Power Plant Gulf War Syndrome

It seemed like it was getting dark already when Scott Hubbard and I were driving home from the plant in Scott’s pickup on January 16, 1991.  We were listening to NPR on the radio, as we did most days.  Just as we were entering Stillwater on Hwy 177, NPR suddenly stopped their regular broadcast to announce that there were reports of bombs dropping in Baghdad.

Up to this point, we had all hoped that Saddam Hussein, seeing the massive buildup of the U.S. and other countries at his border would pull his forces out of Kuwait and go home.  At 5 pm Central Standard Time (2 am Baghdad time), the week long air assault on Saddam Hussein’s troops began.  Scott dropped me off at the church where he had picked me up 9 1/2 hours earlier and I drove straight home.  Glued to the radio for any new update.

Scott Hubbard

Scott Hubbard

When I arrived home, my wife Kelly met me by the door to tell me the news.  By the expression on my face, she could tell I had already heard.  I was not able to speak.  I just gave her a hug and broke out in tears.  As much as we knew that this was necessary, and even though we had watched the buildup over the previous three months, I was not prepared for the actual assault to begin.

For the next five hours we watched as Peter Arnett and his camera man reporting from their hotel room in the middle of Baghdad showed actual footage of anti-aircraft fire continuously firing into the night sky.  We could see our bombs hitting carefully determined targets.  The battle was taking place right in our living room.

 

Peter Arnett

Peter Arnett

My brother Gregory T. Breazile was (and still is) a U.S. Marine officer in Saudi Arabia preparing for the ground assault.  We had been able to talk to him a few days earlier when AT&T setup a bank of phones in the desert so that the soldiers could phone home.  – On a side note… my mom was not too happy when she received a very large bill from AT&T for the phone calls to her house.  She called AT&T and complained.  I think they gave her a refund.

I went to sleep that night after the sun had come up in Baghdad, and even though the bombings were continuing, the initial impact of what was happening had finally been processed in my brain.

The next day at work the radios around the Power Plant were all tuned to stations that were keeping everyone updated on the progress of the Gulf War (Desert Storm, they were calling it).  I had a job for the next week or so organizing the old Brown and Root electrical parts warehouse.  This was a long tedious job that consisted of going through boxes of all sorts of electric parts and organizing them into meaningful piles of good junk.

I drove one of the pickups over to the warehouse and positioned it so that the passenger side door was lined up with the door to the warehouse.  Then I turned the volume on the radio all the way up so that I could hear it in the warehouse.  It was an AM radio that didn’t have receptions inside the warehouse.  I didn’t want to miss any new information about what was going on in Iraq.  The radio in the truck didn’t have reception when it was in the warehouse, so I would carry (or drag) the boxes toward the front of the warehouse so that I could be close enough to hear the radio.

After one week of constant bombing and after the U.S. along with our allies which consisted mostly of Britain, France and Saudi Arabia along with another 30 countries around the globe had flown over 100,000 bombing missions and dropped over 88,000 tons of bombs on Iraq’s army, the U.S. was finally ready for the ground assault.

Soon after the ground assault began, it became apparent that Iraq’s troops were no match for the U.S..  Their Soviet tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft found it difficult to inflict a dent on the side of one of our tanks.  It was apparent that the United States had won the arms race and the demise of the Soviet Union was right around the corner (exactly 11 months later on December 26, 1991).  All they could do was blindly send some SCUD missiles toward us hoping to hit a target…. any target.  The most casualties that occurred on the allies was when a SCUD missile hit a barrack in the middle of the desert killing 28 soldiers.

My brother Greg was attached to the first Marine Division and was part of the group that attacked the Iraqi Republican Guard at the Kuwait Airport.  He later described the battle something like this…. “Rockets were being fired in both directions.  Bombs exploding all over the place.  The entire scene seemed like chaos.  Even thought it looked like it was a fierce battle, it was as if we were being protected somehow.  Throughout the entire siege, we didn’t experience so much as one broken fingernail as we cleared the enemy from the airport.”

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

Colonel Gregory T. Breazile

The ground assault lasted exactly 100 hours.  In that time Kuwait was liberated, and the Republican Guard was decimated.

The Power Plant Men and Women did what they could to show their support for our troops.  A great many of the Power Plant Men had served in the Vietnam War and they were proud patriots.  There might have been a few that felt like we had no business there in the first place, but those that I remember weren’t the real Power Plant Men.

The critics of the first Gulf War said that freeing Kuwait from their Iraqi invaders was all about oil.  That was pretty evident when Saddam Hussein set over 700 oil wells on fire as his troops were being driven out of Kuwait.  Kuwait’s main product is oil.  That’s hardly debatable.

Iraqi Oil Wells on set on fire by Iraqi soldiers

Iraqi Oil Wells on set on fire by Iraqi soldiers

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma knew the importance of energy to our country, and a fight over oil is just about as serious as it gets.  Those people who criticize our protection of the oil fields in Kuwait by saying that this was just a fight over oil lack the same perspective as Power Plant Men.  A steady flow of energy in our lives is essential to our way of life.

