capitol doing what was, at the time, a turnover audit. That’s when one new political official moves into an office, and we’re doing it for the Treasury office, or for the Officers of Treasury, treasurer, and I radically Pat Quinn. And so basically, I was down in the basement, working in the vault to inventory things and someone came down and said, “Hey, Will, you’ve got to call, you know, someone wants to talk to you from Chicago.” And I’m like, you know, ” Alright. Is it my, is it my family? Is everything all right?” No, it’s alright, it’s just here’s a number. I’m like, “Oh, no.” When I saw the number, like, ah, damn, that’s the armory number. It’s like, so I call they said, “Hey, Beiersdorf, you need to, kind of, get back home. You’ve been activated. And we’ll tell you more when you get up here.” And so, what happened was, you know, I scooted back up and we basically mobilized and then in a couple weeks, we were flying to Germany to, kind of, to, you know, backload or, kind of, back support, you know, for all the folks that had gone ahead, because all the MP Company, all the MPs from Germany and other places in Europe had gone forward, you know, to prepare for the, you know, for the eventual Desert Storm operation. So, so yeah, I spent almost eight months, a little over eight months in southern Germany in Augsburg and we augmented the communities down there. And as you know, I’m sure Ray and both Chaps are aware, I mean, you know, with all the changes going on, the Cold War kind of coming to an end, right? I mean, The Wall eventually coming down, and all these other things, and, you know, The Wall did come down, right? All those things happening. There was still a lot of chaos, anxiety. So protests, of course, you know, some folks weren’t still keen on the on the Americans and stuff, but, but, you know, hey, we did our job. And I was grateful to spend time there and just be a part of that, and just kind of, you know, you know, help my country when we needed help. And so it was an interesting experience. And, you know, just kind of learned from that. So that was, that was my background and experience for Desert Storm.
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Well, yeah. Sorry, Willie, you bring up a good point. I mean, back then, collectively, the military saw the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact as our primary enemies, right? And we, when all of this stuff was all happening at the same time, we didn’t know which way it was going to go down. And so when this happened over in Kuwait, there was a lot of surprise, a lot of, you know, what do we do now? And, you know, being able to pivot and meet that threat and all that business?
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, our mission, Chaps, was, you know, we were dedicated to protecting the missile sites that were in Germany. And that was basically what we were trained for, and top-secret clearance and all the other, that was kind of interesting. And I, you know, didn’t tell too many people that because it’s kind of, it’s kind of strange, but that was our mission. But then that, let’s be honest, after, you know, Desert Storm, and actually after the so-called peace dividend, and, kind of, falling of The Wall, I mean, all those missions changed. And we definitely were moving forward in a brand new world, which, unfortunately, you know, we’ve seen what happened 10 years later after that, you know, with 9/11. So, 2001.
Christopher Miller: You know, speaking of 10 years later, that that was my experience. I remember, you know, watching 9/11 happen. Having about a year to ramp right back up and leave. I remember very vividly getting the order. Hey, we’re getting ready, we’re going. We’re leaving on this date. You’ve got, you know, four or five days. Pack your stuff up, take care of all your family stuff, and go. And you don’t know how long you’re going to be gone. And that not knowing was, you know, potentially, you know, a lot of anxiety around that. So, just curious what your all’s thoughts were when you got those orders. When, you know, were you thinking is this a one-month, you know, two-month Grenada, Panama type situation? Is this a longer drawn out, you know, conflict like Vietnam? What do you prepare for? You know, it sounds like somebody’s gotta go looking for some chocolate chip desert camo. real fast, looking for the, you know, what was that, like? You know, that anticipation of not knowing?
