Operation Desert Shield began on 7 August 1990 when United States military personnel were sent to Saudi Arabia at the request of King Fahd. From the beginning there was a palpable feel that if Iraq moved on Saudi Arabia the US forces in Saudi would not be able to stop the Iraqis. Slow them down perhaps. Shoot them down, sure; put a hurt on their ground forces, absolutely. But it would take time, and one of the largest mass-movements of American military might ever, before more than a few believed Iraq could be kept out of Saudi Arabia.
The first Air Force combat units to arrive in Saudi for Desert Shield were the 27th Tactical Fighter Squadron (TFS) Fighting Eagles and 71st TFS Ironmen from the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing (TFW) out of Langley Air Force Base (AFB) in VIrginia. Eventually the 1st TFW deployed 48 aircraft to the Persian Gulf. Beginning that first day in the Saudi desert, the 1st TFW flew some 4,207 sorties over the Saudi borders with Kuwait and Iraq by the time Desert Shield became Desert Storm on 16 January 1991.
Also flying out of Saudi within days were the 22nd TFS Stingers and the 53rd FS Tigers of the 36th TFW, which had moved to Saudi from Bitburg Air Base in Germany. The 525th TFS Bulldogs flew their F-15s to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey as part of the Proven Force Joint Task Force. The Air National Guard (ANG) sent the 157th TFS Swamp Foxes of the 169th TFW South Carolina ANG and the 138th TFS Cobras of the 174th TFW New York ANG to Saudi as well.
The US Navy immediately sent Battle Groups built around the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) with Carrier Air Wing SEVEN (CVW-7) embarked, and the Forrestal-class aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVA-62) with CVW-14 embarked to the Persian Gulf, where they were operationally ready to fly missions against Iraqi forces the next day: 8 August 1991. Also sent to the Persian Gulf were two Iowa-class cruise missile-armed battleships: USS Missouri (BB-63) and USS Wisconsin (BB-64).
The Eisenhower’s deployment began on 8 March 1990 and concluded on 12 September 1990 when Ike was relieved by the Forrestal-class aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-60) with CVW-17 embarked. During Ike’s Desert Shield deployment, CVW-7 consisted of VF-142 Ghostriders and VF-143 Pukin’ Dogs flying the Grumman F-14B Tomcat,VFA-131 Wildcats and VFA-136 Knighthawks flying the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet, VA-34 Blue Blasters flying the Grumman A-6E and KA-6D Intruder, VAW-121 Blue Tails flying the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, VAQ-140 Patriots flying the Grumman EA-6B Prowler, VS-31 Topcats flying the Lockheed S-3B Viking, and HS-5 Night Dippers flying the Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King.
The Independence’s deployment began 23 June 1990 and concluded on 1 December 1990 when Indy was relieved by the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVA-41) with CVW-5 embarked. During Indy’s initial Desert Shield deployment, CVW-14 consisted of VF-21 Freelancers and VF-154 Black Knights flying the Grumman F-14A Tomcat, VFA-25 Fist of the Fleet and VFA-113 Stingers flying the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A Hornet, VA-196 Main Battery flying the Grumman A-6E and KA-6D Intruder, VAQ-139 Cougars flying the Grumman EA-6B Prowler, VAW-113 Black Eagles flying the Grumman E-2C Hawkeye, VS-37 Sawbucks flying the Lockheed S-3B Viking, and HS-8 Eightballers flying the Sikorsky SH-3H Sea King.
Of course hundreds of thousands would follow. When Shield turned to Storm, the US military performed brilliantly. But if it weren’t for those first jets and ships to show one country’s resolve, the outcome certainly could have been different.