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Interview with Steve Buyer [Undated]

Edwin M. Perry:

Hi. I'm Mike Perry. With me is David Taylor. We're from the Library of Congress American Folk Life Center. We are here today to interview Congressman Steve Buyer as part of the Veteran's History Project. Good morning, sir.

Steve Buyer:

Good morning.

Edwin M. Perry:

The purpose of this interview is really to document your Gulf War experiences. What we'd like to do is expend it a little bit and talk about what brought you into the military.

Steve Buyer:

Okay.

Edwin M. Perry:

You went -- you lived in Indiana. Yet you went to the Citadel. What drew you into choosing a school such as the Citadel?

Steve Buyer:

I didn't have much choice. My father was a graduate of Culver Military Academy, and then he went to the Citadel.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And married a Charleston girl, my mother. And my brother went to the Citadel. So when I brought home an application at age 16 to go to Indiana University in 1975, it wasn't a pretty day. So my father won, and I'm a better man for it. And that's how I ended up at the Citadel.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did your father serve in the military?

Steve Buyer:

He did. After his eight years of military experience in high school and college, he declined a commission because he wanted to go to dental school, and was drafted into Korea. I have a lot of military heritage in my family. Our family has a lot of pride. And so we have a family tree and it gets back to General Nathanael Greene, the Revolution, and I have both sides of my family fought in the Civil War, for the South and in the North, and we all know where they were and what battles. And there's a lot of pride in our family over our military service.

Edwin M. Perry:

Any major battles of the war that your family participated in during the Civil War?

Steve Buyer:

{Laughter} Colonel John Larcy was at the Wilderness and at Chancellorsville. The folklore within family was he was at Gettysburg, but I think he was one of the trailing units to Gettysburg, and by the time they were getting across the river, I think he was leading out back across the river. But the family likes to say he was there, but I think we researched it, and he wasn't at the battle.

Edwin M. Perry:

So your family attitude toward the service was strong?

Steve Buyer:

Very strong.

Edwin M. Perry:

The community that you grew up in?

Steve Buyer:

I group up in -- along the banks of the Tippecanoe River. When you grow up on a river, you don't belong to anybody but the river. And my brother and I felt like we were like Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. And when I look back on it, I think it helped me as a person. It gave me a general awareness of conservation and nature. At the same time a lot of confidence, when you are nine and ten years old, traveling miles up and down a river, and it was very good. It was a great experience.

Edwin M. Perry:

You entered the Citadel at a time when attitudes towards military service were not all that strong, back in the mid-70s. How did you peers feel when you decided to go to the Citadel?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, I remember that period, because there were a couple of the older kids that we would hang around. One of them was killed in Vietnam, and the other one was missing in action and still is today. And so it had an effect on us. I mean, we were in junior high at the time, but when you see these older kids that were not coming back, I remember that. And in rural Indiana, in the heartland of America, we would see these things on television and protesting and things like that. But it really wasn't us. So I was sheltered from a lot of that, and the protesting that was going on at the time, we didn't see that. There was a lot of strong patriotism, a lot of heritage of patriotism in Indiana. Indiana sent more Union soldiers to the Civil War than any other state. And so I didn't sense any of that. When I ended up at the Citadel, sure, I sensed that immediately. Because, you know, they shave your head, just like they do at West Point, and when I would go out into the community at large, nobody wanted short hair. Even in Charleston, South Carolina. So Citadel cadets, yeah, you could sense that. Because most of the people wanted long hair. They did not want to associate the military, and somehow, we were sort of bastardized by some, but you know, we were embraced by others. And that's what I remember most were the World War Two generation embracing us at a time where it just wasn't the neat kind of thing to do.

Edwin M. Perry:

What year did you begin at the Citadel?

Steve Buyer:

In the fall of 1976.

Edwin M. Perry:

You want to describe your introduction to -- was that the first time you had been to the Citadel, when you first went there at --

Steve Buyer:

Well, my brother and I went to summer camp at the Citadel, to get a taste of it. And that was the first time I had met General Mark Clark, and so I knew what the Citadel kind of was, but my brother and my father never told me anything about the Citadel. They really didn't. They didn't tell me anything. Nothing. My brother gave me a little guide on it, and said this is something called Knob Knowledge, and you probably want to learn most of this. So I remember reading it and threw the book away, you know. And he looked at my shoes, and said, you know, you really need a shine on those. And I didn't know how to shine shoes. And when I showed up at the first day at the Citadel, you know, I was in a pair of jeans and a shirt, and long -- my hair was a little bit longer, a lot longer, and I walked over to the table, and said, "I am Steve Buyer." And got my first introduction to the military. He was all over me, and I didn't understand why he didn't like me {shrugs shoulders}.

Edwin M. Perry:

For those who haven't had that experience, could you describe the first-day experience as a cadet at the Citadel?

Steve Buyer:

Oh, I --

Edwin M. Perry:

What you recall.

Steve Buyer:

What I recall most was a language that I could not believe. I had never been called the names that I was called. And I couldn't figure out why they were treating me like that. I was a nice guy. I treated people nice. I didn't know what the heck was going on. But the plebe system at the Citadel doesn't start until after the first three days. And then when it starts, you begin to understand -- there really is going to be a militarization. And I'd figured that out. But I was going to have fun with it. I was going to play a game with the system. But you know, the system -- I felt like I was one of the last to break. And about December, the system broke me. And then, I realize today what that is, they break everybody. At some point everybody breaks.

Edwin M. Perry:

What's the intent behind that?

Steve Buyer:

The intent is a militarization. They are going to rebuild you. They are going say, "Thank you, mom and dad. You know, this child was not born with a set of instructions. You've done well, but we're going to polish this stone. And we're going to make sure that they are morally centered." And that militarization process, they will understand virtues first, then values, and then, they will -- they will be steeped in character. And they will understand a true sense of honor. And without an individual understanding the -- themselves -- before you can lead, you'd better understand yourself, and your depths of fear, and your depths of courage. And in that -- whether it's plebe year at West Point or Knob year at the Citadel, they let you find out who you are. And I would never had that opportunity. Sure, I was in sports high school, kind of. But the Citadel, when I look back at that four-year experience at the Citadel, it was the best experience of my life.

