Norman Schwarzkopf's gruff facade shields a softer heart for troops THE GENERALS OF DESERT STORM WAR IN THE GULF

February 17, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA — Dhahran, Saudi Arabia-- He's been on the wrong end of a devastating B-52 bombing raid, stranded with his men in a minefield and wounded in action twice.

Now, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf is waging a war in the Middle East, hoping that the kind of bad luck and timing he experienced in Vietnam will not befall his troops.

The gruff, burly, 56-year-old, four-star commander of U.S. forces in the region, "Stormin' Norman," as some soldiers call him, has been mindful of the mistakes made during the Vietnam War and has vowed publicly and privately not to repeat them.

Vietnam plays a big role in his thinking. "You'll see the Vietnam experience in a lot of what he does," said an Army colonel who served on his staff.

General Schwarzkopf commands an armed force that now exceeds 500,000 U.S. personnel, closely rivaling the peak deployment to Vietnam of 547,000 in 1969. Unlike the long, piecemeal buildup in Southeast Asia, the Mideast force was assembled in six months.

A key mastermind of a war plan that relies on overwhelming firepower, flexible battlefield tactics and selective, strategic targeting across Iraq and occupied Kuwait, General Schwarzkopf has set out to destroy the Iraqi military machine without running up the U.S. casualty count.

"I am not one of these guys who is just going to waste American lives by throwing people needlessly in frontal attacks up against the enemy if I can avoid doing that," he told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution before the war began. "My job is to try to figure out the smart way to do this, whatever my mission is, so I don't wantonly destroy human life."

General Schwarzkopf, a blunt-speaking, cigar-smoking officer who some colleagues say has the IQ of a genius, is a highly decorated West Point graduate with a master's degree in guided missile engineering who served two tours in Vietnam. He directed the ground war during the 1983 invasion of Grenada and has led the U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for Middle East operations, since November 1988.

A 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound former football player, wrestler and weight lifter, who also has been nicknamed "the Bear," the general is married to the former Brenda Holsinger and has three children -- two college-age daughters, Cynthia and Jessica, and a 13-year-old son, Christian. The family lives in Tampa, Fla.

He has a ferocious temper but often tells those who incur his wrath that it's nothing personal. "You'll have your ass chewed, but it's the job you did that he's angry about, not you," said the Army colonel who worked with him.

In wartime, General Schwarzkopf is perhaps most sensitive about the perils of "friendly fire," or the accidental killing of soldiers by their own forces, the colonel said.

"He knows what it's like to lose your own men. He's carried those feelings forward, putting a lot of care in making sure command and control and fire support for the troops will be effective," said the colonel.

General Schwarzkopf's gut-wrenching accounts of watching his own troops die fill the pages of the acclaimed book by C. D. B. Bryan, "Friendly Fire."

The book also describes how then-Lieutenant Colonel Schwarzkopf, a battalion commander in Vietnam, went by helicopter to a minefield where some of his men were trapped.

Moving toward a hysterical young private whose right leg had been horribly mangled by a land mine, the officer gently assured him, "I'll get you out. Just keep still. You're all right."

"You never forget things like that, or even what it's like for that little guy in the foxhole, day after day, taking care of that 200-meter perimeter," said a former colleague.

"He's an intimidating fellow because he's so big, but he's got a sensitivity about soldiers that the mere thought of losing his troops will bring him to tears," he said.

General Schwarzkopf, like other U.S. military leaders of his generation, was a consistent voice of caution during the buildup of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf last fall.

While the Bush administration and several congressional leaders talked about waging a short, decisive war to drive Iraq out of Kuwait, the military responded with talk about the human costs of war and the likelihood that fighting could last for six months or longer.

The former aide recalled that General Schwarzkopf often gave interviews at his command post in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, whenever President Bush or other civilian leaders sounded especially bellicose in public.

"I think he was trying to balance out the public discussion; he wanted the American people to know exactly what they were signing on to do," the former aide said.

In October, when news stories began to proliferate about troops in the desert fighting boredom and of politicians wanting to attack Iraq, General Schwarzkopf said, "Golly, the sanctions [against Iraq] have only been in effect for a couple of months.

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