Staff Sergeant John Diny of Reedsburg, an active full time member of the National Guard, went to Saudi Arabia with the 107th National Guard from Sparta, WI. His unit participated in the Desert Storm operation from November, 1990 until July, 1991, the longest that any guard unit was assigned to the area.
His unit was in maintenance and their duties consisted of unloading equipment and vehicles from the ships. Their job was to repair and maintain trucks and road vehicles. Sergeant Diny's particular job was parts supply: he provided parts to the mechanics who fixed the equipment.
Diny's first month in Saudi Arabia was relaxed, to acclimatize his body to the extremely dry heat encountered there. He said that average daily temperatures were around 100 degrees, with some days reaching 130! "The climate was very hot and very dirty,'' he recalled. At night, he said, the thermometer plummeted to 40 degrees, and everyone wore winter coats.
There was a lot of poverty among the local residents. Diny explained that there was no middle class, only the very rich and the very poor. The rich built themselves small three acre enclaves, surrounded by walls. Inside was a huge house where the entire extended family lived. "On the other hand," he said, "the workers were mostly people from India...who lived in little huts with no water."
Sergeant Diny had mixed feelings about being over there. "My whole career is military so I felt I wanted to go because that is my job. It's in my blood." On the other hand, he questioned when our government should get itself involved in other people's affairs. "Here in the United States we are taught to help our neighbors and so to speak, our neighbors are in Saudi Arabia or Cambodia or wherever it may be." After seeing photographs of the carnage Saddam's soldiers had inflicted upon the Saudi people, he believes that we were right to be there. "We should never let people just destroy other people's lives." he concluded.
For a few families separation was an extreme hardship, with some relationships ending in divorce. Soldiers returned having witnessed "things we will never forget," said Diny. Many were different persons than when they left.
Wives had to manage the affairs of the family alone, some for the first time. They became more independent and that was hard for some men to accept.
Unlike previous conflicts, soldiers in Saudi Arabia were allowed personal phone calls home. "I'd call my wife many times and we were looking at $300 phone bills, or more, per month!" said Diny. "The phone call helped me make it through a lot of the days when we were over there....I'm lucky enough to have a good wife and she hung in therewith me."
Linda Diny, John's wife, kept busy at home constructing a Desert Storm Quilt. It turned out to be a "Quilt of Memories." "I used all patriotic fabricin red, white and blue." she said, "with stars and stripes and plaids." Around the border are stars with blocks in the center. The blocks are embroidered with events that happened while her husband was gone. The body of the quilt consists of blocks commemorating, among other things, the Christmas they missed together, little camouflage fabric tents, three ships which took their cargo over, and three airplanes which flew the troops over.
Linda worked on the quilt the entire time John was gone. "Every time something happened, I'd make a block. It was my therapy and it really helped me through," she recalled.
The commemorative quilt also notes the dates her husband left, and returned; the date the ground war began, when the air war started, and when there was a cease fire.
Linda related that when John returned and saw the fruits of her efforts he said that, "He was pretty proud of it and so am I."
Sergeant Diny said that even though he was not on the front line, he did experience some of the war's effects. "The bombing where 30 some people got killed was less than a mile from me. We definitely felt the heat from it. It was that close."
At the end of the conflict, Saddam's soldiers set afire the oil wells in the desert. Diny's outfit was about 200 miles from the conflagration, however, they experienced the fallout. "We were probably in the worst zone because the soot was falling right in our area. Just black soot over everything, especially in the mornings. You could definitely see and smell the smoke in the air."
Many returning soldiers suffered lasting health effects caused by environments they encountered while on
active duty. "I know of at least 20 that have the exact same symptoms as I do. I have arthritis that is extremely advanced." He lamented that "Only time will tell what affects it will have on all of us."
Viet Nam veterans returned home to ambivalence and at times, outright hostility. There were no celebrations, no parades, no gratitude for a job well done. It was an unpopular war. On the other hand. Desert Storm received almost unanimous support once the conflict began. "I think that during and after Desert Storm, there was a uniting affect, not only on [the people of] Reedsburg, but on the whole country," noted Diny. He said that when his unit returned home, thousands were on hand to welcome them back. "It was really touching to see that many people come out for us. You could feel it throughout the whole country.
Sergeant Diny left Saudi Arabia with many feelings, some negative, most positive. "I will never forget after everything was over with, I was driving along one of the roads in Saudi [and came to] a big six-way intersection. A Kuwaiti car pulled up—I knew it was Kuwaiti because of the license plates. The whole family stuck their heads out and they all yelled. 'We love you Americans!' It really made me feel great, just like we did something good."