Will Beiersdorf: if I can, let me just chime in on that one. And then I because it might not be short and concise. But I always, you know, went back to when I first got recruited, you know, to join, you know, the, you know, Illinois Army National Guard, and I remember talking to the recruiter, and he said, “Nothing’s happening. There’s, you know, we’re rolling, you know, relative peace. I mean, it’s, you know, we’re building up. All is good. I mean, don’t you know, don’t worry, you know, it’s just weekends and just two weeks in the summer.” And then I remember when all this unfolded, my mother, I was not married at the time, though, still single. My mom said, “Didn’t I tell you, William, that something like this could happen?” And my dad said, “Diane,” don’t listen, you know, whatever, you know, just kind of going back and forth. And she’s, you know, thinking, of course, because everyone’s thinking, you know, here we go, right? You’re exactly right, Chris. Was this another Vietnam? Was this going to be a prolonged situation? I think we learned our lessons from that. And so, you know, I was single at the time. So, for that particular deployment, I was ready to do whatever and, kind of, just roll with it. It was my mom and dad at the time that were really concerned, of course. You know, a girlfriend at the time and, you know, other friends because, again, we were all concerned, like, because there was always that concern about how many people are going to die and all the horrible things are going to happen. But again, I think under the, you know, you know, again, you at the time was George H.W. Bush. You had Powell in there, General Powell. You had Schwarzkopf. You had, you know, who was it? Was the, was it? Who was the Department of Defense Secretary? Was it Rumsfeld?
Ramon Prieto: Rumsfeld.
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah. I mean, I think they all knew collectively…
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Not in ’91.
Will Beiersdorf: Not Rumsfeld.
Christopher Miller: That was in 2000.
Will Beiersdorf: I’m sorry it was, it was who was the Defense Secretary? Was it Cheney?
Ramon Prieto: Was it Weinberger? Caspar Weinberger?
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, Weinberger. I’m sorry. Yeah, I apologize. I’m kind of mixing…
Ramon Prieto: We’re showing our age.
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, I know. But hey, but I think they all collectively knew that they needed to keep this short and concise, right? And we all know, we’re going in under the UN mandate, right? Because that’s how we got the whole coalition going. So anyways, oh, next Ray, or whatever you guys chime in. But that was my thought on that. And of course, there was concern about is this going to be prolonged? And are we going to be into another, another situation where America’s stuck?
Christopher Miller: Ray, what were your thoughts?
Ramon Prieto: I kind of alluded to it previously, but before I get going, hey, Will, I started off as a National Guardsman and we used to refer to ourselves as we were no goes and we were assigned to Fort Living Room, OK?.
Will Beiersdorf: Fort Living Room! Yeah, exactly!
Ramon Prieto: So you know, I remember that very well, very fondly. And then I got tired of being in the living room, I joined the regular army. And as they say, the rest is history. So with that being said, a little inside there for our national, but I salute our National Guard’s persons, our foot soldiers today, the hard work that they do on our behalf.
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Hey, man, we’re all one team. We’re all one team. That’s right. That’s what I learned from that experience. You know, so, go ahead, Ray.
Ramon Prieto: To your point, you know, regarding, I mentioned it earlier. So, you know, we got, when we were alerted, we looked at each other like, Really? So, yeah, there was a lot of uncertainty. And then, is this the real deal? And, you know, a lot of us thought about it. I mean, I, you know, I was not a combat guy, you know, what, how’s this gonna affect me? So, especially with intel folks, you know, they’re a little bit, you know, specialized. And sometimes, you know, they have a nice life. But, we went down there and we did our job. But it was an open admission, which was kind of unique. And, you know, the whole deployment is there, like, we don’t know when you’re returning. So, okay. But a little backstory, I, I returned to Germany, in the previous October of ’89, to start my life with my fiancée at the time, my wife’s German. So I returned to Germany to be with her. So I arrived when The Wall is falling in ’89. And then in ’90, we’re doing this train up, this accreditation. So during that eight-month period, before we were deployed, I was commuting back and forth up to Bremerhaven in northern Germany, which is a 500-kilometer trip one way, every weekend. So it was a quite a journey. So I was really busy working, and then, you know, on my r&r on the weekend, so when we got the call, and it was r&r, because, you know, I was driving 500 kilometers, one way to see my wife, my fiancée at the time. So yeah, we got the call, a lot of uncertainties. But we went down there and, and you know, and we all get this, it’s, it’s all about the team effort. And we’re all in this together. So we went, we set up, and we got on with our mission. And I think the best thing about it, and we can all relate to this, is once you get on a mission, you’re on a mission, you know, you’re doing your 12-hour shifts, whatever, 14-hour shifts, and you’re busy, and there’s a job to do and there’s stuff to be done. So, that’s the reality of it. You don’t think you’re ever going to be sent, but my lessons learned from that was as I move forward in my career, I took that as an experience to share with soldiers, and anyone else who would listen who is serving in the military, they always be prepared. You never know. You never know when you’re going to get the call. And that training that you do might not seem important. But it can be important at certain times in our lives. So that’s a little bit about, you know, my mindset was when it came to the deployment piece.
