In August 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait to annex the country’s rich oil reserves, President George H. W. Bush ordered ground, sea and air forces to Southwest Asia to stabilize the region and persuade Saddam Hussein to withdraw his invasion force.
“We were going to deploy to a base…next to the Red Sea,” Thiel said. “The mission to get over there was nonstop, about 15 hours in the air. That’s a long time to be sitting down. We almost needed a crane to get us out of the cockpit, because we we’re all kind of stiffed up.”
During this operation, Airmen familiarized themselves with desert terrain and participated in joint training with aircrews from the U.S. Navy and the Royal Saudi Air Force. The United States’ objective was to bring the invasion and occupation of Kuwait by Iraq to an end and to restore the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Kuwait, according to Security Council Resolution 661.
Thiel said the 58th TFS had completed two combat training exercises– Red Flag in Las Vegas and Maple Leaf in Canada — before they deployed, which simulated war time air tactics.
“[Deploying] was a bit scary because you’re always worried about a lot of things but we were very well prepared,” said Thiel.
At midnight on Jan. 17, 1991, the Nomads launched into Operation Desert Storm with a surprise attack over Baghdad. Their mission was to clear the skies of enemy aircraft over Bagdad and open a “corridor” for a second force to strike.
During the first strike, Capt. Jon Kelk, 58th TFS pilot, earned the first aerial kill of the war destroying a MiG-29 twin-engine fighter jet with an AIM-7 Sparrow medium-range air-to-air missile. Shortly thereafter, Capt. Robert Graeter, 58th TFS pilot, shot down two Iraqi Dassault Mirage F1’s for the second and third kills of the war.
Later that day, Capt. Rhory Draeger, 58th TFS pilot, and Capt. Charles Magill, U.S. Marine Corp exchange officer with the 33rd, intercepted and destroyed two MiG-29’s west of Baghdad.
In a post deployment interview with Air Force Public Affairs, Capt. Larry Pitts, 58th TFS pilot, who flew in these missions, said he and other aircrew members were greeted with relief and excitement by their comrades after the first sortie.
“Everyone was pretty excited, even more so because we were able to bring everyone back home,” said Pitts. “It was our first combat sortie and we actually expected a pretty sophisticated threat from the [enemy]. Everyone was glad all of us came home.”
Nomads continued to make an impact during the war until Feb. 27, 1991, when President Bush issued the cease-fire order. On March 3, the Gulf War ended.
The 58th TFS had the greatest number of aerial victories in one squadron, 12, and the most pilots with multiple victories in one squadron, four. They flew over 1,182 sorties and logged over 7,000 combat hours in direct support of the U.S. objectives.
But for Thiel, the most memorable part of the war was bringing home the same number of people and airplanes they deployed with–no fatalities.
“War is a terrible thing, but if you have to go to war it’s nice to go to one where you’re well prepared. You can do your job and bring everybody home,” Thiel said. “We so overmatched the enemy, which made it less frightening, and we were able to do a great job and be very effective.”
Article by Senior Airman Andrea Posey, 33rd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
PHOTO (top): F-15C Eagles fly over Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1991. The Nomads’ participation in Operation Desert Shield began in August 1990 with a total 769 personnel and 24 F-15Cs departing Eglin Air Force Base destined for King Faisal Air Base in northwestern Saudi Arabia. (U.S. Air Force file photos)