Edwin M. Perry:

Do most people, would you say, don't understand the process that a citadel cadet undergoes within that four years?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, I don't think that America understand the militarization process, whether it's at our boot camps, whether our military services, whether it's our military academies or the six military colleges. ROTC's do not have the rigor nor the value-add of a 24-hour military experience to an officer that takes command. And I would never have believed what I just said had I not experienced it in the Gulf War itself. I really saw some VMI officers, in Norwich, North Georgia, Texas A & M, west Pointers, the Citadel -- I saw these officers really rise above. I mean, they really did. And I hate to say it like that, because you had some good ROTC officers do well, too. But you could spot, you could spot these academy grads or Citadel grads out of the group. You just could. It was their military bearing. When things got difficult -- They weren't dissuaded at all by the emotions of the moment. They knew how to assimilate things very well and keep very focused, and by their bearing, they led. And I just would have never believed it had I not seen it.

Edwin M. Perry:

So, you have to say it did shape your attitudes for a long time.

Steve Buyer:

Absolutely. The Citadel -- yeah, it did.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you have an academic program there?

Steve Buyer:

I got a degree, if that's what you're saying {laughter}. I got a business administration degree --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

-- at the Citadel.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you graduated, they branched you -- or you were branched, I should say, branched Medical Services Corp. What happened?

Steve Buyer:

Well, I -- let me say this: At the Citadel, I didn't care for "the system", okay? And when I was a sophomore, I turned in my rank. So I chose not to participate in the corp system. And then, when I was a senior, I wanted to -- to do two things. My first taste of politics. They had something like a student body president -- It was called a Master of Revels -- that took care of all the parties and functions and stuff. So, that was my first election. But at the same time, I wanted to send a message to all of my peers that I've chosen to be this Private all the way through school, but I have military bearing myself. So I went and became one of the what's called the Summerall Guard, where they select the best drilled and trained cadets to be in this particular rifle platoon. And so I think I was the only senior Private in this thing. And then I -- I'd worked hard on my academics. So I graduated a distinguished military graduate. And when you're at -- when you get your DMG status, they let you choose your service. I think they did at the academy, too. And I come from a medical family. My father's a dentist, my brother's a dentist, my sister's a dentist, my uncle, my grandfather -- they're all over the place. But I was business, but I grew up around medical, a medical family. And I wasn't really sure if I was going to med school. I was getting a double major, and I dropped the double major. And I found out that everybody wanted to be a Medical Corp Service officer, and it was the most competitive field. But I didn't know why, but I guess if it was really something everybody wanted, there must be something to it. I know it sounds crazy but --

Edwin M. Perry:

No, no, I've seen others just like that.

Steve Buyer:

{Laughter}.

Edwin M. Perry:

And have seen other folks choose branches just like that for less than scientific reasons --

Steve Buyer:

You know? Yeah. So, since it was the plum, I guess I took it. And that's how I ended up Medical Service Corp.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you go in active duty at all?

Steve Buyer:

I did. When I came out of my summer camp, I went on active duty. I look back on it -- I was asked to go to Airborne School and Air Assault, and I should have. I look back on it, and I should have. I turned that down and went to on active duty at Fort Benjamin Harris -- no, excuse me, Fort Sam Houston.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

In San Antonio, Texas, and did my Officer's Basic Course down there, and you know, I ended up work on some active duty projects in active duty down there, studies on trends for the stresses on -- well, actually it was a child abuse study. And I poured through hundreds and hundreds of files on child support -- sexual, physical and neglect -- and trying to test stressors in the ranks. And it's fascinating. That study that I participated in really ended up helping me when I became Chairman of Military Personnel years later. It really did.

Edwin M. Perry:

So did you go -- when you went to law school, did you go in the Army program, or had you got out and then --

Steve Buyer:

Great question. I took a life from active duty.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And when I'm a typical guy. I applied to ten law schools, and I get accepted to nine, but not the one I wanted. And my wife was finishing up at Purdue at the time, so I went to Valparaiso and took a life in active duty, and I stayed in the reserves.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

So, my brother was going to dental school. And he and I were both Medical Corp Service officers, assigned to the same unit down in Indianapolis. So I stayed in the reserves while I went through law school.

Edwin M. Perry:

What led you to the field of law?

Steve Buyer:

I'm the first lawyer in my long family. We're all a service-oriented family. But there's something about the law that always intrigued me. And I do have a third cousin, a fourth cousin to me who's a lawyer, and I went and spoke with him and spent some time, and I spent some time with a friend of my father's, shadowing an individual, and I said yeah, I think I do want to be a lawyer.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you finished law school, and then you went back on active duty?

Steve Buyer:

{Nods head.}

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you have to petition to become a --

Steve Buyer:

Yes, you do. You do.

Edwin M. Perry:

Could you explain the process that you have to --

Steve Buyer:

You -- I was still a Medical Corp Service officer in the reserves, so that was the commission I took from the Citadel. I declined my regular Army commission.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

I wanted a reserve commission.

Edwin M. Perry:

That's different.

Steve Buyer:

That's different. Not many people would, you know, graduate from the academy or -- well, you were automatic back then -- but any of those military colleges and decline a regular army commission to be a reserve officer. That's just unheard of at the time. And -- but I -- I wanted to serve my country, but I wasn't sure active duty is what I wanted to do; you know? I -- but when I was in law school, I became -- I had this growing sense of a commitment. I wanted to serve my country, and I didn't want a career. I didn't want a career, but I felt this commitment and an obligation to serve my country. So I made application for a branch transfer, and you have to apply to the JAG Corp like anybody else would. The Army accepted me in the JAG Corp, branch transferred, and they were very kind. They were going to say -- said, Steve, we will bring you in in the fall of 1984, but I got this phone call that said we have this opening. Could you come to the summer school at Charlottesville? And I said, my gosh, I'm not prepared; I'm not ready. And I said where would I be assigned then? The guy goes, well, we have many openings. And I said where are they? And he gave me a list of -- this was the deal. He gave me a list of 20 places where I could go, to bases all over the world, and I got to choose where I could go. In exchange, I had to go to their early class. That's pretty good deal.

Edwin M. Perry:

That's a good deal.

Edwin M. Perry:

A pretty good deal.

Steve Buyer:

And I chose Fort Benjamin Harrison. Excuse me, Fort Benjamin -- Fort Eustis, Virginia. And I went to the early JAG school. So I went to Charlottesville.

Edwin M. Perry:

To Charlottesville -- How long did you go to school that you had to go back to?

