Veterans of the 24th Infantry Division are converging on Hinesville this week as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of Operation Desert Storm.
Up to 600 attendees of the “Victory Division” will reunite to reconnect and share their stories of military life, war, and loss.
The 24th ID called Fort Stewart home until 1996 and was sent to fight in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm from 1990 to 1991.
The leader and soldiers
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey was the commanding general of 24th ID during Desert Storm.
Prior to assuming that position, McCaffrey worked as the Army’s strategic planner, giving him an “overview of what was going on in the world.”
“And to be blunt, I was 90 percent sure that we would end up in a military confrontation with Saddam Hussein in very short order,” he said.
Soon after arriving at the installation, McCaffrey said he told soldiers that they were going to war within the next 90 days. In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait.
One of the reunion’s organizers, Francisco Irizarry, was a private 1st class during Desert Storm with 1st Battalion, 41st Field Artillery Regiment and did not think much of the invasion of Kuwait until his unit was put on alert and the soldiers started preparing for deployment.
The other reunion organizer, Steve Harrington, was a specialist at the time in 1-41 FA and remembers what it was like when he landed in Saudi Arabia.
“And when we landed, it was noon on the 27th of August, and it was 125 degrees outside,” Harrington said. “And it hit me like a furnace.”
“The senior leadership was extremely apprehensive about the outcome,” McCaffrey said of the invasion. “We knew we would win the battle. ... But we thought it was going to be a real serious, bloody conflict.”
When the unit started preparing for the attack, they “were actually expecting like 75 percent causalities,” Harrington said. “It was supposed to be pretty bad. And a couple of guys went back to the rear and came back with stacks of body bags and toe tags.”
The 24th ID finally invaded Iraq on Feb. 24, 1991, moving and fighting for 100 hours until a cease-fire on Feb. 28.
The 24th ID’s mission was to move and clear everything in its way to its objective outside the city of Basra, where the soldiers were to cut off and destroy the Iraqi Republican Guard, the country’s elite fighting force, Harrington said.
Their movement through the vast desert, known as the “left hook,” moved them toward the Euphrates River, and then they turned toward Basra.
McCaffrey said, “The Iraqis did not believe that anyone could move across that kind of country.”
Harrington and Irizarry reconnected a few years ago and came up with the idea of a reunion after they visited Fort Stewart.
The reunion’s main event is Friday on post for a ceremony at the unit’s memorial.
The takeaway organizers hope the veterans will have is “that you’re not alone,” Harrington said.
“You will always have a brother to reach out to,” he said. “…This is your safe place.”