Ron Papa, left, of Macomb Township, stands atop an M1 Abrams tank in Iraq a couple weeks after Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Ron Papa, left, of Macomb Township, stands atop an M1 Abrams tank in Iraq a couple weeks after Operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Photo provided by Ron Papa


Operation Desert Storm veteran reflects for 30th anniversary

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published January 13, 2021

 For over 21 years, Papa has lived in Macomb Township. He is a Gulf War veteran who served in the Michigan National Guard from 1987 to 1992.

For over 21 years, Papa has lived in Macomb Township. He is a Gulf War veteran who served in the Michigan National Guard from 1987 to 1992.

Photo provided by Ron Papa

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Jan. 16 marks 30 years from when Operation Desert Storm began.

Locally, Macomb Township resident Ron Papa recently discussed his memories of the conflict and his involvement.

Papa, 53, served in Operation Desert Storm in Iraq, part of the Gulf War.

The Gulf War began in August 1990 with Operation Desert Shield and ended Feb. 28, 1991.

Jan. 16, 1991 — the first day of Operation Desert Storm — U.S. and allied forces struck Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, and other targets in Iraq and Kuwait with waves of bombers and cruise missiles launched from naval vessels.

Operation Desert Storm, the codename for the combat phase of the Gulf War, lasted until the end of February 1991.

Papa, who has resided in Macomb Township for over 21 years, served two years in the Army, then transitioned to the Michigan National Guard from 1987 to 1992.

He grew up in Sterling Heights, graduating from Sterling Heights High School in 1985.

“I was in the National Guard when I got called up during Operation Desert Storm,” Papa said. “Right at the end of December, they told us we were getting called up.”

Within a couple of weeks, specialist Papa was in Iraq, part of the 1776th Military Police Company.

“We were headed there watching breaking news of the planes going and bombing,” he said. “Everyone was a little nervous.”

Waged by coalition forces from over 30 nations led by the U.S. against Iraq, the war was in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

“Things moved very quickly,” Papa said. “By mid-to-late January 1991, we were flying to Iraq. … Once the fighting started, we moved about 50 miles into Iraq, where we stayed for most of our six months.”

Papa’s understanding of coalition forces’ goal was to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and to reduce the threat of Iraq expanding outside of its borders.

In Iraq, the job of the 1776th was to pick up Iraqi military prisoners who had been captured.

“We drove them to detainment camps in Saudi Arabia,” Papa said. “It was a large area where they held prisoners. You would’ve thought there was going to be disruption, but by that time, they had been bombed for so long and their supply lines cut, I think many of them were happy to be taken away where they could get food.”

Papa noted one of the biggest concerns among American soldiers was wondering how long they were going to be overseas.

“Initially, people thought we’d be there for at least a year,” he said. “Then you hear the rumors that it will be longer than that.”

He remembers going to neighboring Kuwait from Iraq a couple of times and seeing locals cheering American troops and waving to them.

Statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs indicate that over 2 million U.S. service members were part of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Nearly 695,000 were deployed to the Gulf.

Overall, Papa spent six months in the Middle East in 1991, returning to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware in the summer.

“Not since 9/11 can I remember a time when people were super patriotic again,” he said. “When we came back, our unit entered a hangar and there were hundreds of civilians greeting us and people wanted autographs on their shirts. It was really cool how they welcomed us back.”  

Papa was discharged from the National Guard in December 1992. Papa, who has a doctorate in information systems management, works at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and also is an adjunct professor at Oakland University. He and his wife Dina have one daughter.

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