Steve Buyer:

Oh, it's -- I don't remember. I don't remember.

Edwin M. Perry:

Months? Weeks?

Steve Buyer:

I think it's three or four months.

Edwin M. Perry:

So it was basically an orientation to the military law?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, and I -- that's a great question. I think you have a -- they send -- you know go to Fort Lee for two or three weeks, and then you go to Charlottesville. And that two or three weeks, you've got guys who have never been in the military who now have to put on a uniform.

Edwin M. Perry:

You're talk about a Fort Lee -- did they teach you to fire a weapon?

Steve Buyer:

Oh, gosh, yeah, and Land Nav. And I really felt like I was an instructor for all of these guys and helping them out. And, I mean, they had no idea how to wear a uniform, let alone didn't have a clue of what military bearing was. But Charlottesville was a good experience, and it's all about military law. And they, the professors there are excellent. They really are. They're premiere.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you feel they prepared you well for your initial duties?

Steve Buyer:

They did. They prepared me so well that when I ended up in the Gulf War -- and I know we'll get to that -- Charlottesville, things that they had taught me, things that I remembered, things that I had read and studied for whatever reason stuck with me. Even minutia of provisions -- I don't know why, weird stuff that I remembered, that I actually ended up using years later in the Gulf War.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you got assigned to Eustis. Most brand new lawyers get to sign as legal assistant -- I mean, as legal advisor to a brigade --

Steve Buyer:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- or contract law or legal assistance. What job did you get when you first got there?

Steve Buyer:

I was a Claims Judge Advocate.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And because of being a former Medical Service Corp officer, the hospital needed a legal advisor. I know I did some legal assistance -- everybody does that.

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Steve Buyer:

I think I also did some trial counsel, but not very much of the trial counsel.

Edwin M. Perry:

I think at that point they were transitioning to the Trial Defense Service, where we had people --

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, I wasn't too -- I didn't do TDS, Trial Defense -- was more on the prosecution side. But, I wasn't there very long. I immediately went to relay claims. That's what I remember most.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And the only prosecution I did for three years -- well, almost three years -- they had started a program in Eastern District of Virginia, whereby, because in the Tidewater area there's so much federal land of exclusive jurisdiction, a civilian commits an offense, whether it's at the Naval Weapons Station or at Fort Eustis or Fort Story or the VA, I mean -- there's so much land -- There's the parkway down there. They go to Magistrates Court. Or felony, they go into the District Court, the Federal District Court. So I was sworn in as a special assistant legal attorney. So here I was a JAG officer, but half the time I spent in a suit, prosecuting out of the United States Attorney's Office. And then I was also a Claims Judge Advocate.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. I saw that it indicated that you were assigned -- I may have misread it -- you were assigned to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Virginia --

Steve Buyer:

In the Eastern District of Virginia.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you were a Magistrates Law Court?

Steve Buyer:

Magistrates Court.

Edwin M. Perry:

Could you explain for those who don't understand Mag Court a little bit about what you did?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah. You could have a soldier have a DUI on base, and they go to Magistrates Court. It's a Federal Court. I mean, this is -- these are very serious offenses, federal offenses. Or you can decline your appearance at a federal -- a Magistrates Court which is sort of like Misdemeanor's Court, and have to bounced to a Federal District Court. We even ended up -- some of the last case I did was the prosecution of Columbians for the distribution of cocaine, pretty serious offenses. But at the same time, I had a great experience. I would welcome anyone -- If you want a great experience, the JAG Corp, you get it as a lawyer. They throw you in immediately.

Edwin M. Perry:

All right.

Steve Buyer:

And it's absolutely wonderful. Being a Claims Judge Advocate, it was the best for me because I also ended up defending Army doctors being accused of medical malpractice. And we had a huge case. They're a very complex case. And it was an incredible, an incredible experience, being -- nobody even gets to see both sides of a U.S. Attorney's Office, civil practice and criminal.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

You know? And as a matter of fact, at the time, I didn't know if I was going to -- I knew I was only going to do my three years. That was the minimum commitment I made to myself. And I took the Virginia bar exam when I was also at Fort Eustis. I was crazy. You know, I don't many -- I know they had a very low percentage pass rate that year.

Edwin M. Perry:

How did you do?

Steve Buyer:

I passed.

Edwin M. Perry:

Great.

Steve Buyer:

But I just look at it, and I was crazy.

Edwin M. Perry:

Was this experience with the law, did that continue the motivation to get out and to continue to practice law?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, I -- I had contemplated whether to stay in Virginia or -- that experience though that I had -- the Columbians -- that had an influence on me. We had -- there were some collateral witnesses. We had some state collateral witnesses in that case, some informants, were found and gagged. The back of their heads were blown off with shotguns. It had a huge impact upon many different cases in the region.

Edwin M. Perry:

They were used in --

Steve Buyer:

And it was pretty frightening for myself and others. And I had told Joni, you know, when you go to a car, and you don't know if your car is going to blow up, it's time to go home. And so, I -- we packed up and went back to Indiana.

Edwin M. Perry:

Were they using government land to bring narcotics in? What that what was --

Steve Buyer:

No. They were -- they got caught with a lot of drugs, and they were giving it to their dealers.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And it happened on federal land when that occurred.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Before we move on, could you clarify what a Claims Judge Advocate does essentially?

Steve Buyer:

{Nods} Claims Judge Advocates in the military -- a lot of claims are made by soldiers, military claims. It could be house -- soldiers are always moving -- and so you get damaged household goods and things like that, and they are filing claims. But you also have the Federal Tort Claim Act. You could have -- our soldiers are also always on the road, so a deuce and a half could run into a car, and a person would file a claim. One of our soldiers could be in a military vehicle and be hit by someone, in the course of their function of their duties -- and now they are being treated at military hospital, and we have to file a third-party medical claims and seek those recovery actions.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. So you decided to get out. What motivated you to stay in the reserves?

Steve Buyer:

I had -- at that time, I mean, I had such good experience, and now I've got six or seven years in, and I thought, well, let's just stay in the reserves and see where this takes me.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you go back to Indiana, and you join what I believe what the 310th --

Steve Buyer:

I was still in Virginia.

Edwin M. Perry:

Still in Virginia.

