Desert Storm 25th Anniversary: A Veteran’s Thoughts

Fighter jet launching off aircraft carrierThis week marks 25 years since the start of the Persian Gulf War and Operation Desert Storm, the series of airstrikes that paved the way for a ground offensive. For Jon Thompson, Retired Fleet Master Chief and current director of GEICO’s Military Department, his deployment in Desert Storm was both “the fastest and longest six months of my life.”

Thompson joined the Navy in 1976 and deployed several times, including on helicopter carriers and for a 12-month stint on the USS La Salle in the Persian Gulf. Desert Storm was the first and only combat deployment in his 30-year career, but he was prepared. “For weeks before deployment, you train with live ordnance,” he explains.

Thompson spent Desert Storm as flight deck Leading Chief Petty Officer aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The aircraft carrier flew more than 4,000 missions during Desert Storm, and as the Chief Petty Officer responsible for the flight deck, Thompson was in the middle of the action. “Those 3½ acres of steel were my responsibility,” he says. “I was like the traffic cop for all the takeoffs and landings and parking of aircraft, and in charge of the firefighting department.”

The carrier set off for the Persian Gulf at full speed in December 1990, and the pace didn’t let up until its return 185 days later. “We went as fast as we could to the Suez Canal, so every night we changed time zones and lost an hour of sleep,” Thompson recalls. “You’re trying to eat when you’re not hungry and sleep when you’re not tired.”

Once the carrier arrived and its combat operations began in mid-January, Thompson’s days ramped up. He rose at 4:30 a.m., split his time between managing the flight deck and taking care of administrative responsibilities, and ate boxed meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner before turning in at 11 p.m. “No two days are alike on the flight deck. Planes break, missions change: it’s the nature of the beast,” he says. “But it becomes repetitious. It’s the same pattern of launch-recover airplanes all day every day, so the days don’t mean anything to you. You lose track of time.”

One break in the routine, however, was the presence of live ordnance on deck. The pace of the war was so fast that the Theodore Roosevelt had to get a fresh supply of fuel and ammunition from replenishment ships every few days. “Normally, you get ammo and it goes below decks and gets assembled,” Thompson explains. “But at that time, it just got assembled on the deck, so we had big stacks of bombs all over the flight deck.” Still, he’s proud that no one from the flight deck was lost on that cruise. (In the 1970s and ’80s it was still common to lose one or two people on deployments, he says.)

The carrier returned from the Gulf in June 1991, and Thompson served for 15 more years before retiring in 2006 as Fleet Master Chief for the U.S. Fleet Forces Command. But a friendship he made during Desert Storm eventually led to his role at GEICO. Out of the nearly 5,000 people on board the Theodore Roosevelt, Thompson had the chance to work closely with Mike Baker, who was the ship’s Command Master Chief at the time. “Every once in a while, I’d let him come out on my flight deck and direct airplanes,” Thompson jokes. They reconnected in 2011 and Baker, then head of the Military Team at GEICO, brought Thompson on board.

GEICO has been supporting men and women who serve our country since 1936. Visit the GEICO Military Center to learn more.

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  1. Michael Young says

    Thank you for your service Master Chief!
    We at the National Desert Storm War Memorial Assn appreciate you sharing and posting your recollections and your continued service to our fellow veterans.
    Please feel free to reach out to us and see how you and GEICO can help with our mission to build a National Memorial in Washington, D.C. to remember Desert Storm and those that served in that historic event in our nations history and that of so many lives.

    Michael Young
    Co-Chair, Fundaraising
    National Board of Directors
    National Desert Storm War Memorial Assn

  2. Cathy Ward says

    My boyfriend served in Desert Storm and was there when the oil fields went up, and had to deal with 7 days of oil raining down on him. As a result of this war, he has PTSD. He and all the other brave men and women who sacrificed their lives and gave up so much for this great country, I salute you, and I Thank you for your service! May God Bless you all!