Christopher Miller: All right, Chaps, any thoughts on expectations?
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: You know, it was, as I said, we were, our attention basically was on a different enemy. And so this kind of came as a surprise. So, okay, we had to pivot. So, what would our mission be and as intelligence, we had more information, and once we got a better idea of what we were doing, we would be doing, but we didn’t know how long it would last. And you know, the build-up of Desert Shield was, what, four or five months? Yeah, yeah. And so that’s a long time. And we didn’t know how long it would be. But the scary part of it was that as time went on, and we did get more intel, we did get more information and we got a better picture of Iraqi capabilities, it was scary because he had the gas.
Ramon Prieto: Yeah,
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: He had chemical weapons.
Ramon Prieto: He did, yeah.
Will Beiersdorf: Good point.
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: And he was not afraid to use them as he demonstrated in the Iran-Iraq War. And so that led to some very serious training and retraining in how to fight in a chemical environment. And that was scary. Because, you know, these weapons are so horrible. And I don’t know, do you remember the, the atropine injectors to carry them around? And I don’t know about you, but it was damn hot to get into (mop floor) and try and function. Just sayin. So, you know, those things like that, but as time went on, and your training kicked in, it was like, okay, try and control the things you can control and the things you can’t, you know, you’re too busy to have to worry about, and it kind of helped mediate things. And kinda, you know, help keep you focused, and all that stuff.
Christopher Miller: You know, those things you can’t control as a young soldier, sailor, marine. Those are the ones that always creep in. You just kind of hope for those busy days. Because when you when you’re up, and you’re moving, you know, those stay at bay, you know. But speaking of those, for you, Will, and Ray, you both mentioned, you know, Will, you left, you talked about your mom, your girlfriend. Ray, your fiancée. You know, what was that like for, that, in your eyes? Or that you can tell that your family, what effect did it play on your family? You know, being deployed, going to a war? What was it like for them? My memory is watching everything on TV. You know, this was the, you know, CNN, you know, Bernard Shaw’s, you know, televising the war. And seeing the tracers through the night and Scuds launching and missiles coming and going. You know, what was it like for your friends and family? You mentioned there are no cell phones. How do you reach out to them, what was that like? Will?
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: That’s a great question, Chris. And again, it’s funny as you kind of reflect, I mean, because, yeah, there’s no cell phones, again, we had very minimal time. There’s no emails, right? No, no computers, laptops, nothing like that. So it was really basic. I think that, I think honestly, as I think about that, it made me realize how important communication was. And then when I had that five minutes, occasionally, every couple of weeks to call at least my mom or call, at the time, my girlfriend or whoever was, I mean, just say I’m okay. Because again, it was so hard, because the big thing we did back then, I don’t know if you did this, Ray or Chaps, if you were did this, but I actually wrote letters. I took time to write letters and send back to my mom and send stuff back, right? I mean, that was the way we did it. And it was kind of nice, because it gave you a pause, I mean, versus this quick text, or whatever. I mean, it really, when you took time to do that made you appreciate, it’s like, yeah, I mean, you know, my family, you know, and the things, and then also it gave you time to, kind of, reflect on things. I mean, the way things are today, everything moves so quickly, I don’t think we have a chance to really understand, kind of, what’s happening. And I really had time to understand. And I was again, I go back, I’m grateful. I mean, I wish, dammit, I was so mad that I couldn’t, that you guys kind of cleaned up house there so quickly, when you were in the desert. But, you know, we were ready to go because we really wanted to, you know, be a part of, you know, helping, right? And be a part of, you know, you know, making things right, right? And it’s because especially in the in the Middle East like that, there’s all kinds of conflict, right? And this just opened the door, especially with the concerns around, you know, you know, chemical attacks and chemical weapons, because again, he like you said, Chaps, he used it against the Iranians. And he also used it against his own people, the Kurds up in the north and the Shias down in the south. So anyway, um, yeah, so those were, Chris, that was kind of my perspective on that. And just again, just, it was just such a different time, but you had a chance to kind of experience it versus the acceleration that we’re in today. I mean, even with Operation Enduring Freedom, there was still kind of time to, kind of, you know, experience what was going on because there still wasn’t a lot of cell phones or technology was still emerging, but that was my perspective. I don’t know what your thoughts are on that, Ray or Chaps?
