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NEWS | Feb. 23, 2021

Desert Storm veterans recall pre-deployment training at Fort McCoy, wartime service with 890th TC

By Scott Sturkol Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office

Desert Storm veterans recall pre-deployment training at Fort McCoy, wartime service with 890th TC
Army Sgts. Mark Christensen and Phillip Cornelius with the 890th Transportation Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Green Bay, Wis., are shown in Kuwait City, Kuwait, on Feb. 27, 1991. Both Soldiers were part of the deployed 766th Transportation Battalion and operated from Logistical Base Echo in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. Both Soldiers became best friends during the operations and are still friends today. Both trained at Fort McCoy, Wis., prior to deploying for the Gulf War.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 910227-A-A4608-819
 Thirty years after the completion of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, former Army Sgts. Mark Christensen and Phillip Cornelius remember their service with the Army Reserve’s 890th Transportation Company quite vividly.

And through all the time since they served together in the deserts of Southwest Asia in 1990 and 1991, both men have remained the best of friends. Some would even say they are like brothers.

How it started
History shows Desert Shield and Desert Storm, also known as the Gulf War, took place from Aug. 2, 1990, to Feb. 28, 1991. On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein led a well-equipped Iraqi army into Kuwait, a major supplier of oil to the United States.

According to a Department of Defense report in 2019 by Shannon Collins, it states the U.S. had supplied Iraq with military aid during its eight-year war with Iran, giving Iraq the fourth-largest army in the world at that time. This posed a threat to Saudi Arabia, another major exporter of oil. If Saudi Arabia fell, Iraq would control one-fifth of the world’s oil supply. The Iraqi leader also was repeatedly violating United Nations resolutions, so the U.S. had U.N. support in responding to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait with Desert Shield and then Desert Storm.

Once the Gulf War began, thousands of Guard and Reserve services members were called to active duty — including Christensen and Cornelius. An Oct. 10, 1990, Associated Press news article by Robert Burns states that on that date the 890th was among many activated.

“More than 33,000 military reservists have been called to active duty in support of the U.S. buildup in the Persian Gulf area — nearly as many as were activated during crises in Vietnam and Korea in 1968,” the article states. “The Army today activated 12 National Guard and 24 Army Reserve units from 24 states and Puerto Rico, for a total of 4,846 troops. Meanwhile, the Marine Corps said Wednesday it was calling up about 160 reservists. Those actions brought to 33,252 the number of reservists from all services activated since Aug. 22 when President Bush authorized their use in support of Operation Desert Shield.” 

The 890th, in 1990, was headquartered in Green Bay, Wis., and that’s the area where both Christensen and Cornelius still reside. When the 890th was mobilized, that meant training had to be completed. To do that training, they went to Fort McCoy.

Training at Fort McCoy
By October 1990, Fort McCoy had already had many units — both Guard and Reserve — already busily training and preparing for Operation Desert Shield. Soldiers with the 890th were among them and had already been preparing for deployment in September.

“While at McCoy, we painted the trucks, did weapons qualifications, and basic field combat training,” Christensen said.

Just before leaving on deployment, 890th Soldiers were featured in a Nov. 16, 1990, article by Rob Schuette with the Fort McCoy Triad newspaper (now The Real McCoy). The article discussed land-navigation training the unit had completed on Fort McCoy’s South Post in late-October 1990. 

“Training has been keeping people very busy,” said 890th’s 1st Sgt. Calvin Thomson in the article. “They’re enthusiastic because they know that their survival could depend on what they learn.” Thomson noted that the 890th’s mission is to haul containerized military cargo on 40-foot trailers.

Spec. John Panosian of the 890th also mentioned in the article, “We’ve got our trucks ready and in working order. I’m anxious to get over there and get the mission completed.” 
Desert Storm veterans recall pre-deployment training at Fort McCoy, wartime service with 890th TC
M-935 5-ton expandable vans are shown parked in a staging area Jan. 29, 1991, for a XVIII Airborne Corps Main Command Post convoy movement from Dhahran, Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia, to Rafha, Northern Province, Saudi Arabia.
Photo By: PFC John F. Freund
VIRIN: 910129-A-A4608-158

890th’s Sgt. James Socha discussed how busy their time training at McCoy was in the article: “You put in a lot of long hours during something like this.”

Christensen and Cornelius were among the many 890th Soldiers doing the land-navigation training and so much more before deploying. Christensen said his unit’s mobilization training at the “Total Force Training Center” was “excellent.” 

By early November 1990, the 890th finished their two-plus months of mobilization training at Fort McCoy and departed the installation. The unit’s Soldiers arrived at their deployed location in Saudi Arabia on Nov. 14.

In the fight
Christensen and Cornelius both knew when they arrived in Saudi Arabia that they had to hit the ground running to be ready for anything.

