The Message that Launched Operation DESERT STORM

Members of the 5th Combat Communications Group board a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy at an undisclosed location during Operation Desert Storm, 1991. The famed operation that was one of many during the First Gulf War which occurred from 2 August 1990 to 28 February 1991, will mark its 25th anniversary on 17 Jan 2016. (courtesy photo)

Members of the 5th Combat Communications Group board a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy at an undisclosed location during Operation Desert Storm, 1991. The famed operation that was one of many during the First Gulf War which occurred from 2 August 1990 to 28 February 1991, will mark its 25th anniversary on 17 Jan 2016. (courtesy photo)

JBSA-LACKLAND, San Antonnio, Texas -- While the famous phrase "the face that launched a thousand ships" refers to Helen of Troy and the Trojan War, it could be said that Operation DESERT STORM began with a message that launched hundreds of aircraft and cruise missiles.

When Operation DESERT STORM began 25 years ago on 17 January 1991, Twenty-fourth Air Force did not exist; so what is the connection between the cyber NAF and DESERT STORM? While the command did not exist, many of the missions it currently oversees did, and one of the most important during any war, was deployable communications.

On 2 August 1990, Iraq invaded its tiny neighbor to the south, Kuwait, and occupied the capital, Kuwait City. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein declared Kuwait to be the nineteenth province of Iraq, and began threatens towards Saudi Arabia.

In response to this, the U.S. government began Operation DESERT SHIELD Aug 6, and by the 21st had begun a buildup of forces in the Middle East in effort to contain further advances by Iraqi forces.

After the passage of two United Nations resolutions demanding Iraq to leave Kuwait, and authorizing member states to use "all necessary means" to enforce the first resolution, the U.S. Congress authorized the use of force on 12 January 1991. When the deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait passed (Jan 15), U.S. President George H.W. Bush authorized military action, which began with a major air campaign at 0300 local time in Kuwait 17 January 1991.

The leader of coalition forces and Commander of U.S. Central Command, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, prepared a message to his forces about the start of the air offensive. In this historic message that calls to mind General Dwight Eisenhower's message to the Allied Expeditionary Force prior to D-Day, Gen. Schwarzkopf explained to the men and women of USCENTCOM their cause was just and they must be the "thunder and lightning of DESERT STORM."

But his message would mean nothing if it couldn't be sent to the troops. So who would actually transmit this message? As it turned out, two non-commissioned officers from the 51st Combat Communications Squadron of the 5th Combat Communications Group, also known as the "5th Flash Mob," were responsible for sending the critical message to personnel across the region and AOR.

Sitting in a TGC-27 van, a mobile communications center, TSgt Steven Feeley and SSgt Kevin Kern transmitted the message using an AN-TYC-39A antenna, for theater-wide release, as Lieutenant General Charles "Chuck" Horner, former Air Component commander, and Brigadier General Buster Glosson, CENTAF Campaign Plans director, looked on.

According to Feeley, Horner directed the "flash" message to be held for three hours to allow for the transition from Operation DESERT SHIELD to DESERT STORM. Freely recalled how nerve-wracking it was to wait those three hours, knowing what was about to occur.

Finally, at 0300L (Kuwait) on Jan 17, a transmission sent by two airmen from the 5th Combat Communications Squadron delivered the general's message and the DESERT STORM air campaign officially began!

Today, as part of 24th Air Force, the men and women of the 5th CCG continue to play a vital role in providing deployable communications support around the globe in real world contingencies and exercises. Transmitting Gen. Schwarzkopf's message to the troops is just one historical highlight of an organization that has provided unparalleled support to military operations for more than a half century.