By Herb Meeker
News Report Staff
Craig Mosher cherishes one memory about the Gulf War that involved a game of football in the mud of southern Iraq.
“It was after the ceasefire when we were stationed near a village in Iraq. It was muddy and the guys started playing football to let off some steam. Everyone was just wearing boots, shorts and T-shirts. After the game, everyone was covered in mud, laughing and cheering,” recalled Mosher, an Effingham native who served with the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment during the Gulf War.
His unit was part of the ground war that swept through a section of Iraq into Kuwait in February, just two months after arriving from the Amberg military base in Germany. He served in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, an armored personnel carrier, and faced combat head-on as a line unit or combat platoon. As a staff sergeant, he commanded the Bradley carrying four crew members, including a gunner, driver and two observers for the weapon systems.
“The Bradley was a faster vehicle with better armor than the old M113s that they used in Vietnam. The Bradley did its job. It was not there to fight one-on-one with an Iraqi battle tank though,” Mosher recalled. “The Abrams tank was a proven weapon and so were the Apache Helicopters. They could take on the tanks. And I loved the A-10s (ground assault airplanes). They were silent and they were called the Cross of Death or Death Cross.”
Mosher’s unit was part of the “End Run” or the “Left Hook” attack into Iraq that trapped the Iraqi divisions dug in to stop an assault along the Kuwait border.
At one point, Mosher and his crew were in the middle of a tank battle after spotting an enemy armored formation. At one point, they fired an anti-tank missile at an Iraqi T-55, but eventually his Bradley stopped to allow the Abrams tanks to move up for fighting the enemy’s tanks. That is when Mosher got anxious because he didn’t want his Bradley to get hit mistakenly by friendly fire.
“The tank battle was the only time I was really scared. We used special lights to identify ourselves as friendlies. That meant it was time for our tanks to do the shooting. I suddenly realized all those tanks had their barrels aiming my way,” Mosher said.
The Iraqis never had a chance. The American and Coalition forces outgunned them. There were cases where Iraqi tank formations were bombed in oblivion or blown away before they could even get a fix on the attacking aircraft or armor units, Mosher said. It was a true “hell on earth” for them.
“I felt sorry for the Iraqi troops. We learned most of them were conscripts and their officers imposed draconian measures to keep them on the defense lines. We heard of executions to shoot Iraqi soldiers as an example. There were threats made against their family by the officers from what we heard. When we took in our first Iraqi prisoners they were terrified that we would shoot or torture them. Of course, many of their officers fled. They weren’t concerned with the welfare of their soldiers like ours were,” Mosher explained.
Eventually, the flood of prisoners, many holding leaflets dropped on their positions before the ground war, overwhelmed Mosher’s unit.
“We would take their weapons from them. We gave them some water. We had boxes and boxes of water with us. Our armored units looked like gypsy wagons with all kinds of supplies hanging off them. We had to keep pushing so we left the prisoners be taken over by other units coming up behind us like the cooks or mechanics. We couldn’t be tangled up with a bunch of prisoners. We told them to sit over there and don’t go anywhere. And they did what they were told,” Mosher said with a laugh.
The psychological warfare operations (see related story) had convinced many Iraqi soldiers to obey Americans. The leaflets and their coordination with tactical operations could produce spine-chilling intimidation.
“We saw leaflets that warned those guys on what would happen to a neighboring Iraqi unit at a specific time. Then a B-52 bomb run would hit that unit. A leaflet could come over next telling the first unit that at one o’clock the next day they would get it,” Mosher said.
The air war against the invaders of Kuwait lasted a matter of a few weeks. The ground war was over in 100 hours. What helped produce such an overwhelming victory? Mosher, who served for many years in the Army, cites several factors.
“There was astronomical coordination and preparation with war games and exercises at the Army War College. The Pentagon had learned lessons from Vietnam. The communications technology helped as well. The lethality of the weapons systems was important. We also knew our mission and there was a high level of confidence. We also knew we would take care of each other,” Mosher said.
The war did not knock out Saddam Hussein. That led to the Iraq War, which produced a relatively quick victory on the battlefield, but a prolonged guerrilla war. The rise of ISIS has brought out more second-guessing on the result of the Gulf War. Mosher believes that hindsight has its drawbacks.
“People always ask me and other Gulf War veterans, ‘Why didn’t you finish the job?’ But you have to remember the United Nations mandate was not to invade and conquer Iraq. It was to liberate Kuwait. The Iraqis might have welcomed us. But we were doing our mission and we couldn’t be concerned with all that might have happened in the future,” Mosher said.
But for a time, Mosher and his crew were in Iraq to make sure no Iraqi troops tried to counter the victory in Kuwait. He remembers an incident that might have proven to some Iraqi children that Americans stood up for what was right.
“Some Iraqi kids would come out of a village and we gave them MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). There was this beautiful little girl in a cute dress and sandals that came out one time with some other kids as we were having breakfast. My gunner, Walter Ellison from Chicago, handed over a carton of orange juice to them. This boy who was older than the girl grabbed a container out of her hands. I guess that is what’s expected of women over there. Well, Walter didn’t like that. He pushed the older boy back and gave the container back to the little girl. She was real happy when he did,” Mosher recalled.
As his unit left Iraq, there was the vision of Dante’s Inferno with oil wells burning after being deliberately set by the Iraqis in Kuwait.
“We once counted 93 of them burning on the horizon. When the smoke settled you could only see half an inch of daylight. If it rained then you were covered in soot,” Mosher said.
Arriving back in Saudi Arabia, the soldiers were glad to be back safe and sound. There was an overwhelming sense of pride, too.
“After we had washed up our vehicles and packed up we took a chartered 747 back to Germany. When the buses took us to our home station there was a lot of elation and jubilation,” Mosher said.
He was single when he went to war. Now, he and his wife, Debra, have three stepchildren and six grandchildren. He has worked at two local businesses and even though it has been 25 years since he was in harm’s way he makes sure to show appreciation to other veterans of different conflicts.
“If we see a person in a veteran’s ball cap, we’ll buy them a meal, especially for the dwindling numbers of World War II and Korean War veterans,” Mosher said.