Flag stirs Gulf War patriotism

25th Anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait

Peter Mallett, Staff writer ~

For retired Rear-Admiral Ken Summers, his 25-year old Canadian flag that still emanates the pungent smell of burning oil serves as a poignant symbol of our nation’s role in the liberation of Kuwait.

The flag was the first one raised over the Canadian Embassy in Kuwait following the liberation of Kuwait City. With an estimated 700 of the country’s oil wells set alight by the retreating Iraqi forces, the flag was saturated by the black smoke that filled the air.

Summers shared his memories of that time on Feb. 26 during CFB Esquimalt’s 25th anniversary ceremony commemorating the liberation of Kuwait.

Approximately 200 people, including Persian Gulf veterans, military personnel and their families, and members of the Royal Canadian Legion filled the Naden Drill Shed to mark the occasion.

Other dignitaries attended included reviewing officer Capt(N) James Clarke, retired Vice Admiral Jean-Yves Forcier and Rear-Admiral (Ret’d) Roger Girouard.

Summers says it’s hard to believe that it was a quarter century ago when he – then a Commodore and Commander of Canadian Forces Middle East Headquarters – proudly raised the flag up the pole at the Canadian Embassy following the liberation.

The embassy had been shuttered shortly after the invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990 and gaining access wasn’t easy. Summers says he was forced to shoot out the glass on the front door in order to gain access to the building as no key would be made available.

Once inside, he realized the flag did not have the proper clips necessary to raise it to the top of the pole, but with some improvisation, the flag was hoisted.

Nearby residents quickly took notice and a large crowd amassed outside the embassy gates to celebrate alongside Canadian military members.

“When we put the flag back up at the embassy it was a very significant moment,” Summers said. “To me, liberating Kuwait, reopening the embassy and raising the flag meant mission accomplished.”

When Summers returned to the embassy a few weeks later, the staff presented the flag to him.

“I brought it back with me and have held it close to me ever since,” he says.

In his address to the crowd, fellow Gulf War veteran Rear-Admiral (Ret’d) Roger Girouard said he saw the Persian Gulf War as a watershed moment for the navy.

“It’s hard to tell whether our ‘Persian Excursion’ will stand the test of time – it certainly wasn’t D-Day – but it really was an extraordinary moment in Canadian Military history,” he said. “It was a point where we [the RCN] left that comfortable job of doing naval exercises and stepped up in the world, which was very different, because of what Iraq had decided to do.”

He praised the readiness of personnel in the Canadian Naval Task Group to partially refit destroyers HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Terra Nova with new weapons systems and advanced detection systems required for Operation Friction.

In addition to Athabaskan and Terra Nova, Canada’s Task Force included HMCS Protecteur, 26 CF-18 jets and five helicopters. Canadians made up about 10 percent of the total forces for the international mission, but helped conduct over 25 percent of all inspections of surface vessels during the war.The peak number of Canadian Armed Forces members in the Persian Gulf region at one time was some 2,700 personnel.

Gulf War Facts

  • The Canadian Naval Task Group–consisting of the destroyers HMCS Terra Nova and HMCS Athabaskan, and the supply ship HMCS Protecteur–helped support the Coalition fleet efforts in the region. Five Sea King helicopters with No. 443 Squadron were also part of this force.
  • CF-18 jet squadrons with approximately 500 personnel operated out of the ‘Canada Dry’ bases in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, performing combat air control, escort and reconnaissance missions. For the first time since the Korean War, Canadian air-to-surface attacks took place during the conflict.
  • The Canadian Air Command’s Transport Group carried personnel and cargo in the region. One of the Canadian planes was used in aerial refueling duties for Coalition air forces.
  • A Canadian field hospital with 530 personnel was established in Al-Qaysumah, Saudi Arabia in February 1991. This hospital cared for both Coalition and Iraqi wounded.
  • Soldiers from units like the Royal Canadian Regiment and the Royal 22e Régiment performed security duties at Canadian installations in the Middle East in 1990-1991.
  • The Gulf War marked the first time that female Canadian Armed Forces members performed combat duties.

(From veterans Affairs Canada: www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/canadian-armed-forces/persian-gulf)

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