Desert Storm, a war worth fighting -- and remembering

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  • Scott Stump: Operation Desert Storm became one of the most successful US military operations, despite predictions of doom
  • It is crucial that the American people remember those who took great risks for the freedom of this country, says Stump

Scott C. Stump, a Desert Storm veteran, is president of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)As with previous generations of Americans who experienced the horrors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 or President Kennedy's assassination in 1963, many people over the age of 35 remember exactly where they were and what they were doing on the evening of January 16, 1991.

I remember being unnerved by the thundering roar of 93 low-flying fighter jets screaming over my head, as I crouched within my sandy foxhole in the cold, dark Saudi Arabian desert. I knew that our world was about to change drastically.
Despite all the somber predictions by the naysayers who said that America was not up to the mission, Operation Desert Storm became one of our country's proudest moments and, from a military standpoint, one of the most rapid and resounding victories ever.
    The official predictions stated that 10,000 Americans would be casualties within the first week of fighting Iraqi forces, and if the war lasted 20 days, 30,000 casualties were expected. Chemical and biological warfare were a constant fear, with gas masks and chemical protective suits part of the daily wardrobe.
    Looking back 26 years after victory was declared on February 28, 1991, everything fits neatly together in the rearview mirror of history. We know that these ghastly casualty predictions were never realized. After a withering 40-plus days of aerial bombardment on targets in Kuwait and Iraq and several battles on the border of Saudi Arabia, the war concluded with a bold ground attack which lasted an astonishing 100 hours. Kuwait was liberated and a remarkable victory was secured.
    The effort to construct the National Desert Storm War Memorial is now in its seventh year. The importance and necessity for this memorial is now greater than ever. Many younger Americans are not aware of what Operation Desert Storm is, what it was about, and what it accomplished.
    Those who are old enough to remember tend to view Desert Storm through the lens of it being a video-game war where "nobody died" and that it ONLY took 100 hours, never considering that troops were in place seven months prior, or overlooking all the action leading up to the ground war. There are a multitude of reasons why it is imperative to remember Operation Desert Storm and all who served.
    First, we liberated Kuwait, where citizens endured unspeakable atrocities over a seven-month Iraqi occupation. When it was decided that the United States would act, President George H. W. Bush delivered a televised message to the American people and said, "America has never wavered when her purpose is driven by principle." Liberating Kuwait forever changed the future course of not just Kuwait and the Middle East, but the world.
    It's also amazing that this feat was accomplished through the cooperation of a coalition of 33 other countries from five continents, who came together and did what was right. This is even more astonishing today where we can't even get 34 states to agree on anything, let alone 34 different countries with different languages, cultures and religions. I sincerely doubt that we will ever see that level of international cooperation again in our lifetimes.
    Operation Desert Storm was also a significant turning point in our country's history in regard to how the military is viewed and treated. Our citizens collectively came to the realization that the horrific treatment many Vietnam veterans experienced upon returning home, only two decades preceding Operation Desert Storm, could never happen again.
    If not for those lessons learned in 1991, I seriously doubt that our brave men and women who have served in the post 9/11 military would be treated with the dignity and respect they absolutely deserve and enjoy to this day.
    Lastly, we can never forget to remember the almost 400 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice. Their sacrifice is identical, and just as valuable as those made at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, Omaha Beach, Khe Sanh and Falluja. We also need to remember the over 600,000 who answered the call to serve in harm's way with NO guarantee of ever returning home safely. They were ready to lay down their lives for all of us!
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    President Bush so appropriately commented before a joint session of Congress one week after Kuwait was liberated, "They set out to confront an enemy abroad and in the process transformed a nation at home."
    As we move closer to securing the ultimate location for the National Desert Storm War Memorial in Washington, I would like to invite you all to help us remember those who made that transformation possible.