The Nov. 25 front-page story "U.S. Training, Tactics Shift With the Desert Sand" typified the sensational and inaccurate reporting that has been done on Operation Desert Shield.
The article said that the "U.S. military has spent much of the last decade preparing to fight a low-intensity war in jungles or forests. Now . . . commanders are scrambling to reorient troops and equipment for this vast, hostile terrain and for the largest and most heavily armored combat since World War II."
That is inaccurate. This "unprepared for a Gulf war" theme reflects an obsession in the media with the 82nd Airborne Division and Marine units ashore. The problem is that these units became almost irrelevant upon the arrival of Army armored units in September.
The truth is that you would be hard-pressed to find an Army sergeant in a combat unit who has not trained at the Army's National Training Center in the Mojave Desert. You would find it equally difficult to locate an Air Force pilot who has never flown training missions over desert terrain.
The Marine regiment interviewed in the article also is normally based in the Mojave, where Marines have trained throughout the 1980s. Three of the four divisions in Saudi Arabia in early December also have been represented every other year throughout the 1980s in an exercise called Bright Star in the Egyptian Sahara. The remaining division, the First Cavalry, holds a reputation as one of the best units to train in the Mojve. This same division is stationed in the desert-like terrain of Fort Hood, Texas. Another division, the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), reentered service in 1976 specifically for fighting in the Middle East. Throughout the 1980s, the 24th's thousands of vehicles sported a desert-tan paint job.
As for armored combat, throughout the 1980s, 10 out of the Army's 18 active-duty divisions existed and trained specifically for armored combat, because we learned from the North African campaigns of World War II and the Arab-Israeli wars that armored forces are critical to winning wars in the desert. That is why most of the U.S. Army's active armored force is either in Saudi Arabia or on its way there.
U.S. armored forces arguably rank as the most heavily trained and most expensively equipped armored forces in history. They have been prepared specifically to defeat armies trained and equipped by the Soviets -- like the Iraqi army, which is less armored, less mobile, less flexible and has far less air support than would the Red Army.
If U.S. combat units prove ineffective in Saudi Arabia, we ought to ask serious questions about how we train units and test equipment, not about where we do it or for what type of foe. The Saudi desert does present challenges to soldiers and equipment, but the challenges of the desert and armored warfare are nothing new to the U.S. military. If our armed forces stand prepared for any war, this would be the one.
-- Michael P. McHugh The writer is an Army Reserve officer who recently returned from service in Saudi Arabia.