Four-star General H. Norman Schwarzkopf was climbing onto an exercise bike in his quarters at Tampa's MacDill Air Force Base when the telephone jangled impatiently. On the line was General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was calling from the Pentagon. Powell said evenly, "They've crossed the border."
Schwarzkopf knew who "they" were--the Iraqi army of dictator Saddam Hussein. The "border" was Kuwait's. It was the last week of July 1990.
For weeks, Saddam had been rattling his saber and accusing the tiny kingdom of Kuwait of "robbing" him of $2.5 billion from oil fields the two nations had been operating jointly. Hussein told the world that Kuwait had shoved a "poisoned dagger" into his back. Kuwait's "greed," Saddam claimed, had prompted its rulers "to conspire with the United States and Israeli imperialists to sabotage Iraq."
Still wearing his warm-up suit, Schwarzkopf rushed to the communications center of his Central Command, the headquarters responsible for much of the Middle East in the event trouble erupted there that might require U.S. action. Grim-faced, the general searched for news from the Persian Gulf powder keg. For hours, there was no news. Then, about 9:00 P.M. (4:00 A.M. in the Middle East), Major John E Feeley, a member of a U.S. security-assistance team, called from a satellite radio that linked the U.S. embassy in Kuwait directly with Tampa. Feeley said matter of factly: "The Iraqis are in downtown Kuwait City."
Major Feeley then climbed to the roof of the embassy and gave Schwarzkopf and his staff a running, blow-by-blow account of the battle unfolding below him.
Colin Powell directed Schwarzkopf to come to Washington immediately to join with the National Security Council in briefing President Bush. Schwarzkopf bore responsibility for U.S. military operations in the part of the Middle East where war had erupted. His Central Command was largely an administrative and planning headquarters, but in the event of armed conflict, a potent array of Army, Air Force, and Marine units were ear- marked for it.