Aviation History

This U.S. Naval Aviator helped renconstruct and train the Kuwait Air Force after invasion of Kuwait by Iraq

“There was a day we returned from an air strike and a Kuwaiti A-4KU pilot was as happy as he could be when he delivered a 500-pound bomb right to the front door of the headquarters office — until he realized that it was his old office,” Commander Robert E. Noziglia, Jr.

On Jan. 17, 1991, the U.S. and other United Nations coalition forces joined together to liberate occupied Kuwait from Iraqi forces.

Operation Desert Storm affected the lives and careers of thousands of military personnel. One such person, Commander Robert E. Noziglia, Jr., then aircraft maintenance officer of Naval Air Weapons Station, Point Mugu, Calif., had a unique role in Desert Storm.

In Washington, D.C., on Sep. 15, 1990, Noziglia was interviewed by Ambassador Edward W. Genhm, Jr., the U.S. designate to Kuwait. As explained by Vance Vasquez, then staff writer/photographer for The Missile, Naval Air Weapons Station, Point Mugu, Calif, in the article A Unique Role in Desert Storm appeared in July-August 1993 issue of Naval Aviation News, Cdr. Noziglia was selected to head the reconstruction of the Kuwait Air Force. A Kuwaiti 747 airliner was used to transport 86 contract technicians along with their supplies to Khamis Mushayt, Saudi Arabia. They departed from Andrews AFB, Md., and arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sep. 16, 1990.

“The technicians were retired Navy and Marine Corps personnel with A-4 Skyhawk experience,” said Noziglia.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait and overwhelmed the small country, only a small portion of the Kuwait Air Force was able to escape into Saudi Arabia. A total of 18 A-4KUs and two TA-4KU Skyhawk attack aircraft, along with 15 Mirage F1 fighters and three L100-30 (C-130) transport aircraft were saved.

The Kuwait Air Force arrived with no support facilities — no equipment, tools, or aircraft manuals, which were left behind in Kuwait. “The aircraft were unique. Since no other country operated A-4KU Skyhawks, we were able to assemble new manuals from information obtained from the United States,” said Noziglia.

After the technicians arrived, the A-4KUs were moved from Khamis Mushayt and were forward deployed to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The A-4KUs were stationed far away from Iraq to avoid any possible air strikes before the United Nations’ mandate for Iraq to leave Kuwait was ordered. The Kuwait Air Force was integrated with the Royal Saudi Air Force under a single command.

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When Operation Desert Storm started, Noziglia credited the Kuwait Air Force with playing an important role in freeing their country. “There was a day we returned from an air strike and a Kuwaiti A-4KU pilot was as happy as he could be when he delivered a 500-pound bomb right to the front door of the headquarters office — until he realized that it was his old office,” recalled Noziglia.

“The Kuwaitis had ‘Free Kuwait’ painted on the sides of their A-4KUs, which became the national motto. The A-4KU flew from 18 to 24 sorties per day and only one A-4KU was lost to antiaircraft artillery fire during the war. The pilot became a prisoner of war,” Noziglia stated.

After the war, Cdr. Noziglia was involved in Operation Desert Recovery. He said Iraqi personnel had taken almost all of Kuwait’s military hardware back to Iraq, including the improved Hawk surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems.

When hundreds of Kuwaiti flight officers were captured, it was believed that A-4KU flight procedures were shown to Iraqi pilots, allowing them to fly the A-4KUs left behind back to Iraq. Noziglia said crews started working on the stolen A-4KUs they found on Iraqi air bases, and six were flown back to Kuwait. “The aircraft had been sitting around for months,” he said.

Noziglia remained in Kuwait for the integration of the F/A-18C/D Hornets being manufactured for Kuwait by McDonnell Douglas. The F/A-18C/D replaced both the A-4KU and F-1. “They’re moving from 1960s-vintage airframes in the A-4KU, into the year 2000 with their FA-18C/D Hornets,” said Noziglia.

“Desert Storm was definitely a highlight of my career. I made a lot of good friends with the Kuwaitis and we developed a good friendship,” Noziglia emphasized.

For his efforts during Operation Desert Storm, Noziglia received the Joint Service Commendation as Kuwait security assistance officer and Navy liaison officer and received a letter of commendation from Ambassador Genhm. He also received the Bronze Star Medal and a letter of commendation from Major General Jaber Khaled Al-Sabah, Deputy Chief of Staff, Kuwait Air Force.

Photo credit: Robert E. Noziglia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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