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A look back at Desert Storm

  • Published
  • HQ Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs
Operation Desert Storm was an exceptional example of Total Force integration in support of combat operations with an all-volunteer force.

Jan. 16, 2016, marks the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm, the coalition effort to free Kuwait from the grips of an Iraq invasion force. Below are some factoids on Air Force Reserve contributions to the campaign, courtesy of the Air Force Reserve Command History Office.

Airlift and Aeromedical

In the build-up to Desert Storm, Reservists provided fully 50 percent of the Air Force’s strategic airlift aircrew and aerial port capability, 33 percent of its aeromedical evacuation aircrews and 25 percent of its tactical airlift forces.


By August 1990, more than 15,300 Reservists had volunteered to serve, about 22 percent of the Air Force Reservists.

Strategic airlift

The first Reserve assets to reach the theater of operations was a C-141 Starlifter aircrew that landed in Saudi Arabia on Aug. 8, 1990. By the eve of Desert Storm, Air Force Reserve aircraft and crews flew more than 107,000 hours, moved more than 135,000 passengers, 235,000 tons of cargo and delivered five million pounds of fuel.


On August 29, 1990, an Air Force C-5, flown by an all-Reserve, all volunteer crew from the 68th Military Airlift Squadron, 433th Airlift Wing, Kelly AFB, Texas, crashed on takeoff from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Thirteen people died and four were wounded. Ten of the 17 were Reservists. Of those 10, nine died and one was injured. Staff Sgt Lorenzo Galvan, Jr., a loadmaster, earned the Airman’s Medal for his efforts to rescue other crash victims. The nine who died were the only Reservists to lose their lives during the conflict.

Reserve Call-Up

On Aug 22, 1990, President Bush authorized the call-up of 200,000 reservists for 90 days under Title 10 US Code Section 678b. The decision, the first significant, conflict-related call-up of the Reserve component since 1968, marking the beginning of a process that would eventually see more than 20,000 Air Force Reservists called to active duty.

Who got the call-up

By February 1991, more than 17,500 Reservists were on active duty. Roughly one in four was a woman; approximately 1,800 were Air Reserve Technicians, 1,300 were individual mobilization augmentees, and more than 500 were members of the individual ready reserve. More than 7,800 of the Reservists called up were in medical specialties. In expectation of massive casualties that never came, all Air Force Reserve medical units were called to active duty.

Mobilization peak

Mobilization reached its peak on March 12, 1991 with almost 23,500 Air Force Reservists on duty. Of these, more than 20,000 were assigned to 215 Reserve units; 2,300 were IMAs, 960 were IRR or retirees. Most of the Ready Reserve were medical personnel.

Sole fighter unit

The Air Force Reserve’s first (and only) tactical fighter unit to be recalled was the 706th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 926th Fighter Group, Naval Air Station New Orleans. The A-10 squadron deployed to Saudi Arabia in mid-January just before the beginning of the air campaign against Iraq.

Combat notes:

Capt Bob Swain, a pilot with the 706th TFS, scored the first-ever A-10 air-to-air kill when he destroyed an Iraqi helicopter. During one day of combat, Lt Col. Greg Wilson, 706th FTS and 1st Lt. Stephan K. Otto of the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing, Myrtle Beach AFB, S.C., destroyed 10 mobile Scud launchers and a pair of ammunition dumps and helped AF/A-18s destroy 10 more Scuds.

Tactical airlift

Crews from the 1650th Tactical Airlift Wing (Provisional), drawn largely from the 914th Airlift Wing, Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York, and 927th Tactical Airlift Group, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan, flew more than 5,000 hours, and 3,200 sorties in 42 days of combat.

Left Hook

Tactical airlift forces played a major role in the redeployment of forces in northern Saudi Arabia as commanders set up what became the dramatic left hook into Iraq. A-10s operating from bases close to the front lines, attacked a full range of ground targets including Scud missiles. Reserve AC-130 Gunships and HH-3E helicopters also supported special operations as well as search and rescue missions.


The Department of Defense authorized commanders of the gaining major commands to demobilize Reservists, consistent with military requirement, on March 8, 1991. Most Reservists had been demobilized by late June, but a handful remained on active duty through August and beyond.