Steve Buyer:

So I had gotten off of active duty and had taken the Virginia bar exam. And while I was studying for the Virginia bar exam, they immediately -- you know, with you come off of active duty, they immediately assign you. I didn't know what the 310th was. But there was a support group of the 310th out of Fort Lee that I was assigned to. And went to some Reforger Exercises in Europe. And that was a great experience. Because that was the first time I had an opportunity to meet General Pagonis.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

Which would later have an affect on my life.

Edwin M. Perry:

What were your duties in the 3 --

Edwin M. Perry:

What David is going to ask you is going to take on the --

Steve Buyer:

The 310th?

Edwin M. Perry:

-- mean?

Steve Buyer:

It's the Theater of Army Command.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

And it was for all of Europe. But we had assignments in the Netherlands. And I was the liaison with the National Territorial Command Counsel. And one of the ladies that I worked with was one of the war widows. She never remarried, and her fiance was part of the resistance and they were collected, and I remember her telling me the story that they were burned alive in a barn, and -- by the Nazis. And I mean, boy, this was all very real. This was in the mid- 80's. So they were very anxious to tell these stories. And American soldiers were so welcomed. The first time I had met General Pagonis was a -- pretty quick. He was moved fast, and I all did was salute him. And Pagonis was a one-star at the time, and he was stressing maneuver damage. He didn't want any maneuver damage, and that was what I was out there, having to assess claimed -- from a farmer who complained that his cows wasn't producing milk because of the noise of the aircraft; the chickens weren't laying enough eggs because the tanks were scaring them.

Edwin M. Perry:

And that kind of stuff?

Steve Buyer:

And all that's real stuff, you know? Or one of our tank drivers decides to go through it a corn field. I don't know what the heck he was poised to do that, but you have got to go out and access all that stuff, you know. But General Pagonis, as it turns out, ended up being the sole person that caused the most damage out of one of the Reforgers -- he was. It was pretty sad I look back on it. He landed at one of the kasernes in a helicopter. And he didn't want to land on the helipad, I guess because he wanted the uniform looking good, and it had a little water on it. And he ordered the helicopter pilot to land in the parking lot. The parking lot happened to be gravel {nods head}, and that -- that Huey sent all those rocks into about 75-76 automobiles like a tornado. And the local prosecutor was upset. The helicopter had violated airspace regulations.

Edwin M. Perry:

Yeah.

Steve Buyer:

And they wanted to prosecute the pilot. Pagonis to this day probably doesn't even know. But we had to go in and assess, do all the claims on all these automobiles, and prevent the prosecution of the pilot by a meeting with the local prosecutor.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

It's crazy. If I saw Pagonis today, I'd tell him the story, you know, of how we met.

Edwin M. Perry:

Out of this --

Steve Buyer:

{Laughter}.

Edwin M. Perry:

How many Reforgers did you participate in?

Steve Buyer:

I don't remember.

Edwin M. Perry:

You don't remember?

Steve Buyer:

No.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

Two, three, four --

Edwin M. Perry:

When you go back --

Steve Buyer:

I don't know.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you went back to Indiana, did you continue the relationship with the 310th?

Steve Buyer:

No. I -- Actually, I was only with the 310th to A-Com, with one of their support groups for one Reforger.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And then I went back to Indiana and hooked up with a unit, and then I went on Reforgers with them.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

I think that's how that went.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Okay --

Steve Buyer:

The 21st to A-Com, the 310th is assigned to the 21st to A-Com, which is a Theater Army which Pagonis is the Deputy Commander of.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

US CONUS Augmentation of the 21st that is located in Indianapolis.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And that's the unit that I ended up joining up with, and I knew that unit when I joined up with when I started my law practice could be called up to duty within 36 hours. They told me that, but it's capstone to Europe. Europe didn't -- Europe looked pretty safe. I figured that was a pretty good bet, and I started my solo law practice.

Edwin M. Perry:

And you did that for about two years?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, two and a half years.

Edwin M. Perry:

And then you get the phone call.

Steve Buyer:

I sure did.

Edwin M. Perry:

What was your -- at what point? Because I couldn't determine exactly when you got the phone call.

Steve Buyer:

You know, this was -- it's almost a classic, where you tell young lawyers if you want to start your own practice and hang out your own shingle, it takes you about three years to build a law practice. And that is really true. I'm two and a half years in. My solo law practice is just pulsing. It's going great. I just bought a home on a lake, three acres on a lake. I've got two very small children, 7 and 5, or something around in that time frame, or 9 and 6. And I invite my parents over to the house for Thanksgiving dinner. Right? That's what you do when you're 30 years old. You look over and say, hey, Dad, Mom and Dad, I'm doing okay. And after the Thanksgiving dinner, I take dad on a long walk down the lane. It's one of those moments where you just want to say look, I'm doing well, Dad. Thanks. I love you. And that's always hard for a kid --

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

-- for sons to say to a father.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

And dad says to me on that walk, he said, now, what's going on over there in the Middle East? Are you going to get called on this? Because this is November 27th, 28th now of 1998. And I said Dad, don't worry. It's highly remote that I would be called to the Gulf War. And a few days later -- that's that weekend and that following Wednesday night, I get called, and I think it's like November 30th. I can't remember the exact date.

Edwin M. Perry:

It's fairly late, because I went back and looked.

Steve Buyer:

Oh, really?

Edwin M. Perry:

President -- no, I mean, President Bush authorized the call up of the reserves on the 22nd of August, 1990.

Steve Buyer:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

The first batch. And then, you could look and then -- it was in January when he extended everybody. So then --

Steve Buyer:

Well, there was a rift we didn't know about, because there was a headquarters of the Theater Army out of New Orleans that was supposed to go.

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Steve Buyer:

And Pagonis had worked with us. He worked with us. So yes, I went with the 310th, but the CONUS Augmentation of the 21st was Indianapolis is a headquarters unit.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

Had worked with Pagonis, and that's where I these other Reforgers. In a headquarters unit for a Theater Army, major is the most prolific rank. I mean, this is the most rank-heavy unit I've ever been in. I mean, you've got a one-star general. You've probably got 10 or 11 O-6s. You probably have 25 lieutenant colonels. You must have 70 majors; you know? And then you've got a bunch of captains and a whole bunch of high-ranking NCO's, and it's the most bizarre headquarters you've ever seen.

Edwin M. Perry:

Looking over Pagonis' history, that's what he wanted.