Both Soldiers served as truck drivers for the unit and had an important mission.

“We provided combat support,” Christensen said. “We were responsible for transporting ammunition, bombs, Patriot missiles, multiple-launch rocket systems, 155-millimeter rounds for tanks, water, and pallets of food.”

In the book “United States Army Reserve in Operation Desert Storm: Ground Transportation Operations,” which was released in January 1994, it shows the 890th supported the 766th Transportation Battalion and operated from Logistical Base Echo in Saudi Arabia.

The book states the units within the battalion primarily hauled spare parts, Patriot missiles, ammunition, and basically whatever was needed in support of the Army VII Corps.

“Their line-haul before the air combat began was from the port of Dammam (Saudi Arabia) to Log Base Echo, which was a 500-mile trip one way,” the book states. “During the ground war, continual transportation support of sustainment supplies — food, ammunition, and repair parts — was provided to the VII Corps elements as they moved deep into Iraqi territory. Once the ground phase ended, the 766th started to provide support to the XVIII Airborne Corps redeployment as well as the VII Corps. The 766th also hauled relief supplies into Kuwait while the corps were withdrawing.”

Both Christensen and Cornelius were part of those long hauls from the port to their base as well as other areas, especially in February 1991.

“We were all over,” Christensen said. “We were in Saudi, Kuwait, and Iraq.”

The book states the 766th experienced the same problems with inadequate communications for command and control as other units had during the war along with other issues. But the mission got done because Soldiers like Christensen and Cornelius were working hard.

“Some of the line-hauls were almost 1,000 miles one way, and days would go by before contact was re-established,” the book states. “Good platoon leadership and responsible E-4 and E-5 drivers kept things on the right track.”

The book’s review about the battalion Cornelius and Christensen were assigned to also states that for the entire period of the deployment, the battalion's operational rate exceeded 95 percent, which was “a remarkable performance attributed to the versatility and multiple talents of the Reservists’ civilian skills. These units didn’t have to wait on direct support maintenance units for repairs. Their own mechanics could change a diesel engine in a tractor in one day or rebuild a transmission.”

In essence, Cornelius and Christensen and their fellow transportation Soldiers achieved amazing results despite the tough missions they faced in a wartime environment.

Looking back 30 years later
After three decades since they survived the war and did their part in liberating Kuwait, Christensen and Cornelius recall their service there as a hard one because of what they faced and experienced. But that service has also kept them bonded like brothers.

Desert Storm veterans recall pre-deployment training at Fort McCoy, wartime service with 890th TC
Soldiers with the 890th Transportation Company, an Army Reserve unit based in Green Bay, Wis., complete land-navigation training Oct. 28, 1990, at Fort McCoy, Wis. The company was doing the training as part of mobilization training to deploy to Operation Desert Shield.
Photo By: Robert Schuette
VIRIN: 901028-A-A4608-254
 “What I remember most are the special friendships that I made and how well everyone worked together,” Christensen said. “I remember how hot it was during the day and cold at night. I remember the oil fires in Kuwait.

“I came home angry because we didn’t finish the job,” Christensen said. “I was feeling guilty because of helping in the killing all those people. Trivial things that bothered me before deployment were no longer a big deal, and I appreciated all that I had going for me at home.”

Cornelius added, “It feels like we didn’t finish the job that we were sent to do. I have suffered from hearing loss and PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). But even with these issues, I’m very proud to have served my country. I would do it all over again with my brothers and sister who I served with.”

Christensen talked about some things he and his fellow Desert Storm vets have done since the Gulf War.

“If I knew then what I know now, I would have done my full 20 years instead of getting out at 12 years,” Christensen said. “Having kids made me decide that I didn’t want to take the risk of being deployed. I saw how it affected my unit members who did have kids at home. Also, while deployed, I made the best friend for life that a person could ever ask for. That is Corny (Cornelius).

“When we got home, along with another friend of ours, Dave Rasmussen, had an idea to start a group similar to the Vietnam Vets of America,” Christensen said. “We all started the Desert Veterans of Wisconsin. The group is not only desert vets. It is open to any service member who was honorably discharged or is still in service in any branch of the military.”

Sadly, Rasmussen — also a 890th Soldier who served with them in Desert Storm — died in 2009 at the age of 39 from cancer. He is remembered by all the founding members of the Desert Veterans of Wisconsin with fondness and respect. Through the group, Christensen said they make a difference in the lives of veterans and their families every day, and he knows Rasmussen is proud of everything the group does.

The 890th Transportation Company completed its active-duty activation for the Gulf War in June 1991. The unit’s service, along with many like them in the Gulf War, helped end an invasion and occupation, and returned freedom to a foreign nation. It also made two men brothers for life.