Americans in Wartime Experience

Rebecca Mihalovich

Desert Storm

The daughter of a Vietnam veteran, Becky enlisted into the Air Force during her junior year of high school and was placed into the delayed entry program. She left for Lackland Air Force Base where she attended boot camp in December of 1988 after graduating from high school and turning 18. Becky says she decided to join the military because she didn’t think college was right for her, and because of the influence of her father who served in the Army. Why the Air Force? Becky says that she felt that there were more options for her there than in the other services. She would end up becoming Security Police after originally going in under an open contract.

After completing her basic training at Lackland, she would move on to the next phase of her training which was also at Lackland. There she would learn the role of the Security Police which is to protect the base, protect the flight line, and protect the aircraft on the flight line. Once that training was completed, she was off to Fort Dix in New Jersey for Army infantry training. There she would learn to shoot various weapons, ground movements, and other basic infantry techniques.

Her first assignment after she completed her training was at Maxwell AFB in Alabama. It was while there that Saddam Hussein ordered the Iraqi Army to invade Kuwait. Becky remembers receiving the phone call to report to one of the hangers on base where they were briefed on what had happened and what the next steps would be. A request for volunteers was made and Becky stepped up. The next day she was told that she would be deploying to Saudi Arabia.

During that time in the military, the mindset, according to Becky, was that much of the training they received would never be needed. For the most part, the United States had not been involved in a major conflict since the end of the Vietnam War. In fact, much of the training they received while at infantry school was in jungle warfare. They certainly would not need that in the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq. She said much of what they would learn mentally came while deployed.

The preparations to deploy started almost immediately. They would need to pack, receive immunizations and write wills. This is something Becky says that at 19 years of age, you never think about having to do. It’s something that she and her fellow Airmen never expected when they volunteered to go.

In a career field that at the time did not include many women, Becky would face many challenges deploying to a country that treats women as second class citizens. In Saudi Arabia, women cannot posses firearms and they do not have authority over men. Both conflicted with the mission of the Security Police. To make matters worse, Becky was the only Female Security policeman there, and the military was not prepared. Becky would live in a tent with her squad of 13 men. There was 1 bathroom and 1 shower. There was a sign they posted on the door that indicated to others that she was in there. She says, however, that it didn’t bother her. She had volunteered to be there and she had a job to do. The men she served with didn’t have an issue with it either.

Becky and her fellow airmen arrived in Saudi Arabia in August of 1990. They were told that they would only be there for 3 months and would be home by Christmas. She said that they quickly learned while watching the Bob Hope Christmas show that that was not going to happen.

Becky was assigned to protect the quarters of the A-10 pilots on base. During her time there, she made friends and became very close to some of them. On 2 February 1991, one of those pilots was shot down and presumed KIA. It was then that she said that your perspective changes and you realize that what’s going on is real. The pilot was in fact not killed and became a POW, but it wasn’t until the POWs were released that it was discovered that he had ejected and survived. Becky said that it was a shock to everyone because they had all excepted that he had been killed.

During the war, the base that Becky was on was struck by several SCUD missiles. As a result, and because of the real threat that Saddam Hussein would use chemical weapons, the troops on the ground frequently worked wearing MOPP gear. This protective equipment is very hot to be in, and with the temperatures reaching 130 degrees, it is down right miserable. To make matters even worse, the MOPP gear they were using had expired because they were in it past the 30 day expiration period.

The fear the chemical weapons was very real and Becky said that they didn’t go anywhere without their MOPP gear. “We took it on and off more times than I care to remember” she says. The troops, however, had little faith that the gear would protect them. And like much of the equipment still used by the military at that time, that gas masks were Vietnam era. Eventually they would receive newer models and everybody fought to get one.

There were not many opportunities for Becky to communicate with family during her time in Saudi Arabia because there weren’t many phones for them to use, and of course there was no email like there is today. If you did get the chance to use a phone, you had to call a military operator in the states and then have them transfer you to your whomever it was you were trying to reach. It could be a hassle under optimal circumstances. During a war it’s less than optimal. Fortunately for Becky her father worked in the Pentagon so she was able to communicate with him government phone to government phone. In addition to the occasional phone call, she would receive letters. Those were always cherished.

Just prior to leaving for Saudi Arabia from Dover AFB, Becky phoned her father. His advice to her she remembers vividly. He told his daughter to not come home a hero. At first she didn’t understand why he wouldn’t want this for her until she thought about it further. Heroes don’t come home alive.

Becky was deployed for 8 months. She said that the thing that stands out the most about her time there was the friends she made. “They are some of my closest friends. I can count on, I can rely on. It’s a close bound.”

Her homecoming was very emotional. In fact, she gets emotional just talking about it. When she saw her family she realized how much pain and pressure they were going through having a daughter, and a sister, deployed to a foreign land fighter a war. Becky was aware of what was happening while she was deployed because she was there and living it. Her mother didn’t. And it’s the not knowing that is the hardest. Many times it’s easier for the veterans than for their family.

Becky said her time during Desert Storm made her stronger, made her a leader, and made her very proud to be an American. We are proud of her, and we thank Becky for her service.

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The Americans in Wartime Experience explores the impact of war and conflict on America since WWI. It honors those who served in the military and on the home front and highlights the values they demonstrated in serving – duty, honor, and courage. It examines how periods of conflict have profoundly shaped American society. It educates visitors about the costs of war, both on a personal and social level. It challenges visitors to remember the service and sacrifices made by their fellow citizens to preserve and defend our freedoms. LEARN MORE

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