Steve Buyer:

But, you know, that's put -- that's right. Pagonis wanted us because he knew us. He had worked with us. He had confidence with us, and he didn't know these guys out of New Orleans. And I know it must have created a lot of controversy with these guys preparing to go, wanting to go to the Middle East, and here he calls us.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Because Force Com did notify them that they may be getting, get activated?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah.

Edwin M. Perry:

And they didn't wind up getting activated.

Steve Buyer:

And it's your classic alert -- I mean, it's a high level alert unit. And I get the phone call from a friend of mine. It was a strange phone call. Because when I phone call rang, for whatever reason, I knew something. It's weird. I mean, this sixth sense stuff is weird. Because the phone rang, and I went over to pick it up. And the guy didn't even say hi, Steve. This is Tom Robish. He just said, Hi Steve. It's your turn.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

So they do an alert. Right? It's your turn.

Edwin M. Perry:

Your turn.

Steve Buyer:

It's your turn. And when you get that call, and then I'm to pick up the phone and call the next guy. Don't ask me who that was, because I can't remember now. But it was pretty amazing.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you got mobilized as part of this unit?

Steve Buyer:

I did. I got the call on Wednesday, late Wednesday night. Called my friend who was a prosecutor in the town, and rushed to my office, and I had to triage all my cases. The following day I prepared a letter to all the courts where I had my cases, asked the judges for continuances and to protect my clients. And I had on Friday -- I handed out as many cases as I possibly could to lawyers who I knew could best represent clients, and on Saturday, I was in full form.

Edwin M. Perry:

Where did you report in to?

Steve Buyer:

Reported to Indianapolis. We had two weeks of processing. And we had the most serious NBC training I think I ever had -- nuclear, biological, and chemical -- making sure that all our MOPP suits fit, and masks, and I mean, that was the first time -- I mean, we all did NBC training.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Triage training, filters?

Steve Buyer:

Boy, I -- I sure paid attention, man. I made sure that, all those filters was good, that that seal was the best, you know. As a matter of fact, they made sure everybody, those MOPP suits work, and everything was perfect. And I thought, man, this is really serious. I mean, this is really getting serious. Then they showed us the tapes. And that -- it went from serious to just deadpan.

Edwin M. Perry:

What tapes did they show you?

Steve Buyer:

They showed us the tapes of the use of the gas on the Kurds and the Iranians.

Edwin M. Perry:

Iranians, okay.

Steve Buyer:

And that was pretty powerful on all of us. I mean, all that camaraderie, I mean, okay, we're all together and the seriousness. And I mean, man, it just it brought a hush to that unit. It really did. It was very eerie. And you know, at that time, I'd been in for ten years or whatever, but man, I'll never forget it. Because I think that most soldiers would say, when they go to war, if there's a bullet with your name on it, you accept it as your fate, but don't gas me. Don't gas me, don't do that.

Edwin M. Perry:

So about two weeks processing. So you end up being shipped off to the Gulf area in mid-December. How did you travel? Military aircraft or civilian aircraft?

Steve Buyer:

I remember -- before I get to that, I remember the -- as a kid, growing up watching all of these movies. Whether it's Mexican-American war, whether it's World War I, World War II, these classic scenes of men going off to war, packed into a train, saying good-bye to a loved one. All the guys are cheering, hugging, and I'll see you soon. Ain't like that. I'm telling you, it's not like that at all.

Edwin M. Perry:

2:00 o'clock in the morning?

Steve Buyer:

We -- I don't remember what all -- if it was 2:00 o'clock in the morning. But I remember they -- they put us all up in formation. You've got 260 -- I can't remember the exact number there is of us. And we're all -- we're all in combat gear. We're ready to go. And man, they got the bands there and they've got everybody, and they've got the buses all lined up. And all your families are there. You say good-bye to them. You know? And I remember my father wore his Department of Commander's Legion cap, and he was saying good-bye and thank you to all these guys. And later on, I asked why he did that, and he felt guilt from Vietnam.

Edwin M. Perry:

Hmm.

Steve Buyer:

Really, he did. He wished he had done that, and I remember -- I remember after saying good-bye to my family. You're headed off to the bus. Remember, you're packed. You've got all your pack, and you're packed down. And I had -- for whatever reason, I felt this compulsion to go back to my father, and I went back to him, and I said Dad, I'm prepared for this. And he looked back at me, and said, you're the best I have to offer. I don't know, dude. I tell you what. I don't know what you would tell your son. I don't know, but that was pretty powerful. And the lady that I sat with -- Go off for Wright-Patterson, we get on the plane, and the lady I flew to Saudi Arabia with, we are packed on one of those C-141's --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay, so you flew military transport?

Steve Buyer:

Oh, yes, oh, my God.

Edwin M. Perry:

Not one of our contracted commercial --

Steve Buyer:

Oh, my Gosh.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- aircraft?

Steve Buyer:

Oh, my gosh! No. You know, I'm sitting here like this. Your knee is between my legs, and this guy's knee is between his legs, and I mean, you are packed in on this on the longest God-awful flight. I will never, ever complain about air travel.

Edwin M. Perry:

Freeze, sometimes --

Steve Buyer:

Oh, I'm hot on this side and frozen on that side or whatever. And Lorri Lawton, Lieutenant Lorri Lawton sat on my right. And the reason I'm going to tell you this is, if God had given me the ability and said Steve, one person will die in your unit, you get to leave someone at home, I would have chosen her. And she died. And, you know, when you -- on that flight over -- you know, you're -- you're sharing all kinds of things with people, and it's a long flight, you know? I counted the number of serrated edges on a plastic knife. I mean, you are dying of boredom.

Edwin M. Perry:

Was it a direct flight?

Steve Buyer:

It was. We stopped in Spain, I think. I can't remember. I think it was Spain, for refuelling. And I remember seeing Lorri and telling her, you know, hey, everything is going to be fine, and gave her a big hug and said I'll see you back in Indiana. And we all started splitting up, and I never saw her again.

Edwin M. Perry:

Was it an accident, or was it one of the Scud attack?

Steve Buyer:

No, it wasn't a Scud attack. It was an auto accident. She was headed up somewhere, and a Bedouin left a car, one of those piece of crap trucks, sitting right in the road. And she was tactical, so she never saw it, and was killed. Just awful.

Edwin M. Perry:

Meaning black-out lights?

Steve Buyer:

{Nods head} Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

Night vision goggles, maybe?

