By Steve Fuller
“My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm.” — General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. Commander-in-Chief U.S. Central Command, Jan. 16, 1991, prior to the start of the Battle of Ad-Dawrah
Thirty years have passed since the Battle of Ad-Dawrah, when USS Nicholas served as part of Gen. Schwarzkopf’s “Thunder and Lighting.” In 1991, Nicholas with its embarked helicopter and a Kuwaiti ship led the fight against Iraqi soldiers who had taken over nine of 11 oil platforms off the coast of Dorrah, Kuwait. Believing they were facing an enemy armed with Exocet missiles that had taken out USS Stark just a few years earlier, the ship had to use the element of surprise to close within 1 mile. An SH-60 helicopter along with Army helicopters armed with air-to-surface missiles were directed to attack. The joint, sea-based team quickly defeated the enemy positions on two of the platforms. Seeing Iraqi soldiers fleeing to armed small craft, the Nicholas-led team had an Arabic-speaking crew member offer a chance to surrender to the overwhelmed Iraqis. Without any counter fire, Nicholas and her team of air and sea assets won an early, lightning-fast battle that set the tone of the war-at-sea in Desert Storm — a battle that was informed by the swashbuckling daring and ingenious planning done by captains on the original frigates in the American Revolution and War of 1812.
As we reflect on the Battle of Ad-Dawrah, we remember the vital role that frigates, a warship smaller than battleships or aircraft carriers, have played in the United States Navy since its inception in 1775. A frigate sailor had to do “more with less” since the very first Naval engagements in the Revolution and embodied the heart of the tin-can Navy before there was a “tin can” to sail in.
The frigate can operate in challenging shallower, coastal waters as demonstrated in the Battle of Ad-Dawrah and modern battles against drug-runners of the Caribbean and pirates off the coast of Africa. The frigate can also ensure the success of traditional merchant convoys crossing the oceans as seen in the great wars of the 20th century, but still play an essential part of our modern war plans.
These littoral, open ocean and theater security cooperation missions will continue to be an essential element of the Navy’s mission long into our future: We are an island nation, dependent on our commerce moving by ships at sea. Bound by the great Mississippi and two of the Great Lakes, it is as much a reality here in Wisconsin as it is in our vast coastal communities. At a shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, we are building the next generation of great frigates. As long as these frigates are led by bold leaders and filled with brave crews there will be thunder and lightning in their hulls!
Steve Fuller retired from the U.S. Navy in 2019 after nearly 27 years of service serving at sea on ships as small as frigates and as large as aircraft carriers. A visit to the Driftless and a desire for a radical course change brought him home to Wisconsin where he lives on a small parcel of land with chickens and horses and … more to come! He has been a creative writer since he first saw U2 perform in Live Aid, and now as he returns home after a life of service, he looks forward to sharing more of his writing with willing readers.