Christopher Miller: Ray, I’m curious, especially, you know, with your fiancée being in northern Germany. You know, I remember, you know, the house that I grew up at in Kentucky, we had the, you know, the Operation Yellow Ribbon flag in the front yard and, you know, wrapping the yellow ribbon around the trees in the neighborhood. What was it like, you know, for your fiancée in Germany?
Ramon Prieto: Well, that’s a great question and to Will’s point, it was all about letter writing. Okay, but here’s a little nuance with us. We weren’t married yet. So, here I am, you know, actually, we had applied to the Army to receive approval to get married, as y’all understand that bureaucracy piece. So we weren’t married. So I get deployed in my, you know, I don’t, she doesn’t there’s no benefits to her any event of my, you know, untimely passing. It’s a “well, sorry, thanks. You know, we can’t do anything for you.” So it was kind of a unique situation for us specifically. You know, once again, put that to the side and kept moving forward on the mission. That’s all you can do, right? Stay focused on what you need to do to survive and get through the day. But to Will’s point, I was an avid letter writer and I really wrote a lot of letters to all my family members. Of course, my mom was similar to Will’s mom, “See what’d I tell you? They’re gonna send you a bad place.” Well, guess what it’s over and done with we’re here now. But I wrote letters all the time. And before all this electronic communication, that’s how we used to communicate to each other. So, but the good news story is, is my fiancée happened to work for the United States Army, Bremerhaven medic, she was at the hospital, she worked in a logistics office at the hospital in Bremerhaven. So what did that do? That allowed me access to the ETS, the European Telephone System, as well as MPS, the Military Postal System, so I was able to communicate to her via those channels, which was pretty amazing. But the letter writing was a big part of my life. But as a commo guy, you all can appreciate this, we had a communications van, which had a worldwide access line, pre, satellite phones, paid for the compliments of Saudi Arabia government. So every once in a while, the young soldier Prieto, you know, would just kind of mosey on over into that communication, do a little dial-up to home. I had the ETS line, the DSN line to Europe, so I could speak my fiancée, but you know, back home, so I just, you know, periodically just pick up dial a number and see if somebody is home. And so that was a big kick for them to receive a phone call from me while I was stationed in Saudi Arabia and the hostile environment. So that’s a little bit about my story when it came to communicating with my family, but yeah, letters and cards and care packages got us through the day, huh?
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Wow, Ray. Okay.
Ramon Prieto: Pretty special.
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Yeah.
Christopher Miller: Chaps, I see the headshake of a frustrated grunt who, you know, you know, maybe had an MRE at best.
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Oh, man.
Ramon Prieto: Hey, we all got a job to do.
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Well, I was a letter writer, too. And, you know, we were so busy what would generally happen is when I had time to write a letter, I’d write it and I’d keep it until such time as we could, we went back to our farm (WORD) and, you know, we could get the mail out. Okay? And so, you know, there was usually letters and such from my family. So it was really something to look forward to, you know what I mean? And that meant a lot. That meant a lot. And you know, yeah, and, you know, I used I used you know, the, the MTS to communicate with my fiancée in launch school (LOCATION).