Steve Buyer:

I don't know. I don't know about night vision goggles. But it was tactical and --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

-- and it was a waste, I can tell you that.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you kids understand what you were doing when you left? How old were they then?

Steve Buyer:

I'm trying to think -- I think 9 and 6?

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

Something like that. Not really. Yes and no.

Edwin M. Perry:

Dad's going off to --

Steve Buyer:

Going off to war.

Edwin M. Perry:

To fight?

Steve Buyer:

Well -- later on, I remember when I came back, the family support groups that were being organized were wonderful. They were great. I don't know who did all that kind of stuff, but that was wonderful. The community from which I was from, there weren't many who were called up, but the community was great. The counselors within the school was good. America was coming together.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

And that was very, very important. So maybe the same feelings that my father went through, I think America was going through.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

You know? So there was great support.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Where did you land when you finally got to the Gulf?

Steve Buyer:

I land in some air base outside of Dhahran. I can't remember the same of it right now.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

I'll never forget the scene, because there's a -- we got off. We're waiting to get matched up with duffel bags. And we're still got our combat gear, and gosh, it was busy, oh, my gosh. And as I'm looking around, trying to figure it out. It's dark, but it's not because of the moon you can see well at night in the desert. And I'm trying to figure out what I'm seeing. I know I'm at an air base, but, oh, my God, the movement and everything is so much activity. I was stunned by the level of activity. Well, the theater is building, okay?

Edwin M. Perry:

Yep.

Steve Buyer:

And I see A-10's. I see transports. I see fighters. I see tract vehicles lining up as far as I can see, you know? And I look over, and I see the Sergeant. I see this First Sergeant standing over there by himself, and I went over and talked to him. And he knew what it was. He was the combat infantry badge, that old warrior from Vietnam. He knew.

Edwin M. Perry:

He was aware of what the chaos --

Steve Buyer:

Oh, yeah, he knew what was in front of us. We didn't.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did any -- did he -- did anyone try to explain to you what was ahead of you?

Steve Buyer:

You know, the -- moving, one of the most moving -- it's a little story. As a matter of fact, it ended up -- I can't even remember the name of the movie -- Showtime did a movie on the Gulf War, and the opening scene of the movie is what happened to me. When I got this call, I went and grabbed my jump boots. And I wanted some new soles on them, and I only had a few days, right? So I grab my jump boots and go down to see the cobbler. Cobbler you always see. I don't know who the cobbler is; but a nice guy, right? I don't know anything about him or his background or whatever. And I walked in, and I said hey, I need these jump boots. Can you put some new soles on them and bring them to life for me? That's what I said, bring them to life for me. And he goes, that's fine, Steve. I'll have them for you in a couple of weeks. And I said, no, you don't understand. I'm going in two days. So, this is Thursday morning. And so, he said, okay, I've have them for you tomorrow. And I come back on Friday, and I pick them up and he won't let me pay for them. And my gosh, I couldn't believe him. He put on oil-resistant soles on them, and these were the most beautiful jump boots I had ever seen in my life. And he wouldn't let me pay for them. And I said come on, you have to. And he said, Steve, I was in Vietnam, and I know what you're about to go through, and I just want you -- and this is a bizarre statement -- I just want you to come home in them. And everybody's making these statements, these subtle statements to me. And you've got a piece of naivety when you go to war, because it's surreal. But those who have been are giving you these -- you know, these little, you know, statements, in subtleties. Because nobody really comes out and says what you're about to experience, because it's hard to articulate. And that same feeling that I got from that First Sergeant was the very same thing -- most of the cobb lers are disabled veterans. I didn't realize that at the time.

Edwin M. Perry:

I didn't know either.

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, they are. It's a veteran's program for their jobs, and I just never put two and two together.

Edwin M. Perry:

When you arrived, do you stay with the unit? When do you move up and start supporting the JAG office of the 22nd --

Steve Buyer:

I am -- I got assigned to Dhahran. So, the -- I started doing some legal assistance or some -- there was going to be a mission of -- five of us were going to be airdropped in southern Iraq, to -- figure out advance logistical bases, led by a gentleman by the name of Colonel Guyer, who had been a captain in Vietnam. Tough, Ranger kind of guy.

Edwin M. Perry:

Yeah.

Steve Buyer:

And my nickname was Combat JAG, to give you an idea of my personality.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

Okay? I wasn't your typical JAG officer. And so when this guy got to choose who would go with him behind the lines, he was going to take me. Now, that's a little different, isn't it?

Edwin M. Perry:

But why, why did you --

Steve Buyer:

Normally, you don't take the lawyer with you to do a behind-the-scenes positioning of --

Edwin M. Perry:

Exactly, but why? Why?

Steve Buyer:

Because I was more than just a -- more than just a lawyer. I think I was a good soldier. But as a turns out, we prepared for that mission, and at the last minute, it was cancelled.

Edwin M. Perry:

Because --

Steve Buyer:

That took some prep.

Edwin M. Perry:

Was this operational law aspects? The use of Iraqi property to support our operations? Or maybe Kuwaiti property that you were sort of planning to do?

Steve Buyer:

I did not participate in that one.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

That was done out of our shop, and that was really the spearhead of the Staff Judge Advocate. He did that. I -- he deserves all the credit for all his work.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. But -- at what point -- so you were basically focused initially on this mission, going forward?

Steve Buyer:

Well, that, and some other things. Believe me, there is so much lawyer-stuff to do. Oh, my gosh. That Staff Judge Advocate, the lawyers that he got -- he got some really good lawyers. Oh, my gosh, he got a contract-loss specialist, and that's what he needed, because so much contract work was being done to build a Theater Army. A Theater Army moves, does all the beans and bullets and the hospital and all the logistical support that we needed from the host country, and Tom Robish did a great job. Mark Carman was a great trial lawyer, litigator, did a wonderful job. Every -- the thing about bringing reservist lawyers to an it theater of war, you are not caring about a military career. Lawyers. They're tough. They do their job, and give you hard-core advice. And if the Commander doesn't like it, will tell you, well, I don't care what you like or dislike. We are going to do this the right way. And you figure out how -- you know what I mean?

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Steve Buyer:

You don't worry about a career, you know? And they worked well.

Edwin M. Perry:

In your military bio, you mentioned supporting forward unit, some of the support units.

Steve Buyer:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

What type of support were you providing for them?