A response to that may be that maybe (… “may be that maybe”….  interesting way of saying that… I’m sure my English Teacher would have had something to say about that one) our way of life needs to be changed.  I would agree with that, but I would argue that it needs to be changed for the better.  Let me try to explain what Power Plant Men across our country know each morning when they awaken.

From the alarm clock that rings in the morning that wakes the Power Plant Man, to the light in the bathroom where they take their shower with hot water, energy is being supplied to their house either through electricity or some sort of natural gas or oil.  The act of eating breakfast, whether it is eating a bowl of cereal with milk that has been cooled in the refrigerator or frying some eggs, all this takes energy.

All the Power Plant Men had to drive to the Power Plant located out in the country 20 miles from the nearest towns (except for Red Rock or Marland where few people lived).  It would be hard to produce the electricity at the plant if the Power Plant Men and Women didn’t have gasoline to drive their cars to work each and every day.  Even if they had an electric car, they would have to charge it with electricity that comes from a power plant that is either powered from coal or natural gas for the most part.

Sure we have a dream of a world where all cars are electric all charged with electricity that is generated without fossil fuels.  That is a noble dream and the struggle to reach that point some day is one worth having, but today it doesn’t exist.  We can’t transition to that world overnight.  In the meantime, the free flow of oil is and should be one of our greatest priorities.

Power Plant Men live with this priority every day.  The free flow of electricity to our nation is just as vital.  Just look at the disasters that happen when a region of the United States suddenly goes dark.  Each Power Plant Man and Woman plays their part in ensuring that never happens.

Each Electric Company employee has a picture in the back of their mind of someone laying on an operating table and as the surgeon is in the middle of the operation, the lights suddenly go out.  Or an elevator full of people travelling up around the 20th floor of a building when all of the sudden it stops and they are trapped in the dark.  What then?  No Power Plant Man wants that to happen.

So, how do you thank someone who has freely risked their life serving our country?  Someone who is willing to die for our country?  How can you?  Who am I that others should be willing to die for me?  All I can think of doing is to pray “God Bless Them”.

Some Power Plant veterans may have wished they could have been there fighting with their brothers in arms in the Gulf War.  The truth is, those men were needed right where they were.  The best way to thank our troops during the Gulf War was by showing that we supported what they were doing and by continuing to perform our daily tasks of keeping the lights on at home by producing a steady flow of electricity.  Day in and day out without fail.

The reason we take electricity for granted is because the Power Plant Men and Women in this country has been performing their job nearly flawlessly.  it is almost like the words my brother used to describe the battle at the Kuwaiti Airport, “it was as if we were being protected somehow”.  There are so many things that can go wrong that could bring down the electric grid in the United States, it is amazing that we are able to depend on electricity being there when we turn on the TV.

So, how do you thank the Power Plant Men and Women that work each day to bring us that reliable source of energy?  How can we?  Certainly the service they provide is far more than the salary and benefits provided by the Electric Company.  We can show our appreciation by letting them know that we support them.

When you see an Electric Company truck driving down the road, smile at them and wave.  When you run across a Power Plant Man eating lunch at Braum’s, buy him a cup of coffee.

Braum's is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger.  It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

Braum’s is a great place to go for a Chocolate Malt and a Burger. It is only found around Oklahoma and the surrounding states not too far from the Oklahoma border.

Power Plant Men generally spend the majority of their waking hours in isolation at a Power Plant where they don’t directly see the benefit of their labor.  All they experience is their paycheck every couple of weeks and their benefits.  They don’t often willingly leave their job to go work somewhere else.  They spend their entire working life laboring to produce electricity for others.

If there is a Power Plant Man in your neighborhood, maybe you could give them some small Christmas present this holiday to show your appreciation for the service they have been providing you and your family this year.

If there is a soldier living nearby, do the same.  Find any opportunity to show them you appreciate their service to our country.  A Braum’s Gift Card perhaps!

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7 responses

  1. We live next door to a retired Navy SEAL and his wife. He played an active part in this conflict (but he won’t talk about what he did). My wife and I felt moved to give them a gift card to a local steak house for last Veterans Day.

    God bless those who keep us safe and those that keep the power on!

  2. Average joe has no idea what it takes! I survived losing both units and being on batteries until we got the aux generators on etc no one suffered a scratch and the plant back on in 34 hours very few in the US Power have experienced an event like it, you would of thought they would of wanted me to be an instructor perhaps, the plant manager never said thanks and it was all we could do to get one out of our managing director unreal! they should be ashamed or as they say held accountable! the men were unbelievable that night one 58 year old man made five climbs up the boiler as we had no elevators tough man!

  3. Interesting story. In SA the power is currently a real issue, through lack of planning and maintanance, we have regular 4 hour blackouts, in order to keep or build power supply, it is frustrating and I agree a thankless job as people on recognise it if it is not there with much anger.

  4. Very moving. A vivid reminder of the Gulf War, and an insight into the lives of Power Plant Men and Women I had not had before. God bless our troops wherever they may be, as well as those who serve at home.

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