George H.W. Bush & the Gulf War remembered in Central NY
George H.W. Bush was our last president who had combat experience. A perspective that shaped his decisions on Desert Storm, the Gulf War where the Syracuse Air Guard's fighter jets played a key role.
Mike Hall, who runs the Ithaca-Tompkins Regional Airport now, was commander of the 174th Tactical Fighter Wing in the late 1980s and 1990s. He remembers the unit was one of the first units alerted to go to the Gulf, as President Bush retaliated for Iraq's invasion and annexation of Kuwait.
A few years before the deployment, in 1986, Hall had met the then vice president, who was in Syracuse for a $250 dollar a plate fundraiser with Congressman George Wortley. Hall tells us the Vice President's plane was at Hancock Field, and the event finished early, but the Secret Service insisted they could not leave until the scheduled time. So, Hall struck up a conversation with Mr. Bush. The two aviators hit it off, talking about flying and Bush's military record (as the Navy's youngest aviator--at age 18-- in World War II, he flew 58 combat missions, was shot down in the Pacific and rescued by a submarine. He won the Navy's Distinguished Flying Cross.) But, as the conversation lagged, Hall offered the Vice President a look at the unit's A-10 Warthogs, which was enthusiastically accepted.
Five years later, the Presidential decision to use force against Saddam Hussein meant deployment, but also leaving families and some Guard members behind. The 174th set up a Military Family Support Group to ensure taking care of emergencies, snow plowing and more. "In the end, the Department of Defense selected us for an award as the outstanding program of family support during the Gulf War," Hall told us proudly.
Mike Hall is convinced the late President's combat experience back in WW II gave him the perspective that ensured the Syracuse Guard finished the deployment with everyone coming home safely.
He believes that history will look at Bush's understanding that war does not solve problems, but rather is a factor in allowing negotiations that will lead to a better resolution. A perspective, Hall says, that can only be shaped by having gone through the combat experience.