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Jayhawk! The VII Corps in the Persian Gulf War
From Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2004
By Maj Paul G. Niesen, USAF

  NOTE: The website staff has obtained a copy of Jayhawk and more detail about this highly respected work, including selected excerpts related to the 3AD, will be posted.


Jayhawk! The VII Corps in the Persian Gulf War by Stephen A. Bourque. Published in 2002 by the Center of Military History (http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg), 103 Third Avenue, Fort Lesley J. McNair, Washington, DC 20319.

We airmen sometimes play down the roles of other services in joint missions. The dazzling display of airpower during Operation Desert Storm drew much attention to the stealthy F-117, the plucky A-10, and the veteran B-52. To be sure, the Army basked in the praise directed at the capabilities of the M-1 Abrams tank and the M-2/M-3 Bradley fighting vehicles, and the high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle (HMMWV) became the darling of several civilian new-car lots. Despite all that praise and backslapping, one never truly appreciates the trip "there" unless one has a common frame of reference. Enter Stephen A. Bourque's historical coverage of the Army's VII Corps in the Gulf War. Bourque sits the reader right next to key VII Corps leaders, providing firsthand impressions and views of events on the front and in the tactical operations centers of the corps, division, and brigade.

Most striking about this book is its ease of reading. One doesn't have to be an expert on Army doctrine, tactics, and jargon to appreciate Jayhawk! The author does a fantastic job of walking the reader through some VII Corps history, background of deployment exercises, and evolution of AirLand Battle doctrine before launching into the record of the corps's deployment and combat operations. 

And what a read it is! Unless people have "been there, done that," they can't fully appreciate the scale and complexities involved in assembling, moving, and controlling 145,000 moving parts (i.e., individual soldiers) and supporting equipment. Bourque guides us step-by-step through receiving the initial notification, preparing for deployment, deploying and arriving in-theater, moving to assembly areas, and finally jumping off to war into Iraq.

My deployment exercises and operational experiences with the 1st, 3d, and 5th Infantry Divisions, US Army Europe, and with the 12th Aviation Brigade all helped color my reading of Jayhawk! Bourque hits it dead-on, capturing in great detail the steps individual soldiers must take to prepare and deploy equipment. Moving an Air Force combat wing is nothing like moving an Army brigade. His commentaries on the trials and tribulations of the corps's senior leadership help bring a human side to what can easily seem an impersonal deployment machine.

But it's not until VII Corps launches into Iraq that the reader fully appreciates what its troops went through. For these soldiers, the 100-hour war was just that: 100+ hours, perhaps with an hour or two of sleep, of enduring the sharp staccato of combat in seemingly endless seas of sand. Bourque clearly tells the reader that the "Desert war in 1991 was not the clean, high-technology conflict portrayed by the news media. It was dirty, confusing, and bloody" (p. 315). He also investigates breakdowns in communication and staff actions as fatigue finally takes hold at the end of the ground action (p. 380). Few airmen can fathom a mission lasting more than 30 hours, during which a stop at the club, a shower, and a few hours' rest may await the combatants; for VII Corps's soldiers, few had more than a catnap while they slogged forward each day in some of the wettest weather Iraq had to offer from February 23 to March 1, 1991. 

Naturally, Bourque trumpets the outstanding capabilities of the Army's equipment, the soldiers' training and leadership, and the ways that this synergy overcame a capable foe. Time and again, he digs into historical records to dispel the impression that the Iraqi army just put down its weapons and surrendered. On the contrary, at times-such as the Battle of 73 Easting (pp. 325­44)-the Iraqi army put up a formidable defense. If the Iraqis had been better prepared through training and leadership, the toll in coalition lives may have been significantly higher.

Using combat records, Bourque also questions airpower's effectiveness against Iraqi tactical units, tossing aside the Air Force's claim that airpower won the Gulf War. Although he does not discount the Air Force's participation (the A-10 was an aircraft the Iraqi army didn't like to see), Bourque points out that several Republican Guard units-one of the key targets of the Gulf War-moved without much, if any, interdiction from the air during the entire war. In fact some units were at or above 70 percent of their effective strength when they engaged VII Corps at the start of the Battle of 73 Easting. It was the corps's soldiers who ultimately destroyed several of these units. According to an Iraqi battalion commander from the Tawakalna Republican Guard Division, "When the air operations started, I had 39 tanks. After 38 days of the air battle, I had 32 tanks. After 20 minutes against the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, I had zero tanks" (p. 364).

Indeed, citing VII Corps's records, Bourque points out that although the Iraqi army feared the A-10 and B-52, they were in shock over the Apache helicopter. Negotiations to hold the cease-fire talks at Safwan Airfield nearly came to a standstill until a flight of Apache helicopters flew low overhead during the discussions. The Iraqi delegation quickly agreed to terms for the cease-fire site, knowing from very recent experience that a flight of four Apaches could destroy an entire battalion of Iraqi armor in minutes (p. 403).

I have only two criticisms of this book. First, Bourque glosses over the psychological effects of the previous four weeks of aerial bombardment. Some of the Republican Guard units were relatively unaffected, but other frontline forces had been beaten up by air attacks and were not effective in countering the American ground forces. Overwhelming ground-combat power may have administered the finishing blow, but many of these frontline Iraqi troops were ready to give up, seemingly firing only token shots of resistance so they could surrender with honor. Second, although it was not incumbent upon Bourque to address other American and coalition ground operations, one may get the impression that VII Corps won the Gulf War by itself. Jayhawk! is an excellent story of VII Corps in the war, touching on the progress of other units as the tale unfolds. But the reader must keep in mind that VII Corps was indeed an important chess piece-but only one of several on General Schwarzkopf's sandy chessboard. 

I strongly recommend Jayhawk! as a must-read for all airmen, especially those whose jobs take them to work with Army units. Bourque captures valuable combat lessons and illustrates the fine tether that holds command relationships together. Finally, he reminds us that even in these days of push-button technology, ground war will still be dirty, confusing, and bloody. We all would do well to march a day in these combat boots.

Maj Paul G. Niesen, USAF

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