25 Years Later, Desert Storm Vet Recalls First Coordinated Combat Tomahawk Strike

Post and Photos courtesy of Andrew Barlow, Austin, Texas

Editors Note: As the U.S.-led coalition of partner nations built up forces in the Middle East in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Andrew Barlow was a young surface warfare officer serving aboard destroyer USS Spruance (DD 963).  He shares his recollection of the mood of the crew as they took the fight to the enemy. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, he went on to serve at the Navy’s Office of Information (Southwest) and aboard the USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). Since leaving the Navy he has also served in the Office of the Texas Lieutenant Governor, Texas Commission on the Arts, and the Office of Texas Governor Rick Perry. Today, he is the founder and Managing Director of Overflow Communications, in Austin Texas.

In August 1990, USS Spruance (DD 963) departed Mayport, Fla. with the USS Saratoga Battlegroup on a regularly-scheduled Med deployment just days after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Authorized to accelerate their transit, Spruance transited the Straits of Gibraltar and made best time for the northern approaches to the Suez Canal.

Near the date on which she was originally scheduled to return home from her six-month deployment, Spruance conducted a southbound transit of the Suez Canal and took up station in the northern Red Sea.

Near the date on which she was originally scheduled to return home from her six-month deployment, Spruance conducted a southbound transit of the Suez Canal and took up station in the northern Red Sea.

Having already briefed the southbound transit, Spruance received orders to break off and remain in the Mediterranean Sea. (Scuttlebutt postulated a planner gazing at a status board in the bowels of the Pentagon and realizing Spruance was the only remaining Tomahawk platform in the Med and might be needed should Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi decide to act up.)

With its battlegroup gone to the Red Sea and parts beyond, Spruance joined with the NATO Naval On-Call Force Mediterranean (NAVOCFORMED) battlegroup and took part in joint activities ranging from gunnery practice to towing drills under the watchful eye of commanding officer, Cmdr. Christopher Weaver. Port calls included a number of diplomatic receptions, a regularly-scheduled change of command and a visit to the weapons station in Augusta Bay, Sicily, where the remaining cells of DD-963’s vertical launch system were filled with Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM).

The Spruance bridge watch team prepares to call general quarters (L-R Lt. Dan Weede and Lt. Paul Tuzzolo).

The Spruance bridge watch team prepares to call general quarters (L-R Lt. Dan Weede and Lt. Paul Tuzzolo).

As the January 15 deadline arrived and Operation Desert Shield transitioned to Desert Storm, Spruance and her well-trained crew were anxious to do their part. As word trickled back of a fellow shooter, the USS Philippine Sea (CG 58), launching TLAM-C’s from the Red Sea like the father of a newborn distributing cigars in a hospital waiting room, crew members on the First & Finest grew apprehensive.

Apparently, diplomatic negotiations to win overflight permission from Syria were moving slowly, reducing the possibility of a strike from the Mediterranean. Finally, after nearly a week, permission came down the chain and new commanding officer, Cmdr. Bill Gerken, passed the word to prepare for a mid-day strike on Jan. 22, 1991. After a nutritious lunch of Navy chili dogs, the captain ordered the General Quarters alarm, the crew donned battledress and the fight was on.

A photograph snapped through Pittsburgh’s periscope captures the moment she fires a TLAM against the Iraqi forces, 19 January 1991. (Courtesy of NHHC Photo Archives)

A photograph snapped through Pittsburgh’s periscope captures the moment she fires a TLAM against the Iraqi forces, 19 January 1991. (Courtesy of NHHC Photo Archives)

On that fateful day, Spruance was sailing in company with the nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser USS Virginia (CGN 38) and Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, USS Pittsburgh (SSN 720). Virginia fired a two-missile salvo, followed by a pair from Spruance then another two from a submerged Pittsburgh.

In his book, “Desert Storm at Sea: What the Navy Really Did,” author Marvin Pokrant states that only one of the six missiles reached its target, an iraqi petroleum refinery. Given the quality of the Spruance crew and the warfighting prowess of her namesake, Admiral Raymond A. Spruance (hero of the Battle of Midway), one must assume that she was the source of the missile that arrived unscathed at the target and struck a withering blow for freedom. When Saddam Hussein announced the beginning of fuel rationing just a day later, the crew took justifiable pride in their contribution to the war effort.

While on station in the Eastern Med, Spruance was farther than the resupply chain could reach, so an MH53 was dispatched to deliver mail and vital spare parts. (The crew was required to improvise a grounding probe since it was only equipped with equipment for its embarked SH-60).

While on station in the Eastern Med, Spruance was farther than the resupply chain could reach, so an MH53 was dispatched to deliver mail and vital spare parts. (The crew was required to improvise a grounding probe since it was only equipped with equipment for its embarked SH-60).

A few weeks later, Spruance transited the Suez Canal, took station in the northern Red Sea where an embarked special operations team assisted with Maritime Intercept Operations (MIO) until the cease fire.

Tonight, twenty five years later to the day, members of the Spruance wardroom gather in the ship’s homeport, Mayport, Fla., to commemorate their long-range surgical strike which, according to them, “singlehandedly turned the tide of the war waged to liberate the sovereign nation of Kuwait.”

USS Spruance "buries the bow" in rough seas during a high speed transit from the weapons onload at Augusta Bay to a time-critical rendezvous point.

USS Spruance “buries the bow” in rough seas during a high speed transit from the weapons onload at Augusta Bay to a time-critical rendezvous point.