Tony Whetstine remembers the thick, suffocating smoke and the dim, polluted skies over the burning oil fields of Kuwait 25 years ago.
“It was always dark, the visibility poor. It was hard to breathe,” recalled Whetstine, on patrol with the U.S. Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the first Gulf War. “We trained well for desert warfare … but we were not equipped to deal with oil fires.”
But Whetstine and the light armored, recon Marines did their jobs, lending support and clearing a path for advancing troops during Operation Desert Storm, a decisive U.S., allied-led campaign that swiftly defeated Iraqi forces and liberated Kuwait City.
Whetstine and his battalion reached their objective, seizing the airport in Kuwait City, and with it, control of the airfields.
“It was a well orchestrated war from the top down,” said Whetsine, 45, who served the Marines for four years before returning home to open a business and raise a family. He, his wife and their two children live today in Auburn. “Good troops. Good leadership all the way around.”
But victory came at a cost. Some of Whetstine’s “brothers,” among them many husbands and first-time fathers, never came home, Whetstine said, having fallen as casualties of battles fought half a world away. They never had the chance to begin a new chapter in life, to become a dad, to hug their sons or “push their daughters on the swing” in a park.
Whetstine remembers them, honors them and does whatever he can for them – veterans, then and now. He hopes the country can do more to memorialize a significant and successful military effort 25 years ago. He is working locally on projects that support returning servicemen and women.
“It’s important to honor them and to take care of our veterans,” said Whetstine, the newly elected commander of Auburn’s VFW Post 1741.
Following his service with the Marines, Whetstine struggled to adapt to civilian life. He eventually found his way, began to volunteer in his community and opened a traditional martial arts school focusing on the Samurai and Ninja arts in the San Diego area, where his wife is from.
Whetstine, a fourth-degree black belt, has studied in the U.S. and Japan with some of the most skilled martial arts instructors. He got involved in the arts as a boy growing up in the Midwest and practiced the arts after his service. He enjoys the discipline, focus, work ethic and values the arts command, characteristic of the military.
Whetstine has been a welcome personality at the local Post.
“Tony is one of the new group of veterans who will carry on the VFW traditions in the community,” said Bill Peloza, former Post 1741 commander and longtime post member. “He is energetic, smart and has the capabilities to lead Post 1741 in his leadership role as commander. Post 1741 will be in good hands.”
A strong family man who enjoys serving in the community, Whetstine plans to open a martial arts school in Auburn as he continues his work with the VFW.
“Anything we can do on our part to help our veterans is very important,” he said. “There is so much we can do for them.”
To learn more, visit vfw1741.com.