MAHOMET — Everywhere from Okinawa to Kuwait, runways and heliports have to be built or repaired, even under missile fire.
Marine Gordon Hieb, 51, retired in January after 30 years of service.
Master gunnery sergeant is the highest enlisted rank.
He has got a new job and won’t retire again soon.
Growing up in Washington state, Hieb played football, basketball and baseball.
He worked in construction for a couple of years. He figures some of those skills were attractive to the Corps.
“I knew the Marines were the best,” he said of his decision to enlist at 20.
One of the reasons he’s proud of being a Marine — surviving the demanding 13-week boot camp, said the former recruiter.
He did basic training in San Diego in 1988.
Hieb was sent to Okinawa to build bridges, as well as runways for Osprey helicopters, which have both vertical takeoff and landing options.
“You can put together the aluminum helipads very quickly,” Hieb said.
He was in Korea the same year.
After training in topographical surveying and drafting, he was sent to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro near Irvine, Calif.
The Gulf War began in August 1990 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Air power dominated the war.
Desert Storm was the “100-Hour War,” with coalition air power completely dominating Saddam Hussein’s army. It’s also been nicknamed “The Video Game War” because television news was dominated by watching one target being hit after another.
But Hussein did fight back with Scud missiles, created by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and distributed heavily to Second and Third World countries that might one day threaten the United States.
“The Scud missiles were numerous, almost every night,” Hieb remembered vividly.
At the time, personnel had to don nuclear, biological and chemical suits because there was no way to know what the missiles carried, Hieb said.
The desert heat took its toll.
“It was always 100 degrees, 110,” he said, which made suiting up even more uncomfortable.
Worse was the unknown: What was the payload the missiles were carrying?
“Numerous guys in my platoon were stressed out and took off their masks,” he said.
“And guys got claustrophobia in the bunkers. We were 20, 21.”
Hieb spent seven months in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in support of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing as a lance corporal. In 1991, his unit was called back.
It was early that year that a Scud missile landed near his engineering compound.
No one was killed, but the experience was unforgettable, he said.
He was very glad to return home.
“It was great to get back to my family from the desert,” Hieb said.
He spent much of the rest of his time in recruiting, rising in the ranks, and now uses those skills in his new job.
The family moved to the area because daughter Ireland was recruited to the Eastern Illinois University volleyball team.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.