  3. Robert E. Burau says

    I served as a 2FX501 Fuel Specialist at Hickam AFB during that era. We won the PACAF Air Force top maintenance division award during a Presidential inspection. It was an honor that promoted my supervisor for the hard work I put in, followed by a hefty pat on the shoulder for my efforts and the memorable , “You deserve more, I will see what I can do.”
    While my time was spent on tarmac rather than steel, many planes were in and out, day and night. We saw them all. From the fighters and bombers to the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds. I fueled almost every type of plane or jet in the United States arsenal including the SR71, Stealth fighters/bombers, C5, KC141, C130, B1, B52, B1B, Harriers, A10 and a few that were hidden in hangers because my top secret clearance was not high enough to view.
    Working 12-16 hour days without hoping for any gratitude has it’s benefits. If you expect nothing, you are less disappointed in the end. This was when I was diagnosed with ( Chronic Insomnia aka Battle Fatigue) after not sleeping or barely sleeping for almost three weeks and my eyelids were almost black and my body completely exhausted.
    Walking to work one day, cramps set in and I was a statue on the street corner for about five to ten minutes unable to move. I arrived at formation barely in time, and looking rough. I was sent to medical, and prescribed sleeping pills that I could not use as it would end with me in the brig for UA charges. Many people do not understand the hidden side of the military life only those who serve accept as reality.
    I joined for the simplistic reason that others are not capable of doing what few of us are willing to endure, and that my actions may allow another to have a better life. After my time in the USAF, I joined the USMC for my second tour. My military career spanned 1994 – 2005. I am now a disabled Veteran living in New York.
    To all who served, or are still in service today, Thank You Brothers. We are America, the cloth the country is woven from. Nobody can take away our pride or our memories.

  4. Donna Bryant says

    I gave birth on that very day to my 1st born. I was scared thinking I was bringing a child into this world as we are going to war. Thank YOU for protecting us . Please know you are appreciated more than you realize.

  5. thomas nowland says

    I was a boiler tech 1st class Thomas Now land. I was over there too onboard the USS Shasta AE-33 with the ranger battle group. Two time over there we went to G/Q as one of the ships in the group picked up a mission coming at us. All we could do was pray to God that it would not hit us as our cargo holes was full of booms. God answer our prays as one of the other ships shot it down both times. I’m retired now, but I’m working now in military sealift command.

  6. Frank Zapata says

    Sgt. Zapata Frank, US Army. Transportation, 88M20.

    I was there as well and saw many Companies leaving and I was still there after 15 months. My MOS was a critical one and they needed us to be there to transport everyone and everything back to the US. On my arrival home, there was no one to greed us and no Parade.

    Upon my arrival, I had my first rise and beans with pork chops and I got sick right away. All the camel burgers I had, I was used to it. LOL

    Two (2) weeks later, I was introduced to a beautiful lady as a blind date, today, 2-11-2016, we still together with a Son and a Daughter and over 22 years of marriage.

    I am proud to be soldier.

    God Bless you all,

    Frank Zapata

  7. jeffery s vogel says

    when we or i got to go home /i was there so long there was no home coming day. all the resurves got a home coming not the people i was with.

  8. jeffery s vogel says

    i was there jeff vogel ,we got there 6 months before the war stated and left a year and half after/ retired us navy diver. gmg-1 pettey officer. exp udt diver. it was the largest show of ships force sence ww2. i was there.

  9. Grace Marie says

    Jon Thompson, you are an American hero! What a remarkable record of not losing a single individual on the flight deck during your deployment. Also, way to network. You possess emotional intelligence along with your incredible work ethic. Thanks for your service on behalf of our nation! You and your fellow crew members were all incredibly heroic! Happy Anniversary!

  10. BLT says

    Welcome home all VETS I was with the 2bn 1st aviation bergadr 1st armor division DEC 17th till May 1st. Remember those that didn’t come home. BLT

  11. Dean Bottomley BMC (SWCC) Ret says

    Well Master Chief you are kindly welcome for all that ordinance and bombs on your Flight Deck, at the mid point of Desert Shield the USS Haleakala began forward staging ordinance for Desert Storm, during the conflict we delivered some 200,000 plus bombs and ammo to your carrier group for the strikes against Saddams troops. At the time I was a BM1, and the day the war began I was actually taking the Chiefs exam.
    We had 105 in deck during that period and from inchop to the gulf until it was over logged 22-23 hrs per day passing the ammo to the carriers, and in many cases it was going straight to the flight decks and being strapped on the flights and departing. One constant airshow to say the least.
    Thanks to all the good men and woman who served in that conflict, Happy Anniversary!

  12. Peggy Morales says

    I thank God for the BRAVE Men and women who served in Operation Desert Storm!!! Hard to believe its been 25 years. Thanks for your Service to this amazing country Mr. Jon Thompson! You are incredible!!!