15th anniversary: ‘Through the Eyes of a Commando’ encompasses Task Force Normandy

Hurlburt Field, Fla. -- The “Through the Eyes of a Commando” living history lecture series continues at noon Jan. 27 in the Airmen Leadership School auditorium, when Col. Michael Kingsley, Fort Bragg’s Aviation Tactics and Evaluation Group commander, will share his first-hand experiences during Operation Desert Storm.

The lecture comes a little more than one week after the 15th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.

Colonel Kingsley, who was the commander of the 20th Special Operations Squadron from 2001-2002, was an MH-53 PAVE LOW helicopter pilot during what’s now referred to as “the first Gulf War.”

During his lecture, Colonel Kingsley will focus primarily on Task Force Normandy – the first mission during the war.

At 2:20 a.m. Jan. 17, 1991, the Allied air offensive against Iraq began.

Four MH-53J PAVE LOW helicopters from the 20th SOS from the then 1st Special Operations Wing, led the way; they were followed by eight U.S. Army AH-64A Apache attack helicopters from the 1st Battalion, 101st Aviation Brigade.

Earlier, the force’s helicopters had lifted off from an outpost near the border.
Their objectives were the two Iraqi early-warning radar sites west of Baghdad and 700 kilometers inside Iraqi territory.

These sites had to be destroyed before Allied aircraft could attack Iraqi targets; by destroying these targets, a corridor would be opened permitting several follow-on packages of aircraft to carry out operations.

Nearly invisible in their subdued camouflage, Task Force Normandy helicopters crossed the border into Iraq ahead of the first U.S. and Allied warplanes, using the PAVE LOW’s state-of-the-art navigation and terrain-following systems to weave their way to their targets.

Timing and the element of surprise were essential to the success of the mission, and the helicopters hugged the ground as they crept under Iraqi radar.

The targets were electronically linked, and had to be destroyed at the same time. If the Iraqis detected either helicopters or the attacking force, a warning would be sent to Baghdad and anti-aircraft artillery and surface-to-air missiles would be ready to take a toll on coalition aircraft.

The PAVE LOWs arrived undetected and illuminated the radar sites with laser target designators. 

The Apache’s missiles didn’t miss, and both targets were destroyed before they could raise the alarm. The electrical generators were the first to be hit, then the communications facilities and finally the radars themselves.

In less than two minutes, the Apaches fired 27 missiles, around 100 70mm rockets and some 4,000 rounds of 30mm ammunition.

At least one of the two radar stations was able to get off a warning, as anti-aircraft artillery fire immediately filled the air over Baghdad, even though no aircraft flew overhead.

A code-word was flashed back to Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf at Central Command Headquarters in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and within minutes Baghdad received its first air raid of the war. Task Force Normandy turned for home, dodging two heat-seeking SA-7 surface-to-air missiles and small arms fire on its way out of the country.

All Hurlburt Field personnel who would like to hear more about the mission from a man who was in the air over Iraq that night are invited to attend the “Through the Eyes of a Commando” lecture. 

For more information, call the wing history office at 884-6507.