1991: When Canada took part in another Persian Gulf War


Canada's military operation in the 1991 Gulf War was dubbed Operation Friction. More than 4,000 Canadians served in the Gulf War aboard warships, in CF-18 fighter-bombers and at a field hospital. The first Canadian ships left for the Gulf in September 1990, well before the hostilities, which began with air assaults in mid-January, 1991. Daniel Wilson served as an aero-engine technician with 416 Lynx Squadron during the Gulf War. During that time he was based in Doha, Qatar.

This article is part of a new occasional series organized by Globe and Mail.com and the Dominion Institute to commemorate significant events in Canada's military history, and to honour living Canadian veterans for their service and sacrifice.

Boarding the bus in Cold Lake, Alta. to fight a war in the Qatar desert, Corporal Daniel Wilson remembers the anticipation.

It was November 1990 and his CF-18 fighter unit, 416 Lynx Squadron, was on its way to join the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq.

"We were excited," said Wilson, an aircraft engine technician. It was the first time in 40 years that Canadian troops had been sent into action. "You get caught up in the glamour and excitement of it." Wilson, who had joined the Canadian Forces in 1978 at the age of 19, had never been in a war.

The deployment came as no surprise to the squadron. They were trained as a rapid enforcement unit and were ready to be deployed anytime, anywhere. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the UN Security Council had imposed economic sanctions and passed a series of resolutions condemning Iraq's action. "We expected something would happen," Wilson said.

In November, with diplomatic attempts to solve the crisis abandoned, the UN authorized the use of "all necessary means" to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Wilson and his squadron from Cold Lake were on their way to the Persian Gulf.

Landing in Doha, Qatar, gave Wilson a shock. The stark landscape looked like Mars. 'There was sand in every direction you looked.'

The squadron was based at camp Canada Dry One, about 10 kilometres outside Doha. Watchtowers and barbed wires encircled it while huge generators gave them electricity. Mr. Wilson remembers the Scud missile attacks that occurred almost every night. They proved to be more of an irritation than a fear, he said. Thanks to CNN they often had advance warning of the attacks. Sitting around the television at the base, they could watch the movement of the Iraqi forces. When the attacks got close to the base they would run to the nearest concrete shelter for protection. In Doha, the squadron joined forces with Canadian 439 Tiger Squadron to form the Desert Cats. Their mission was to protect the coalition naval force. 416 Squadron pilots also escorted coalition units into the deserts and eventually were sent on bombing missions into Iraq.As an aero-engine technician, Mr. Wilson was responsible for keeping about 18 CF-18 fighter jets up and running safely.

One of Mr. Wilson's worst memories is now considered one of the world's worst ever environmental disasters. As the allies bombed Iraq, President Saddam Hussein's occupying forces opened the taps of Kuwait's oil wells, spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf. The Iraqis also set fire to hundreds of oil wells, creating a huge black cloud of smoke over Kuwait.

During the last days of the war, Mr. Wilson can remember the sky, darkened by soot and the prevailing winds carrying with them the pungent smell of burning oil.

The war ended by mid-March. There had been no Canadian casualties.

'I can't image a better outcome of a war,' Mr Wilson said. 'Your train for war but nobody seeks it, nobody wants it.'

After 16 years in the Canadian Forces, Mr. Wilson retired in 1994 with the rank of master corporal. He now works as a safety and operations supervisor at a company in Mississauga, Ont. He volunteers with the Memory Project, the Dominion Institute's national education program that brings veterans into classrooms to share their experiences with youth.

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