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Desert Storm: Chiefs reflect

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- On Jan. 16, 1991, a coalition of aircraft led the largest air campaign since World War II. More than 60,830 airmen deployed in support of what began as Desert Shield and ended as Desert Storm.

For many airmen Desert Storm was their first experience of war.

"Once it started, it became real," said Chief Master Sgt. David Brown, 366th Fighter Wing command chief, who was then a 20-year-old airman first class. "I thought, 'I might not come back.'"

Adding to the fear was the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and his destruction of middle eastern oil fields.

"The smoke was almost always present," said Chief Master Sgt. Richard Lien 366th Civil Engineer Squadron fire department chief. "[There were] several days the sun never came out because of the oil fields burning."

Despite the harsh conditions, the mission was to force Iraq to leave Kuwait after Hussein defied the United Nations' demands to withdraw.

"The job moved slowly initially, and then it picked up," Brown said. "Once we got ourselves together, things happened fast."

Emerging threats challenged the Air Force's current technologies, requiring continued investments in key modernization.

"It's very obvious Air Power wins wars," Lien said.

During this time period, the stealth aircraft were introduced to the fight. With aircraft almost impossible to see or detect, a sense of confidence spread throughout America, explained Brown.

"Everyone in America was happy to hear about it. It was definitely exciting," Lien said.

Technology played a major role in the fight and downsizing of fighter squadrons. When the Air Force deployed in support of Desert Storm, there were 130 fighter squadrons; today the Air Force has 54.

"The equipment used then has been the same throughout my entire career," Lien said. "It was effective and did the job well; it is just now starting to change."

Not only did technology play a major role in support of combat operations, total force integration was just as essential to the mission.

"The Guard and Reserve were never so vital to a mission leading up to that point," Brown said.

More than 48,000 Reserve airmen were critical to the home-station missions directly supporting deployed operations, playing a major role in the victory.

"We won because of a total force effort and total team effort," Lien said.

Although victorious in Desert Storm and other conflicts, the Air Force realized the need for having a balance between today's readiness and the modernization of tomorrow.

"Everything transmitted into what we have today," Brown said.

Feeling "bigger, badder and better than ever," Brown believes we can't, and won't, be stopped.

"I'm glad we have made these leaps and bounds to get where we are today," Lien said.

The Air Force is focused on capabilities - preserving and enhancing its agility and flexibility. 

"We have become much more efficient in today's Air Force. The reasoning is simple - we are training airmen better now than ever before," Brown said.

Twenty-five years later, the Air Force continues to innovate and improve to fight and win America's wars.

"The Air Force gets better every day," Lien said. "Our leaders today are visionaries and are here to knock down barriers. I am very much enthusiastic for our future."