Christopher Miller: So, you know, let’s talk about coming home, and in the context of coming home, ups and downs. You know, my time when I was in Iraq, in 2003, you know, had the pleasure of going through the bluish hard gates and standing on the Babylonian ruins, you know, after, you know, we had just, you know, invaded Iraq and “Hey, we defeated this, you know, we won.” I remember, you know, President Bush’s victory speech on the back of an aircraft carrier. I’m coming home thinking, you know, “look at what we did,” and then just, you know, six, nine months later, the town that, you know, we spent six, seven months, you know, securing the peace and was overrun. It went from, you know, feeling like you’re at the top of the world to “Wow, what do we do?” That was my experience. You know, Chaps, I’m curious to hear yours. You know, looking back 30 years, you know, what are your takeaways? You know, what was it like coming home, you know, immediately afterwards? And then since then?
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: I didn’t come right home. I went up to the north of Iraq and helped out with the Kurds until we left them high and dry. Not our finest hour. When I did get home, and when we were there, you know, and you heard the news and all the stuff that was going on, my thought was, “Wait a minute, we only are half done with this. Um, we are going to have to come back and do this again.” Because we did not, you know, we’re used to unconditional surrender and all that kind of stuff. But, um, once Kuwait was liberated, that was about it and he still had plenty of stuff and look what happened 10 years later, you know. When I did get home, you know, as Ray said, CNN, you know, had kind of come into its own. Well, there was this guy, they called him The Scud Stud. He was one of their reporters. And this guy would wear his, you know, his leather flight jacket and looking really cool. And, you know, he’s a handsome guy. And he would, you know, he would usually broadcast at night from Dhahran Airbase, which is one of their main bases in Saudi Arabia. And it was really spectacular, because you’d see the jets behind him on afterburner taking off. So it’s really, you know, cool. Well, I’m watching this clown and I realize I recognize the building was the pool. It was the pool, where these guys after a, you know, after a mission, or to come back and go take a dip, you know, and, like, I joined the wrong service. (laughter) A pool! Give me a break. And for many years, I really had an aversion to sand. Because it got into everything. And you couldn’t quite get it all out. So if you just had this, you know, in your teeth, your clothes, you know, just this rough, you know, like the sandpaper thing. And in your boots and in your weapon and Jeez Louise. Yeah. So, sand and I were not friends for a number of years after that.
Christopher Miller: Yeah. Ray, you know, tell us your experience, I guess, leaving the Saudi Arabia and where did you go? Where did you end up? Any highs, lows, the goods and the bads coming out of your experience?
Ramon Prieto: As we wound the operations down, you know, the move so fast in February. Cease-fire and then we were like, okay, we’re done, right? Let’s go. Not so much. But you know, once again, the rumors started flying about the redeployment, so on and so forth. So nothing was hard and fast. Then finally, we got the word that beginning of April of ’91, you know, we would be, late March, early April, we’d be hitting redeployed. So, you know, wait and hold your breath type of thing. And we finally got the word. Moved out at the end of March, returned to Germany. And oh, prior to that, I had also received word that the, you know, the Army and the government approved my marriage to our, my fiancée. So I was, you know, as you can imagine, feeling really good just to get back to the Western world and to get reunited with my lady. And yeah, so that was my focus. I really didn’t pay much attention because I was so excited to be back. And then we popped up to Denmark, my wife, my fiancée, myself, and we were married on April 12, 1991, in the Danish wedding package. We were couple number two and it was a, let’s get together, let’s start our life together. And that was it. So we got married and then started the process of getting, you know, the paperwork for our housing and all that other piece. So I was extremely busy. So I really hadn’t time to think about you know, what I just gone through. It was just hey, my life going, moving forward. Let’s get back on our mission here in Germany. And yeah, just get going, you know, get things going again. So it was one of those things that I was so busy. I didn’t understand it, didn’t really process it, but moved on and started you know that post-deployment life. And, you know, during that time period, they didn’t do a lot for you. You know, you just returned. May have said, you know, check make sure you got everything and “Okay, good. Go ahead and move on out.” There wasn’t a whole lot of redeployment processing. So that was yeah, that’s pretty much a little bit my story and what it was like for me to return back to my home in Germany.
