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Persian Gulf War provides Hamburg veteran with an education in more ways than one

Scott A. Bapst, 45

Hometown: Hamburg

Residence: South Buffalo

Branch: Army

Rank: Specialist fourth class

War zone: Persian Gulf

Years of service: 1989-92

Most prominent honors: Army Achievement Medal, Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm campaign ribbons

Specialty: Abrams tank crew member

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

The day Scott A. Bapst left his parents’ home in Hamburg to serve in the Army, his mother offered some reassuring words to her 20-year-old son.

“There hasn’t been a war in years, and there probably won’t be one for another 20 years,” Nancy said as he left for Fort Knox, Ky.

Bapst had enlisted so that when he was discharged three years later, he would receive a college education under the GI Bill of Rights.

But in August 1990, Saddam Hussein sent his Iraqi army into neighboring Kuwait, prompting a coalition of countries led by the United States to remove the invaders.

A member of the 2nd Armored Division, Bapst recalled what his mother had told him.

“I thought, ‘Mom, you jinxed me.’ ”

As an Abrams tank crew member stationed in Germany, Bapst knew that he and his fellow division members were bound to be in the thick of it.

“We got to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in early January 1991 and came under fire from Scud missiles. The hits were close by,” Bapst says. “We were in tents at the time, and there wasn’t much we could do. We entered Iraq in mid-February, and shortly after that, we were in small skirmishes with Iraqi forces. During the night, they would test our lines, and if there was enough threatening activity, we would fire on them.”

Later that month, when the ground war officially began, Bapst’s division headed the charge north through Iraq and into Kuwait.

“That’s when we ran into the Iraqi Republican Guard. They were the best trained and equipped,” he says. “We fought them at night in what was called the Battle of Norfolk. That lasted approximately 12 hours. We destroyed a whole division of the Republican Guard, but we also incurred friendly fire losses. In my division, about 15 guys were killed from other tanks.”

Among the dead was Bapst’s platoon sergeant, Tony Applegate.

“Tony was such an outstanding person,” Bapst says, adding that there was little time to mourn. “We really had to keep rolling.”

In the daylight as the Abrams tanks headed toward Kuwait City, Bapst got a firsthand look at the firepower unleashed by the 2nd Armored Division’s more than 100 vehicles.

“It was like a movie,” he recalls. “Iraqi tanks and other vehicles were on fire. There were the bodies of Iraqi soldiers just strewn across the desert floor. I thought to myself, ‘Better you than me.’ ”

After arriving on the outskirts of Kuwait City, Bapst says, the division participated in smaller battles with fleeing Iraqi forces who had taken out their frustrations on innocent Kuwaiti civilians.

“The Iraqis raped and pillaged the civilians. Cars had been stopped and those in them shot and killed. You would see homes destroyed,” Bapst says. “A lot of the Iraqi forces had nested themselves into civilian areas, causing a lot of collateral damage.”

But the division was soon on the move again, this time headed to Basra in southern Iraq.

“We pretty much waited there,” Bapst says. “We waited for orders to go up to Baghdad or to stand down. We stood down.”

During the month the division was encamped outside Basra, the enemy turned out to be boredom.

“We maintained our tanks and played a lot of cards,” Bapst says.

When the division returned to Garlstedt military base in Germany, one of the first orders of unofficial business for Bapst was to wet his whistle.

“I drank an ice-cold beer, and it felt good,” he says.

A year later, Bapst, who had learned to speak German fluently, was honorably discharged and enrolled at the University at Buffalo, where he earned a degree in German studies.

“I moved back to Germany in 1996 and worked for some German security firms,” he says. “I was there through 2006, when I came home. I missed home.”

Now employed at M&T Bank as a compliance analyst, Bapst and his wife, Michelle, are the parents of three children and live in South Buffalo.

Of the continued fighting in the Middle East, Bapst says it is his hope that someday there will be an extended period of peace – and that hope reflects what his mother had hoped for him when he had entered the military as a young man.

“But,” Bapst adds, “it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”