CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Christine E. Goetz
Desert Shield/Desert Storm Oral History Interview
US Army, 920th Transportation Company
Date: March 27, 2019
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Cole Snedeker
Before joining the military, Christine E. Goetz worked with racehorses. “I was an exercise rider,” she said, “and good at it, and I loved what I was doing.” Her father, a World War II veteran, had believed that military service was a positive experience, and that everyone should serve at least two years. She had promised her father that she would do so, but an injured shoulder delayed her from enlisting until six months before she turned 34 (the cutoff), when she finally signed up.
Goetz decided to enter the army over the other branches due to its more appealing PT program. Enlisting in Newark, she was soon sent to Fort Dix. The initial transition was “awful”, Goetz remarked, as many of her fellow soldiers were “babies” compared to her age. Furthermore, she was originally slated to be a squad leader, a responsibility that she was not keen to bear. But her commanders were persistent, explaining that the point of the military was to build strong leaders, and Goetz acquiesced. As it turned out, however, she “loved every minute of it.” Goetz not only grew psychologically, but physically; initially, she explained, “I couldn’t do push-up number one. Well by the time they finished beating me up, I could do 35 push-ups…that’s pretty decent.” Her improvement was so great, in fact, that Goetz was assigned to help other soldiers stay physically fit.
Goetz wanted to join the veterinary corps, but unfortunately those positions were reserved for officers. “I wanted something where you were at least doing something physical,” she said. As Goetz had experience transporting racehorses, she began working in truck driving and maintenance. She remembered that she was the only female in her unit who could change the 250-pound tires.
Training continued at Fort Benning, where Goetz also went through airborne school. Though she was one of the first females in the transportation corps, she did not feel as if she was ever discriminated based on gender. However, Goetz was treated unfairly due to her age; her unit, fearing that she would not be able to keep up with younger students in airborne school, made her take her PT test three times in a row to pre-emptively prevent her from entering. But she remained tough, passed all the tests and went on to excel in airborne school as well. Remaining active, Goetz joined the marching color guard and ran in marathons.
Entering the reserves, Goetz returned to New Jersey to work with racehorses for several years. She joined the 78th Division in Edison and became involved with truck and jeep maintenance. Goetz remembered being sent to Bayonne, and hearing other soldiers making jokes about gas. The rowdy men were quickly dealt with, as poison gas was no joking matter. “We were terrified of that gas stuff,” she said. When the Gulf War broke out in 1991, Goetz was called up for service overseas.
Goetz flew from McGuire Air Force Base to Saudi Arabia via a stop in Italy. Her commander had sent her unit over two weeks early, which resulted in a logistical mess, as there were no accommodations available. “They drove us all over Riyadh… and we were all over the country it seemed like. They didn’t know what to do with us.” Finally, she was sent to quarters at the Khobar Towers. Though at last in habitations, Goetz did not say much good regarding the conditions: “As far as cleanliness and stuff goes, that is not a part of the world anybody wants to be in.”
SCUD missiles were greatly feared by the troops. Whenever there was a missile threat, everyone would take shelter in the elevators. “A lot of people would start writing their wills on toilet paper, which is what I did,” Goetz recalled. “’Cause [sic] I thought, this is it, I’m not coming out of this thing.” During the first threat, she could not get her gas mask on properly due to her long hair; she made sure that that she kept it short from then on.
Once the troops were relocated out in the desert, about 15-20 miles from the Saudi border, living conditions improved. Communication remained difficult, until some radio antennae were erected nearby. Goetz’s job was to follow the army, specifically 7th Corps, as they advanced into enemy territory, keeping them supplied with fuel. At one point, her truck broke down, leaving her stranded with her co-driver in the middle of the desert for six hours.
During another mission, Goetz was sexually assaulted in the back of a truck by two other soldiers. She fended off her attackers, but did not report the incident, as she was worried about getting into trouble. Goetz has since expressed regrets about this course of action. It also disgusted her that her first sergeant seemed to be passively approving of the troops having sexual relations while serving, and that some of her fellow female soldiers, who were married back home, were having affairs overseas.
On a lighter note, even in Saudi Arabia, Goetz retained her passion for horses. A horse could surely be found etched on the side of any vehicle she drove. One time, while heading to retrieve water and provisions, Goetz passed by an equestrian center, where an Iraqi man tried to gift her a horse. She also developed a fascination with camels, a common sight in Saudi Arabia. As a foreign woman in Saudi Arabia, Goetz had to tread carefully. She noted that she could have been stoned during one instance, where she had aided a wounded camel on the side of the road. Women were also barred from prayer sessions; while in uniform, Goetz looked like a male and thus was able to sneak into prayer sessions with the men, but she reflected that this could have gone very badly for her if anyone had noticed.
Goetz did not see much contact with the enemy, though she did encounter prisoners of war, who, evidently to her, “didn’t want to be there anyway… They just wanted to live, that’s all.” Her unit did pass many destroyed enemy vehicles; it amazed her how quickly they began to rust in the hot, dry climate. Her column also transited the famous Highway of Death, along which she recalled that one soldier unintentionally wandered into a minefield and had to be guided out by military police. At the end of the war, Goetz wished to bring home an enemy RPG launcher she found, but unfortunately was unable to.
After six months on deployment, Goetz returned home to a grand welcome. She felt that the homecoming celebrations were making up for the poor treatment that veterans had received after the Vietnam War. Despite the overall positive mood, however, not everything went as planned. Goetz was unable to march in some of the ceremonies as she did not have the required desert boots. She also encountered some anti-war protestors and was involved in fistfights with them.
Goetz did not speak very highly of her unit’s leadership. “We had some very, very good NCOs that had been in Vietnam and stuff,” she explained, “and these were the people you looked to. You didn’t look to the commander.” Goetz was especially annoyed about how her commander had permitted one unfit soldier to go overseas. The man was afflicted with leukemia and had to be evacuated because his mouth was bleeding uncontrollably. Unfortunately, the man soon passed away, and she wished to find out who he had been to pay her respects. After years of searching with no luck, Goetz coincidentally met a fellow soldier from her unit who knew the man’s name.
Goetz did, however, speak very highly of general Norman Schwarzkopf: “It [the war] might have been only 100 hours thanks to Schwarzkopf and his planning and his guidance. I could take my hat off. That guy was incredible.” On sitting president George H.W. Bush, she likewise had good words to say: “I really loved that president, because we did what we were supposed to, and he brought us home.”
After the war, Goetz considered remaining in active duty service. However, she was persuaded by some of her comrades not to, due to administrative concerns, and instead went back into the reserves and became a park ranger. She joined the 98th Division and was based in Red Bank, and then Northfield, New Jersey. Meanwhile, Goetz also used her GI bill to attend college, earning a bachelor’s degree.
When the time came for retirement, Goetz still wanted to remain in the service and thus attempted to hide her retirement paperwork. This was to no avail; and, in 2011 she finally left the army. Goetz suffered from mental trauma inflicted during the war from an incident where a friendly unit had been hit, and she had been sent to help clean up, exposing her to the carnage of war. She has reached out to the VA for help, and her situation has improved.
Nevertheless, Goetz reflected fondly on her days in the service, comparing it to a family. She also felt that her service in the Gulf War had been for a greater good:
“We went over there for a mission. The mission was to liberate Kuwait. We accomplished that mission… we weren’t there to get rid of Saddam Hussein… it would have been worse if we did get rid of him.”
Goetz was happy to participate in the veteran’s oral history program. “Everybody wants to be remembered for something,” she said, “and that’s why I think this project is so important.”