"Get your gear. We're going to war."
That was the terse command I received as a young Army Ranger Sergeant in December 1991 when I first heard that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces had invaded Kuwait.
It took a little longer to fully prepare - weeks of packing and re-packing our bags, trying to foresee every possible threat. Training rose to a fever pitch as we practiced assaulting a scale-model mock-up of the U.S. embassy in Kuwait city - built along the coastline at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
A year earlier, we'd returned from Panama after what was for most of us a first taste of combat. We'd learned the hard way that it wasn't all guts and glory. And this time we were being told there were 4,000 Iraqi troops surrounding our objective. We were preparing for the fight of our life.
We spent time on the USS Forrestal, carving circles in the gulf of Mexico as we progressed up to live fire training exercises. We could tell this was going to be big.
Then, in the early morning hours of 17 January 1991, we were back at Fort Benning, Ga., on an urban training exercise when we received the news that the war had begun. American and coalition aircraft were launching bombing runs from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf and taking the fight to the Iraqis. The bombings would continue for more than a month before ground troops moved in. One hundred hours after that, it was all over.
Twenty years later, and with the benefit of hindsight, the debate still rages as to whether we should have continued all the way to Baghdad. If we had, we could have likely saved thousands of American and Iraqi lives. At the time, most of us would have gladly pressed the advantage, and almost everyone who was on the ground for Gulf War I held the belief that by not finishing Saddam we would end up fighting him again. It was as plain as the nose on our face.
But then again, nobody asks the grunts. Maybe someday somebody will - they might be surprised at the answers they receive.
Here's honoring the more than 300 coalition men and women who gave their lives during Operation Desert Storm. May they rest in peace.