By Josette Keelor -- Daily Staff Writer
Even though he grew up in a military family, Michael Connelly never really intended to join the service.
Two of his uncles were World War II Army veterans, other uncles had been in the Marines, Navy and Air Force, and his father was an Army medic, but Connelly planned on a civilian life -- at least until the fall of 1989.
"I was bored," he said, recalling the day he left for his lunch break at his job at AT&T in Herndon and enlisted in the Army's delayed entry program. He was 23 years old. Five weeks later, on Jan. 2, 1990, he reported to the processing station at Linthicum Heights, Md., and then headed to basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
"[I] just wanted to do it," he said of joining the Army. "I didn't want a career or anything."
Connelly, now 42, of Mt. Jackson, did not know when he signed up for the Army that he would soon end up in the middle of a war.
On Aug. 2, 1990, Iraq's army stunned the world by invading neighboring Kuwait.
"It wasn't in the news [beforehand]," he said, but the military could see a conflict coming. "I think everybody was excited and keyed up."
In September, after taking classes in Huachuca, Ariz., to prepare for his job as an intelligence analyst, Connelly flew to Germany for a field rotation. He was stationed at Kirchgoens, Germany, for about eight weeks before his battalion was ordered to participate in Operation Desert Shield, the American deployment to defend Saudi Arabia from a possible Iraqi invasion. After loading their equipment onto multiple trains and barges, Connelly and the members of his battalion flew to Saudi Arabia in C-130 transport planes.
One vivid memory he has of his short time there is living in water up to his knees. His battalion of about 400 troops set up camp in a runoff zone, he said.
"When it rained it was like being in a big drainage ditch," he said.
They were stationed in Saudi Arabia en route to Iraq. After about two weeks of waiting for their equipment to arrive and painting their vehicles camouflage to blend in with the desert, they were on their way.
Connelly compares the adventure to descriptions in the book "Iron Soldiers," by Tom Carhart, which tells the story of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division during Operation Desert Storm. Connelly was in the 3rd Armored "Spearhead" Division, 1st Brigade. His unit was the 3rd Battalion, 5th Cavalry.
"They put us on school buses," he said. "Drove us out into the desert and set us up."
In addition to working as an intelligence analyst, Connelly was the battalion's noncommissioned safety officer and map custodian. As intelligence analyst, he kept the colonel up to date on the battlefield.
His area of expertise was reading "reports we get from units, from recon units, from our guys -- intelligence," he said.
He studied enemy weaponry to determine how the Iraqi military would most likely use their weapons, as well as the area's weather and terrain.
"I drove an M577," he said, referring to a vehicle used as a mobile command post. The name "Killer Angels" was printed on the vehicle -- a term inspired by the historical novel of the same title about the Civil War, which Connelly said is recommended reading during officer training.
Although on the verge of war, it was boring for the soldiers waiting on the border of Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Connelly said.
The food was bad, and there wasn't enough of it, he said. The sand ruined every piece of equipment, too. The troops would wait for days before moving their vehicles, which would break down when needed. Soldiers then had to make speedy repairs.
Once in Iraq, though, the soldiers were there for one thing -- to fight.
While Iraqi troops were expecting the Americans to attack from the south through Kuwait, the division crossed the Saudi border as part of a surprise attack from the west on the Saddam Hussein's army.
It worked and the war was over within three days.
"It was pretty quick," Connelly said.
He remembers his first combat as "a really short, lopsided battle."
"Our tanks and Bradleys [infantry fighting vehicles] can see through rain and dust and everything," he said, which is good because it rained through their first battle. The weather helped American troops, he said, because it cleared away some of the dust.
"It was a nice rain for our first battle," he said. Then they fought their second battle, helping defeat Iraq's elite Republican Guard, and within a couple of days, Connelly and his unit had pushed through Iraq and settled at Camp Doha, Kuwait.
"The ground war only lasted 100 hours," Connelly said. Fortunately his unit lost no soldiers during the conflict, although some casualties were sustained after the conflict from accidents involving land mines, he said.
Connelly spent the next few months in Kuwait, offering aid to refugees from Safwan, Iraq, and quelling problems with the different elements in Kuwait, he said.
The 3rd Armored Division returned to Germany in May, and Connelly remained there until his four years were up. He returned to the United States in December 1993, and left the Army on Jan. 2, 1994.
Afterward, the Army paid for the majority of his education at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown.
The brief Gulf War was a lot for a soldier to process.
"I think for everyone it was a big disappointment ... and it was kind of confusing," Connelly said. After many weeks of planning, the conflict was over within three days. "That was just two battles my unit was in."
Nonetheless, it was a very straightforward conflict, he said.
"The one [war] I was in, they were on one side of the line in the sand, and we were on the other," he said.
Connelly has no regrets of his time in the military, and said that he would do it all again if given the opportunity, even knowing now he would go to war.
"You make friends there and become a unit. You're a soldier and want to do a ... job," he said. "I don't think anyone can expect it to be anything. You just have to experience it. You can't describe it to anyone. It's a great experience for anybody."
NEXT WEEK: Air Force was ticket to adventure for Browntown woman
* Contact Josette Keelor at email@example.com