Preserving Our Past, Capitalizing on the Present, Embracing the Future

Nurses Say It Best: Memories of Operation Desert Shield/Storm

© Constance J. Moore
Colonel, ANC (Retired), ANCA Historian

During August 1990, Iraqi armed forces invaded and occupied the country of Kuwait. The United States, at the request of the Saudi Arabian government, deployed combat troops, including U.S. Army ground forces, in the action called Operation Desert Shield/Storm.

The campaign required the deployment of 500,000 military personnel and projected the need of 13,580 operating beds. This order was met by standing up 17 reserve, 11 guard, and 16 active component hospitals. Nearly 2,200 Army nurses deployed. For the first time in the history of the Corps, two of every three nurses were from the reserve or guard components.

Head Nurse M. Rang and Staff Nurse CPT Jennifer Johnson

Captain Kathleen Anzelon recalled her thoughts when she received orders to deploy, “I was a little bit excited and very nervous.… I was real[ly] excited to be able to go there and in retrospect I was glad I was participating instead of watching on TV.”1 Lieutenant Colonel Deanna Nielsen remembered, “I was relieved of all responsibilities at home. It was almost like being single again…. All I had to care about was me[.]”2

MAJ Sybille Smith assembling equipment

Nielsen remembered how soldiers reacted to being hospitalized, “A lot of soldiers would say it was so good to come to this hospital and get rid of the sand and have clean sheets and no bugs. It was like living at the Hilton…. I didn’t have even one disgruntled soldier.”3 Anzelon, who loved being a part of a first responder team, experienced the horrors of war in person: “[After a rocket attack,] we got the call for the trauma team to go to the Blackhawk helicopter pad. As we flew over there, we thought, “I hope we have somebody to go pick up.” When we got there it was just rubble. We realized that people weren’t walking out. It was a very somber, scary experience. We knew what we were going to see wasn’t going to be fun.4

Wounded Enemy Prisoners of War (EPW) outnumbered American injured and ill patients at many hospitals. They were pitifully malnourished, according Captain Bryan Kobylik, and many “had no shoes,”5 Generally, Iraqi patients needed delousing in addition to the wound care they required. The Head Nurse of an EPW unit, Lieutenant Colonel Kathryn Walther, remembered what happened when the patients were returned to prison, “[T]hey were lined up and handcuffed to be transported to an EPW camp. As they were leaving, they shook our hands, including mine. A few of them shed tears as they left us.”6

Homecoming for Army nurses was both joyous and challenging. They worked hard to become reacquainted with their families and jobs at home. Nielsen described how her head nurse did not say anything to her when she returned. It was like she was never gone.7 Major Steve McColley’s experience was just the opposite, “I got home on a Saturday morning…. [When my unit] found out I was coming home[,] they created a parade for me. They lined the streets to my house. As I pulled into my driveway and got out of the car, everyone from the ward was congregated at my house to welcome me…. It was nice to finally be home.”8

In many ways, the memories of these Army nurses are similar those nurse corps officers who served earlier in the 20th century. They showed courage and devotion to duty when they deployed. They helped to facilitate healthcare success with their “can do,” creative leadership. They returned home and picked up their lives. 

1Kathleen Anzelon, “US Army Nurse in the Gulf War,” Clark Humanities, accessed October 30, 2015,
2Deanna Nielsen, “Operation Desert Storm: The First Gulf War,” in Patricia Rushton, Lynn Callister, and Maile Wilson, Latter-Day Saint Nurses at War: A Story of Caring and Sacrifice (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2005), BYU Religious Education, accessed October 29, 2015, Hereafter referred to as Nurses at War: A Story of Caring and Sacrifice.
4Kathleen Anzelon, “US Army Nurse in the Gulf War,” Clark Humanities, accessed October 30, 2015,
5Nurses Served With Distinction in Desert Storm, “ American Journal of Nursing 91, no.5 (May 1991), 108.
6Kathryn Walther, Nurses at War: A Story of Caring and Sacrifice.
7 Deanna Nielsen, Nurses at War: A Story of Caring and Sacrifice.
8 Steven McColley, Nurses at War: A Story of Caring and Sacrifice.