The three stripes on Jason Harrington’s Army uniform denote the rank he held — sergeant — at the end of his first round of service in 2011.
For Harrington, the three lines also represent three U.S. soldiers who died during his deployment to Kuwait in 1991. It would not be the last time he would see those he served with killed in the line of duty — there would be many more deaths during his subsequent deployments to Iraq in 2007, and Afghanistan in 2011.
But the sacrifices of those who served and died in Kuwait during the Gulf War, also referred to as Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, are sometimes forgotten, according to Harrington.
“It’s historically significant, but I think it has gotten overtaken by the reoccurring operations in the Middle East,” he said of the conflict. “We can’t forget ... we still had to commit blood and treasure to ensure freedom for others.”
It is in their memory that Harrington, a Middletown resident, will march in the National Memorial Day Parade in D.C. on Monday. He will join thousands of Desert Storm veterans in parades nationwide marching to raise awareness and funding for those who served in the Persian Gulf conflict, according to a statement from the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association.
The advocacy and fundraising organization plans to build a memorial in Washington to honor those who served in the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991 — both the dead and living. President Donald Trump signed off on Congress’ joint resolution for the project in March, advocating plans to the design process, according to an organization statement.
Scott Stump, the association’s president, emphasized the significance of the conflict in world history and in the personal histories of those who fought for the freedom of Kuwait.
“We can never forget that sacrifice,” he said of those who served during the conflict. “It’s no less important, no less worthy of being remembered than any other time in our country’s history.”
Harrington, who said he learned about the organization and memorial efforts through social media, described the planned memorial as a worthy way to honor those who died, including those killed during his tour.
It was June 1991, a few months after the cease-fire agreement that marked the end to the conflict, when Harrington arrived at Camp Doha, a U.S. Army base near Kuwait City. He was 23, a noncommissioned officer and intelligence analyst sent to lead a task force whose presence was intended to ensure the newly won peace remained.
He never engaged in combat during his summer-long deployment. Instead, his experience with death came about by way of an accidental electrical fire that started in the combat vehicles at the base. The ammunition-loaded vehicle became engulfed in flames, sparking a chain reaction of fires and blasts that destroyed much of the compound.
He and the others on the site were forced to evacuate, setting up a temporary base at a nearby industrial building. The evacuation was lauded a success because no one died, although some were injured.
Harrington said he felt relieved, but that feeling was short-lived.
A few weeks later, as troops worked to clean up the ravaged site by disarming and removing unexploded ordnance, or bombs, tragedy struck. One of the bombs exploded, killing three of those working on the cleanup.
Harrington never knew the soldiers who died, but described the turn of events as “shocking” and “stressful.”
He also noted the irony. As Americans back home were celebrating their victory and the safe return of troops, his unit was struggling with the loss of lives and of the protected compound where they had been stationed.
“It made us feel almost more vulnerable than I assume we felt during combat,” he said of the move to a makeshift compound, still strewn with AK-47s used in combat.
Asked if he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of such experiences, Harrington said he did.
“I expect anyone who experiences loss of that nature would,” he said.
But he also spoke of his deployments — in Kuwait, and later, to Iraq and Afghanistan — as some of the most formative experiences of his time in the service.
“I have always felt, while it was the biggest challenge to leave behind family, deployment was one of the highest points of my career,” he said. “You’re doing what you were trained to do.”
His participation in the Memorial Day parade is just one of the ways he honors the memory of those who died in service. Although he retired from active duty in 2012, he still works for the military as a civilian employee for the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency at Fort Detrick.
He dresses in red each Friday, a color meant to signify “remembering everybody deployed.” He wears the KIA bracelets of fellow Operation Iraqi Freedom service members — one for the first soldier who died on the operating table, and another for the surgeon he worked with who was killed on the last day of their tour.
He belongs to local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and participates in group-organized moments of silence to honor those who died.
And every time he dons his uniform with the three-striped badge, he thinks of the three soldiers killed in Kuwait.