Christopher Miller: Well, congratulations on the on the marriage. And, you know, I kind of wonder, you know, Chaps and Will, maybe, you know, yeah, a lot, most of the military relies on the E3 Underground or the Lance Corporal mafia, you know, who’s getting deployed? Who’s going where? And we rely on our own intel network. Do you guys have, does the military intelligence community have intelligence on that that’s even better? It sounds like it. You guys know what’s going on. You guys know where to go.
Will Beiersdorf: Careful where you go that Chris, this is military intelligence.
Christopher Miller: They can’t say anything on the record. I’ve got him cornered, Ray.
Will Beiersdorf: Of course.
Ramon Prieto: I was a signal soldier assigned at Intel, you know. Okay. So I was a non-communicator, working with smart people.
Christopher Miller: Okay, yeah, of course. You’re the one to know if they think you need a guy raise the data.
Ramon Prieto: Non-communications and intel people together? I don’t know how well that works.
Christopher Miller: All right. So, Will, you know, what, what are your thoughts on leaving Germany? Coming back home? You know, what was that like in the Guard, being in a reserve unit, as opposed to active duty?
Will Beiersdorf: Again, it was a great experience. And I think as you know, Ray was joking around, but of course, at the at that time, you know, we were still you know, National Guard and reserves were, kind of, the pretend. We had pink ID cards. We didn’t have the traditional green ID cards. I mean, I really felt like I was like, again, I was part of the team, right? Like we actually, because we actually did a great job out there. And then, of course, there was future deployments that were, that come up, and we continue to, kind of, be a part of the team. And, and again, after, you know, forward-thinking here, fast forward to September 11th, 2001, we all really worked together at that point. That was the official, kind of, we’re all in this together on this as Reserve National Guard and active duty. But again, my experience in coming back, it was great. I was thankful to be safe, you know, and to, at least my mom, my mom and dad, you know, felt comfortable. And, you know, it’s ironic, but I you know, when I did come back and Chris, yeah, this is like information for you, but you know, this is actually is because of Desert Storm that I met Mary Beth, you know, my wife. I was actually, came back, I wanted to kind of start a new life. So, I actually broke up with my girlfriend at the time, of I don’t know how many years. And then all of a sudden my mom said, “Hey, I want you to meet someone, You know, a lady at works daughter would like to meet you.” So, it was a blind date with my mom and Marybeth’s stepmom. So, that was, I mean, a good thing that came out of that. And I’m grateful for that, uh, but, back to the service kind of connection and things. I mean, again, I was grateful to be a part of the team, I was grateful to help in the cause. And then when I came back, I’ll be honest, I was really appreciative. They, kind of, because again, it could have gone another way. We could have been, it could have been a lot worse. There could have been, we could have been forward deployed. It could have been an ugly situation, right, Chaps? Right, Ray? I mean, it could have been really, really ugly, especially with the threat of chemical weapons. And all the training we went through with the NBC training we did. But I was grateful for that. And then I, kind of, you know, again, kind of changed my life, that’s when I really realized that at any moment, something could change. So.
Christopher Miller: Thank you for that. Yeah, it’s been a pleasure, you know, hearing your all’s stories, you know, looking back on 30 years ago and a unique time in your lives. The strange German intersection that all three of you sort of share in terms of where you ended up and then your involvement in it is fascinating. You know, from Stormin Norman Schwarzkopf to Colin Powell to Saddam Hussein and these, you know, larger-than-life characters that, you know, came about because of this war. You know, what are your final thoughts, what are your takeaways? You know, what do you want to leave the listeners to, you know, as a takeaway for, you know, what it meant to you and what 30 years of post Desert Storm means? Will, you want to take that?
Will Beiersdorf: Yeah, Thanks, Chris. Yeah, no, just real quickly, you know, what I built a lot of great friendships that still exist today. Still, can’t believe it’s been 30 years. I go, what the F? You know, this is freaking crazy! How did 30 years go by so quick? Again, it made me realize that time, you know, stops for no one. And again, at any moment, life can change. And so, you know, those are my reflections on that. And again, it really renewed, it changed my life, because again, like I told you, I met Mary Beth. And more importantly, again, it kind of matured me, because it kind of took away that, that weekend warrior kind of thing. And I, you know, really felt like, Hey, I’m part of the team. You know, again, grateful, you know, and again, like I said, it’s great friendships, and I still have great friends back in Germany back in, down in Augsburg and Munich and other areas down there. So, it was good. And again, just grateful that it kind of turned the way it did. But again, that was my part, my role. So I was, great to do my part. So I was thankful to do my part, I should say.
