WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — It has now been 32 years since a U.S.-led coalition of 35 countries ended the Gulf War on Feb. 28, 1991.

But for Navy veteran Petty Officer 2nd Class Harry Willis, his time working on a top-secret communications system seems like it was only yesterday.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Harry Willis

“The ship was working on a communications platform. It was still in the early acquisition phase,” Willis said.

Willis joined the Navy in 1985.

“I got a phone call from a guy that I worked with on this communication system that we were testing. I said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘Well, you might want to pack your bag.'”

After five years at sea, Willis was sent to the desert.

“I went to see the Command Master Chief. He said, ‘I don’t know what you know or who you know, but you got orders to go to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.'”

Willis landed in Riyadh in February 1991, less than a month into Operation Desert Storm.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Harry Willis

“We were getting off the plane, and we were immediately under a Scud attack. We hadn’t been on the ground two minutes when that happened. That was our welcome to Saudi Arabia,” said Willis.

Willis was picked to join a special Navy team at the Ministry of Defense and Aviation.

“I went to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with about 10 other people who worked on this communication system with,” Willis said.

The same communication system prototype Willis tested at sea was also on its way to Saudi Arabia.

“Someone in the Joint Chiefs said, ‘Hey, let’s see if this thing really works in a tactical situation,'” said Willis.

The team worked around the clock to build, maintain, and secure the above and below ground system.

“We were about five stories below ground. We were installing the system,” Willis said.

Keeping top-secret communications flowing between Riyadh and the Pentagon.

“In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, our user was Gen. Schwarzkopf, and in the Pentagon, our user was Colin Powell,” said Willis.

The system quickly proved to be a success.

“We were able to test literally every possible scenario that would occur with that system, and it worked,” Willis said.

Willis and his team were awarded Army commendation medals signed by Gen Schwarzkopf for their achievements in Riyadh. It was a rare honor for Navy sailors.

“The group that I worked with, I think they were the best of the best,” said Willis. “You know, to be among those, it made me feel really good.”


If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.