Welcome Back Warrior

The government was supposed to take care of mentally disabled Marine combat veteran Brian Callan. It didn't.

Brian Callan moved back to Tempe in 1991 and contemplated his future. Just three months after he returned to civilian life, Callan was watching television with his mother when word of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait flashed on the screen.

"He got right on the phone right there," Jerri Glover recalls, "and then he told me he had to help his buddies over there, help his country."

Callan volunteered to serve at no pay during Operation Desert Storm, an offer the Marine Corps quickly accepted. Within weeks, he was assigned as the intelligence chief for the 2nd Division, 30 Marines, in Saudi Arabia.

Brian Callan with his daughter Cheryl: "He called me his precious princess."
courtesy of Jerri Glover
Brian Callan with his daughter Cheryl: "He called me his precious princess."
A Tempe elementary school celebrated Callan's return from Desert Storm in 1991.
courtesy of Jerri Glover
A Tempe elementary school celebrated Callan's return from Desert Storm in 1991.

"He was a fierce warrior who you didn't want to be on the other side of in combat," says his brother Sean, of Albuquerque, New Mexico. "He loved the United States of America and he hated our enemies, and was willing to put it on the line for our freedoms."

On January 28, 1991, Callan wrote his mother from Saudi Arabia, articulating his thirst for enemy blood.

"I got to brief all the Marine generals here, plus the commandant. Since the Air War started, I have been targeting bad guys for bombing missions. That has been great fun, and I am very proud that I can bring death and destruction to these Iraq pigs.

"First, the more we can kill now, the less they will have to kill us. Second, these people came into Kuwait and raped every little boy, girl and woman. Then if you are captured, detained, they beat you, sodomize you and then ask you questions. So the more I can send to Allah sooner, the better. It's time to get it on!"

Callan was granted reassignment to a battalion that would be sure to see combat when the ground war started. At the end of that February, he was among the U.S. soldiers who invaded Iraq, then marched into Kuwait in early March.

Callan's abilities as a soldier did not go unnoticed by his superiors. One lieutenant wrote in recommending Callan for the Navy Commendation Medal in March 1991: "He is a non-commissioned officer of supreme drive and force. I would instantly request his presence in any tactical situation."

Callan won that medal, with a gold star, as well as many other commendations for his work during Desert Storm, Somalia, and other operations.

Callan reenlisted for active duty in June 1991. Soon after, another superior wrote of him: "This is a combat report. Staff Sergeant Callan worked without respite for weeks on end in order to ensure quality intelligence products use by senior Marine officers. Jovial sense of humor always broke tension in combat environment. A fearless Marine, highly motivated."

After Desert Storm, Callan attended a school for non-commissioned officers before being assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines as its intelligence chief.

He was about one year from his first tour of duty in Somalia, as part of an ill-fated mission that someone named Operation Restore Hope.

The U.S. involvement in Somalia during the early 1990s may have been well-intentioned -- feed the hungry and try to stabilize a nation being ruined by civil war. But before it ended abruptly in March 1995, 44 American soldiers had been killed, about 200 injured, and $2 billion in taxpayer money had been expended.

Somalia is best remembered for the October 1993 mission that cost the lives of 18 Americans in a firefight later memorialized in the book and movie Black Hawk Down. News crews taped jeering mobs dragging dead, mutilated American soldiers through the streets of the sprawling capital city of Mogadishu.

It didn't start that way on December 9, 1992, when 1,800 U.S. Marines landed on a Mogadishu beach to cheering Somalis. Their assignment: to lead a United Nations peacekeeping force in Operation Restore Hope, and to expedite humanitarian relief to millions of starving Somalis.

The end of the Cold War had meant disaster and civil war in Somalia, one of several African nations where it no longer was necessary for the superpowers to prop up corrupt regimes to keep their tactical presences in the region.

Thousands of civilians starved to death as rival Somali clans fought for supremacy, and many Americans, moved by television images of the emaciated population, wanted to help in some way. Before it was over, however, the U.S. experiment in do-goodism got run into the ground.

Brian Callan landed in Mogadishu as the intelligence chief for the 3rd Marine Division. He set up camp with hundreds of other soldiers in an abandoned soccer stadium there, and began five months of perilous peacekeeping.

The Marine wondered almost immediately what the U.S. was doing in Somalia. On January 17, 1993 -- five days after the first U.S. soldier was killed in action there -- he wrote to his mother:

"So what are we doing here? I am not sure. We are not a police force, nor are we a security force. What we are is a show of force and that's about it. We are only doing what we are allowed to do. We are doing the politically correct thing, not the right thing to do. We see beatings, robberies, hear of rapes and murders. We see blackmail extortion and blackmarkets. All day and all night. We are not allowed to interfere. We all know what the right thing is to do, but can't do it."

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