Shawn Receiving an Award from FL (R) Govt. Scott
Shawn A. Abbatessa, U.S.A.F.
On August 2, 1990 I was 20 years old and attached to the Security Police Squadron at Comiso Air Base, Sicily. For me, that day forever changed me. That is the day Iraq invaded Kuwait. I vividly remember our base gates being locked, phones disconnected, and a knock on my dormitory door. The Captain at my door ordered me to the base movie theatre. There, my squadron learned about the invasion of Kuwait and we were told we had 2 hours to gather our “ready bags” and to be prepared to depart for the Middle East.
Before I knew it I was on a C-130 headed to Doha, Qatar being escorted by F-16’s. On the flight over we were told we had not received permission yet to land in country and quite possibly could face hostilities as soon as the C-130 cargo door opened. This was the beginning of a fear that I can’t put into words. From that day forward, my life changed forever. Upon my arrival I wrote a letter to my family. I couldn’t tell them where I was at but they knew. This letter was my last will and testament. I had no idea if I would survive so I wrote it. I sent a letter within a letter. The first, was an explanation of the inside letter and a request that if I should parish to please open and read the second at my funeral.
Our base at Doha, Qatar saw a lot of action during the liberation of Kuwait. Our F-16 pilots faced much adversity during the campaign. We lost several aircraft and two of our pilots were captured by the Iraqi Forces and were paraded as POW’s through the streets of Baghdad. Several others were shot down by SAM’s (Surface to Air Missiles) but thankfully were recovered by American Forces.
In addition, during the height of the liberation, Saddam Hussein launched SCUD Missiles (a tactical ballistic missile) continuously at multiple targets through the region. On any given day, our location was targeted multiple times. I can still hear the base attack warning siren sounding loudly for several minutes to warn us of an incoming missile. It usually fell eerily silent for several minutes while we finished dawning our chemical gear and rushed to shelter in a bunker. Then you waited. You waited for a Patriot Missile (A U.S. missile designed to intercept SCUD’s) to do its job or for the explosion of impact. The latter is something I have nightmares about often. When it hits you feel it in your bones. You check to see if you are alive and you appendages are still intact. Then, you hear chemical warning alarms sounding throughout the base and wonder if that particular missile was loaded with chemical warfare agents – scared can’t describe the feeling.
When Kuwait was liberated I returned to the states to a hero’s welcome. I was humbled by the reception but something inside me wasn’t right. I had vivid nightmares, terrible memories, I trusted no one, and never felt happy. I suffered for years and years without help or a diagnosis and lived in fear of the memories in my head. Finally, in 2014 I worked with the Veterans Administration and was diagnosed with PTSD. Today, with the help of organizations like Waves to Recovery, I live a fulfilling life and take pride in giving back to my community. Each day is still a struggle but I have learned how to manage it and I look forward to the next sunrise.
Shawn A. Abbatessa - Spokesperson
Shawn with some of his AF brothers.
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