Christopher Miller: Thank you, Will. You know, Ray, final thoughts?
Ramon Prieto: Yeah. Thanks, Chris. I appreciate once again, the opportunity to kind of chat with the guys here and just, you know, bounce off on some of our experiences. But for me, you know, I touched on it earlier was the whole, always be ready, be prepared. You never know when you’re going to get the call. You never know when that training that you’re seeing is redundant and unnecessary. might be needed one day. It’s there, and especially in today’s world, right? So now we’ve changed and we’ve learned a lot, a lot of lessons learned from that conflict, we brought forward into 21st century. But I just, I took that forward into my career on to becoming a career soldier and understood the importance of the little things that make a difference. The attention to detail things that could actually save your life one day. So I implemented a lot of those best practices when I became a senior leader. And also it just took me, It also taught me to you know, plan. You have to have a plan and train your folks in order to be successful wherever you’re placed. So I took those experiences, I took the time in my life to learn and grow from and move forward with it. And I will close out with this. That fiancée is now my wife of 30 years this year. We will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary on 12 April. Danish wedding package. Couple number two. Appreciate that.
Christopher Miller: Thank you. Ray, thank you. Chaps, take us home. What’s your take aways from…?
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Everything nice, everything nice. No, but we trained, we trained like we fought. We fought like we trained. So, and our ethos was to be ready to go anywhere, any time. And so that part of it wasn’t so bad. What really was daunting, and for me anyway, personally, was with the technology that was introduced during Desert Storm. Ground laser designators and first-generation GPS, right? Thing we take for granted now was actually started back then, right? And I was like, “Wow, how is this going to change warfare? How is this going to change the mission?” And are, a thought that I had was, “Okay, is technology going to make us eventually redundant or allow our jobs to be done more effectively? And more safely?” So that’s kind of what I came with. And yeah, I’m thinking back 30 years. Wow. Feeling old.
Ramon Prieto: Yeah. And just to your point, 30 years, Chaps, I was talking to my post commander at the VFW the other day, he equated this. Think about WW2 to vets 30 years post WW2. When does that put you in? Like in ’75? Right?
Chaplain: Yeah, the end of Vietnam. That’s when Vietnam…
Ramon Prieto: There you go. So here we are. 30 years fast forward, right? So similar. We’re in this period in our lives and to be able to share this story with others is important.
Christopher Miller: Wow. Yeah, thank you all for sharing. You know, each one of you. It was all about the “we” and not the “me.” I pick that up from every one of you. You know, I really think that’s the mark of a great soldier, a great service member. You know, it’s never about the individual. It’s about the collective. So, thank you, guys for that,
Mark “Chaps” Schimmelpfennig: Chris, because the statute of limitations is, we’re far past it, I think it’s safe to say that all of this is off the record. (laughter)
Will Beiersdorf: The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Christopher Miller: All right, gentlemen. Thank you guys. Thanks for coming. taking time out of your day and joining us on the Road Home Podcast. Special 30 anniversary, 30 year anniversary of Desert Storm, Desert Shield. Chaps, Will, Ray, again, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Will Beiersdorf: Thanks for hosting this, Chris. Appreciate it.
About Road Home Program: The Podcast
Veterans have served our country, now it’s our turn to serve them. Road Home’s Will Beiersdorf talks with veterans and their families about their journeys transitioning to civilian life. During every episode you’ll hear from subject matter experts, like Rush clinicians, staff and community partners, discussing resources and services available to veterans to help them heal from the invisible wounds of war. Subscribe, download, or listen to other Road Home Program podcast episodes.
The Road Home Program provides mental health care and wellness to veterans of all eras, service members, and their families at no cost and regardless of discharge status. If you or a loved one needs help, call us at (312) 942-8387 (VETS) or fill out the Get Care form.