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    From infantry to rescue: AF Reserve 1st sergeant recalls Op Desert Storm as a Soldier

    From infantry to rescue: AF Reserve 1st sergeant recalls Op Desert Storm as a Soldier

    Photo By Carolyn Herrick | U.S. Air Force Reserve Master Sgt. Michael Wilson, 306th Rescue Squadron first...... read more read more



    Story by Carolyn Herrick 

    920th Rescue Wing/Public Affairs

    DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. - In the active-duty world, it's rare to find an Airman who has served long enough to remember Operation Desert Storm, which kicked off 25 years ago on Jan. 16, 1991. There may be a 30-year chief master sergeant, colonel or general officer who remembers; but a majority of those who served then have now retired.

    Not so with the Air Force Reserve, whose members' median age is typically greater and representative of a generation of military members who have generally served longer. Master Sgt. Michael Wilson, 306th Rescue Squadron first sergeant, is one of the few who remembers Operation Desert Storm.

    Standing at 6 feet, 7 inches, Wilson could be described as a "gentle giant," and - if a person were to judge by appearances only - he may never guess that Wilson is old enough to have served 25 years ago ... or that he used to be an Army grunt, since his mannerism is so genteel. But he recalls being a 20-year-old private first class attached to the 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, Kansas, when he saw then-President George H.W. Bush announce the beginning of the war on television ... and that the 1st ID would be deploying in support of the operation.

    "It took a while for that to sink in," said the Junction City, Kansas, native. "It was pretty nerve-racking to be such a young kid going to war."

    He was an "88 Mike" - a motor transportation operator, better known as a "heavy duty truck driver," he said with a smile. He chose that specialty thinking he would be driving trucks from coast to coast in the United States - on paved roads. The young E-3 had no idea he'd end up driving in the desert, supporting the 2/16 Infantry Battalion.

    "Our job was to make sure they had water, fuel and ammunition," he said. "I'll never forget my platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class Bloom, saying, 'Fellas, it's time to go do what we trained to do.'"

    Their first day in Iraq, they were housed in a large, empty apartment with no furniture - just sleeping bags and their gear, on the floor.

    "You had to get in wherever you fit in," he said.

    Around 2:30 or 3 a.m., the first SCUD missile whizzed overhead, and someone yelled, "EVERYBODY GET IN MOPP FOUR!"

    The missile was intercepted by a patriot missile, but everyone remained in their highest level of MOPP gear - mission oriented protective posture - for a day and a half.

    "It was pretty rough," Wilson recalled, "but you have to remember this was way back then. We weren't nearly as advanced as we are now."

    Their first two weeks in country, they took bird baths only. Like many of the countries the U.S. now deploys to, the water wasn't potable and they were drinking bottled water only. After a couple weeks, the whole infantry division started moving north toward the cities, driving across the vast desert, where oil wells were burning. They could see the fires, smell the fuel and feel the heat radiating off of the wells.

    "My partner, Pfc. Todd Allen, and I were driving and ran over a land mine," Wilson recalled. "Some shrapnel hit the side of his Kevlar helmet. I don't know if he ever even got a Purple Heart or not, but ultimately we came out OK. I said, 'Thank you Lord,' when I realized I was unhurt."

    The hot activity continued when around the second or third day, the sky suddenly turned black, Wilson said, his excitement mounting as he recalled what he felt when he realized it was a fleet of coalition fighter jets.

    "I just remember being like, 'YEAH, that's us!'" he said.

    He spent four months on the road that wasn't a road, sleeping in the trucks and using them as shelter during the rainy season. They took turns standing guard and staying dry. Wilson spent his 21st birthday in the desert, in the rain. There was no fanfare, just the camaraderie of being in the same situation as everyone else around him.

    Finally, in May 1991, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf called a cease fire, and the platoon sergeant said, "Well fellas, we're probably getting out of here eventually."

    Their Pan Am flight home played Lee Greenwood on the plane, and everyone was bawling.

    Wilson got out of the Army the next year, not wanting to repeat his deployment experience. He took advantage of the "early out" program that was part of the post-war drawdowns. But after a six-year break in service, he wanted to put on the uniform again and he re-joined, this time in the Army Reserve as military police.

    "Almost as soon as I re-joined, they sent me to Guantanamo Bay for 18 months," Wilson recalled. It was 2002 and he had just taken a new job with FedEx, who easily let him take the active orders and promised him they'd hold his job for when he returned.

    "That's one reason I love working for FedEx," he said. "They are so patriotic; they are great supporters of the military."

    Although he loved his job as an MP, an Air Force Reserve recruiter convinced him to cross into the blue and, in 2004, he became U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Wilson, trading his physically demanding job for a mentally demanding job as a knowledge management specialist. When FedEx transferred him to Tucson in 2010, he found the 943rd Rescue Group, where he is now a first sergeant.

    Ironically, Wilson went from driving a truck for the Army to driving a truck for FedEx; and, although he left the Army because he didn't want to deploy again at the time, he's now part of a highly-deployable rescue unit and wants to deploy with them if he can. He re-enlisted for six years on Jan. 16, on the very anniversary of the start of Operation Desert Storm.

    "I love this unit, and I love being a first sergeant," he said. "I plan to stay until they kick me out. Nowhere else can you find this much patriotism, pride and love for what you do."



    Date Taken: 01.16.2016
    Date Posted: 01.20.2016 16:58
    Story ID: 186647
    Hometown: JUNCTION CITY, KS, US

    Web Views: 587
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    From infantry to rescue: AF Reserve 1st sergeant recalls Op Desert Storm as a Soldier