Steve Buyer:

Mostly were Commanders' Inquiries. There were a lot of different complaints and stuff. For example, there was one complaint as a postal unit up at KKMC that men and women were being segregated by gender and by race. So a Commander's Inquiry is, under the UCMJ, is really a quick inquiry. You don't have to do any formalities. You just go in quick and figure out what it is and write it up or you can orally the tell Commander.

Edwin M. Perry:

Informal --

Steve Buyer:

Informal. Yeah, that's what a Commander's Inquiry is.

Edwin M. Perry:

So it would just take 15 minutes and --

Steve Buyer:

And you know, it's one of these things. You go in and find out that's just the way they wanted it to be. It wasn't directed. It wasn't command directed. It's just the way they wanted it to be. Blacks wanted to live in a particular tent, and so did the whites, and that's the way it turned out, and you just drive on. But there were other things. I was tasked to do a filming of the -- when the two corps were moving on the battlefield at the same time. It had been a long time since two corps moved on the battlefield. In fact, you probably have to go back to the Civil War, maybe, and for two corps to move like that, one jump over another corp. A lot of things were happening. And I was asked to film the -- what do they call it? There were some bases up there, like about eight or nine miles from the Iraqi border they were moving to --

Edwin M. Perry:

Assembly areas?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, there you go. Some pre-something assembly areas.

Edwin M. Perry:

Pre-combat check assembly areas or --

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, could be.

Edwin M. Perry:

-- or -- okay.

Steve Buyer:

Gosh -- it's been too long ago.

Edwin M. Perry:

Basically, right before you had any --

Steve Buyer:

But here's what the purpose was: If you have a unit and you're getting ready to go into combat, you want to make sure you have all of the ammunition, all of the support necessary, all the water, all of the ammo, all the fuel, right? So, the Theater Army, somebody in there didn't feel that the combatants out there were being honest about their requirements. So when I -- when the corps started to move and left those assembly areas, they wanted to know what was there.

Edwin M. Perry:

What's left over?

Steve Buyer:

What's there. What's being left behind. And so, I took a Public Affairs E-7 and a Special Forces Major with me. It was the three of us. So we hop in the jeep and away we go, all on our own.

Edwin M. Perry:

It doesn't sound like the typical lawyer.

Steve Buyer:

No, I'm Not. I'm combat JAG.

Edwin M. Perry:

Combat JAG.

Steve Buyer:

Combat JAG. Not your typical lawyer. So we ended up filming, and we found where they had buried MLRF pods in the sand. They had left over, oh, my gosh, ammo and fuel and water. And we ended up being attacked out there, and it was a pretty eerie experience. That was my first surreal experience, where the Iraqi -- these were really Iraqi Bedouins who were claiming what was left behind as theirs. And therefore we were -- this was -- this wasn't, this wasn't about the Gulf Wars or anything.

Edwin M. Perry:

Who's was it? Salvage rights?

Steve Buyer:

Yeah. Salvage rights, that's what this was about. This is about salvage rights. And I'd tell you, when you are standing there -- I do have to admit -- They say you never separate yourself from your weapon? Damned if I wasn't, you know. It was leaning over there by the tire well by the jeep, and I was about 20 feet from it. So I just admitted that for the first time. But it didn't take me long to get it, I can tell you. They come up over the sand ridge, and they are -- I can't watch a movie today when you hear the "yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi-yi", you know? And they're coming at you with these long swords, and these guys have these rope with these stars on them, and they're swirling it at you like this and yelling at you --

Edwin M. Perry:

Traditional weapons they were carrying?

Steve Buyer:

0h, yeah, these are old-time weapons.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. How many of you were there?

Steve Buyer:

Three of us.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

Three of us.

Edwin M. Perry:

And of them?

Steve Buyer:

I can't remember the exact number. Maybe 11 to 14, somewhere in there.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

It's a classic -- it's a funny thing when I look back on it. You remember that movie -- Indiana Jones?

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

When the guy pulls out the sword and he just shoots him? That's what jumped into my mind, as they're coming at us. And so I just grabbed the M-16, and they kept coming. They kept coming. They kept coming. And it's like, oh, my God! Then the lawyer takes over and says, I don't want to kill them. This is a hell of a lot of paperwork. You know? I don't want to. I don't want to do this. And so we just laid down a line of fire.

Edwin M. Perry:

Because they're unarmed combatants?

Steve Buyer:

Well --

Edwin M. Perry:

Technically?

Steve Buyer:

-- in it this situations they're combatants because they're coming to kill us, and so we laid down a line of fire, and it was a stalemate. And that stalemate you know, it may have only been 60-90 seconds. I can tell you to this day, it still feels like it was an hour.

Edwin M. Perry:

So the law office of the 22nd Support Command is doing all sorts of things?

Steve Buyer:

Absolutely, and that's just a small taste of it. At some point, I was then assigned up to KKMC as the prisoner of war camps were being established. The 800 MP Brigade was brought in. They were trying to organize, and they realized that these prisoners were coming across on their own. They had to get things built as fast and as quick as they could, and somebody at the top realized that probably the best thing they needed was to actually have some lawyers on the ground at the camps themselves. And that, I think, was one of the most competent decisions somebody made.

Edwin M. Perry:

But you show up actually almost a month after they started getting POW's.

Steve Buyer:

No --

Edwin M. Perry:

We started getting POW's at the beginning of the year. When did you start actually showing up at the camps?

Steve Buyer:

Um, uh --

Edwin M. Perry:

Was it after the air war or --

Steve Buyer:

I end up at, up at KKMC -- the air war had already begun. So when did the war begin, the 15th, 16th of January?

Edwin M. Perry:

15th of January, yeah?

Steve Buyer:

I left Dhahran after three weeks of Scuds.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

Okay? After three weeks of Scud missiles. I tell you, the first Scud missile that came into Dhahran, CNN tells America that it landed in the desert. Bullshit. It landed in a John Deere implement plant that was probably a hundred yards from my position, and that concussion of the Scud caused so great and shook our bodies so much, and we believed they were chemical. It was the first one.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

And we were all in our MOPP 4. And I can tell you sitting in that little hall, crouched down, waiting for the next one to come in, because all the alarms were going off, and knowing that the one just hit was probably chemical. And all you hear is this {makes heavy air noises}.

Edwin M. Perry:

Can you explain what MOPP 4, for those who, you know, may view this film in a number of years?

