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Sergeant Timothy McVeigh (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990) gives three months of military service in the Persian Gulf War as a gunner on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle before returning home; during his time there, he paints the name “Bad Company” on the side of the vehicle. “He was a good soldier,” Sergeant James Ives, who serves with McVeigh, will later recall. “If he was given a mission and a target, it’s gone.” (McFadden 4/23/1995; Serrano 1998, pp. 34; Douglas O. Linder 2001; CNN 2001) McVeigh earns a Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal while overseas, along with a number of citations and ribbons. (Serrano 1998, pp. 25-26) Staff Sergeant Albert Warnement, the commander of McVeigh’s Bradley Fighting Vehicle in Kuwait, later recalls: “He was against the National Command Authority’s decision to go to war. McVeigh did not think the United States had any business or interest in Kuwait, but… he knew it was his duty to go where he was told, and he went.” (Stickney 1996, pp. 110)
Experiences in Kuwait, Iraq - Fellow soldier Todd Regier later recalls that McVeigh was “definitely excited about going to Desert Storm. He was a perfect gunner. He was the best gunner we had.” McVeigh is part of a Bradley crew which spends its first few weeks sitting idly in the Saudi Arabian desert while American aircraft attack Iraqi defenses (see January 16, 1991 and After). Sergeant Anthony Thigpen later recalls that while the other soldiers play cards, write letters, and chat to relieve their boredom, McVeigh spends his time cleaning his weapons. The 2nd Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment, McVeigh’s unit, is one of those that makes the initial drive into Kuwait when the invasion begins (see February 23, 1991 and After). McVeigh’s unit sees less intense action than some, and fellow soldier Roger L. Barnett will later recall that McVeigh shows little interest in shooting unarmed and defenseless Iraqis. At one point, McVeigh shoots an Iraqi soldier from some 2,000 yards away in the head, using the Bradley’s 25mm cannon. McVeigh wins a medal for the shot. He later recalls of the shooting: “His head just disappeared.… I saw everything above the shoulders disappear, like in a red mist.” He becomes angry when he learns that many Iraqis do not want to fight, and are equipped with inferior gear. According to an aunt, McVeigh is deeply disturbed about the fighting in Iraq. “When he came back, he seemed broken,” she later tells a reporter. “When we talked about it, he said it was terrible there. He was on the front line and had seen death and caused death. After the first [killing], it got easy.” While posted in Kuwait, McVeigh writes to a friend in the US that he hates Saddam Hussein: “Chickensh_t b_stard. Because of him, I killed a man who didn’t want to fight us, but was forced to.” However, a fellow soldier, Kerry Kling, later recalls McVeigh being proud of the shot that killed the Iraqi. Sergeant Royal L. Witcher, McVeigh’s assistant gunner on the Bradley, later recalls the soldiers’ dismay at their experiences with Iraqi soldiers. “I think it kind of shocked most of us,” he will say. “We had thought that they were our enemies, and then for us to encounter something like that with a mass of people giving up.” After the offensive, McVeigh’s unit is assigned to guard duty, and spends the remainder of the war relatively inactive. (McFadden 5/4/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 113; Serrano 1998, pp. 36-38; CNN 12/17/2007) McVeigh will later recall being angry at the situation in Kuwait. In a letter to a reporter, he will write: “We were falsely hyped up [about the enemy]. And we get there and find out that they are normal like you and me. They hype you up to take those people out. They told us we were to defend Kuwait where the people had been raped and slaughtered (see October 10, 1990). War woke me up. War will open your eyes.” Of the Iraqi soldiers, he will write, “I felt the army brainwashed us to hate them.” (Serrano 1998, pp. 36-37)
Withdraws from Special Forces Training - After returning to the US, McVeigh begins 21 days of Special Services training at Camp McCall, west of Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see October 1990). He is thrilled to be joining Special Forces, and is confident that he will pass the grueling physical and psychological assessments. However, he leaves the training at Camp McCall during the second day. He later tells people he withdraws because of a leg injury. Some military officials will say that preliminary psychological screening shows him to be unfit for Special Forces, leading some reporters to conclude that McVeigh was kicked out of training, but those conclusions are inaccurate: McVeigh’s screenings are not processed until long after he leaves, and his withdrawal is entirely voluntary. McVeigh later says that he begins training with a friend, Specialist Mitchell Whitmire (one source spells his name “Whitmyers,” apparently in error), days after returning from overseas duty. He will say that he is in poor physical condition, mentally and physically exhausted from his time in combat, and unready for the physical demands of Green Beret training. He does not accept an offer extended to him and other combat veterans to take some time off and try again at a later date. Instead, after two arduous days of physical workouts, McVeigh and Whitmire leave the training program before McVeigh’s assessments can be graded and reviewed. On his Statement of Voluntary Withdrawal, McVeigh writes, “I am not physically ready, and the rucksack march hurt more than it should.” Ives will recall McVeigh as being “extremely disappointed.” Thigpen later recalls: “Everybody knew he was highly upset. We never knew the reason why he didn’t make it. We figured, you don’t make it, you don’t make it. But he was definitely angry. He was upset, very upset.” Fellow soldier James Fox later tells a reporter that McVeigh’s withdrawal from Special Forces training was a defining moment for him, saying, “Whether he withdrew or was kicked out, it still was a failure and very easily he could externalize blame.” McVeigh then takes a 30-day leave to visit his sister Jennifer in Florida, and to spend some time in upstate New York, where he grew up (see 1987-1988). (McFadden 4/23/1995; McFadden 5/4/1995; Kifner 7/5/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 115-119; PBS Frontline 1/22/1996; Serrano 1998, pp. 41-42) Author Brandon M. Stickney later writes, “It was revealed in confidence to [me] that answers McVeigh gave on the psychological tests were apparently a bit off-center, not the answers of a man capable of long-term assignments with the exclusive and tight Special Forces.” Stickney will also write that McVeigh may be suffering from “Gulf War Syndrome,” a mysterious series of maladies apparently caused by exposure to toxic chemicals. (Stickney 1996, pp. 117-118) In 1993, McVeigh will write a letter to his sister Jennifer giving a very different explanation of his reason for withdrawing from Special Forces tryouts (see October 20, 1993). After he returns from active duty, he begins displaying increasingly eccentric behavior (see March 1991 and After). McVeigh will go on to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995).
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