Steve Buyer:

Well, we've got on our chemical suits, and we've got on our masks, and we're waiting for a chemical detection unit now to come out and give us the all-clear sign. As then some other Scuds start pounding the ground which just shakes. But this one that landed, you know, a hundred yards from where we were, I mean, I've never forget the concussion and what it does to the body, and let alone the stress, what it does to you. Knowing -- you know, because you're thinking in your mind, you've already seen the tapes. You've already seen the gruesomeness of the death.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

And you think, do you have even a crack {gestures to neck} in that seal? You know, knowing that you are in the impact zone; you are there. I remember also -- I should share this -- how much the soldiers began to dislike CNN and the reporters. Because they were in Dhahran, and they would report -- we were down range -- I remember going to the Patriot Battery, doing a will for somebody. And I'm over there saying that, we hear three explosion when you guys fire a Patriot, and they didn't believe me. I said, believe me, I'm ten miles down range from where you guys are shooting. That's where we are. There is an explosion when the Patriot takes off, there's the supersonic boom that we hear that they don't hear, and then there's the intercept. And when you hear the supersonic boom, you'd better be running and diving under something, because one of the times I dove under a semi at the intercept, and this stuff has got to some down somewhere, right? And it's raining shrapnel.

Edwin M. Perry:

Scud parts?

Steve Buyer:

Yep. It's raining shrapnel. I just can't believe more people didn't get hurt.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

You know? Because that's where we were. It was right down range. But CNN one day, for about a week there, they would say well, a Scud just landed in the water between Bahrain and Dhahran. A Scud just landed over the airport at Dhahran. Two Scuds landed south of Dhahran. And we're just screaming, because what are they doing?

Edwin M. Perry:

Bracketing you --

Steve Buyer:

That's right. CNN was being the forward observer for Iraq, telling them, and so they are bracketing them. And sure enough, one day -- I can't remember the exact number -- but they must have brought 15, 16, 17 Scuds came in on top of us at once. They did their fire for a fact. It was basic artillery bracketing, and that's what CNN was doing. And what was sad is, is that later on, when -- I think it was around -- around the battle of Khafji, some reporters had gotten captured. And you know, the sad thing -- by that time, I had already gotten moved to the front. -- the sort of the theme on the front? Not one American life would be lost to get them back. That's sad.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

But that's the level of tension there was between the military forces and the reporters.

Edwin M. Perry:

Is that because the reporters don't understand the significance of the information they're giving? Because we don't have reporters that have had the background and experience?

Steve Buyer:

That's true. That's very true. I mean, they've got their job to do. I understand. They want to report and share with people what is going on. But they don't realize that when they're doing that, they are also sacrificing something. They're giving us up, and there's really a tough balance they've got to do.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

I think they'd do a much better service if they'd go out and tell a soldier's story. An Ernie Pyle-type, you know? Rather than, trying to show something on CNN for some entertainment value. It was pretty tough. I wasn't -- I think I was at KKMC as they were building the camps. Okay? But even while I was at KKMC, we're doing all kinds of different stuff --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

-- out there, with the operational units, and you just can't believe all the stuff that's going on. I mean, two corps moving is a lot.

Edwin M. Perry:

It's a lot.

Steve Buyer:

It's a lot. And you only had a couple major roads. One was called Dodge, and I can't remember what the other one was called.

Edwin M. Perry:

Tapline Road?

Steve Buyer:

Oh, my gosh, good job.

Edwin M. Perry:

Thanks. Thank you.

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, Tapline Road. {Nods head} I think Tapline Road and Dodge may have been --

Edwin M. Perry:

-- the same.

Steve Buyer:

-- the same. Tapline Road was also called Dodge.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

I think. As soldiers, we called it Dodge.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Did you have a typical day during this time or was it --

Steve Buyer:

No, never.

Edwin M. Perry:

Or was it different almost every --

Steve Buyer:

Never. Every day. Every day was different. Always traveling with a sleeping bag with me and slept on the desert floor. I've slept on the -- on the roof of the Jeep. I've slept in the back. I mean, every day was different. I was always moving. You know?

Edwin M. Perry:

But you eventually end up at this EPW.

Steve Buyer:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

This camp, the western camp?

Steve Buyer:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

And -- and you said it was fortunate that you showed up. Why is that?

Steve Buyer:

Well, with 44,000 Iraqis that we had at the western camp, I don't remember how many Major Mike Carman had at the eastern camp --

Edwin M. Perry:

We processed a total of about 170,000.

Steve Buyer:

Oh, okay. Well, he had the remaining balance -- we -- there was some much that had to be worked out. You had coalition forces. We weren't the only ones taking prisoners.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay. Did you have a typical day during this time or was it --

Steve Buyer:

No, never.

Edwin M. Perry:

Or was it different almost every --

Steve Buyer:

Never. Every day. Every day was different. Always traveling with a sleeping bag with me and slept on the desert floor. I've slept on the -- on the roof of the Jeep. I've slept in the back. I mean, every day was different. I was always moving. You know?

Edwin M. Perry:

But you eventually end up at this EPW.

Steve Buyer:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

This camp, the western camp?

Steve Buyer:

Mm-hmm.

Edwin M. Perry:

And -- and you said it was fortunate that you showed up. Why is that?

Steve Buyer:

Well, with 44,000 Iraqis that we had at the western camp, I don't remember how many Major Mike Carman had at the eastern camp --

Edwin M. Perry:

We processed a total of about 170,000.

Steve Buyer:

Oh, okay. Well, he had the remaining balance -- we -- there was some much that had to be worked out. You had coalition forces. We weren't the only ones taking prisoners. Not everyone wanted to matriculate prisoners. The Brits wanted to. The French on some, but they moved their troops, their soldiers, to us. So the Brits would interrogate and then move them toward us. And then we would sign this -- it was a secret at the time, but it was a transfer of the camps to Saudi Arabia. And we were -- our forces, as they swung through southern Iraq, were a human vacuum cleaner. They took everything, everything that moved: Blind, a blind old man, sheep herders, they took children, they took women. Everything ended up in the pipeline of the prisoners and sent them to the camp, and now was up to me as a lawyer to sort them out. Who were the civil --

Edwin M. Perry:

You had to send some back?

Steve Buyer:

I did. I established my own process for tribunals. Nobody else did that, you know? And I'm sitting out there going, you've got to be kidding me! I'm the guy? Isn't there somebody back -- I remember calling the SJ and said, excuse me, but isn't there somebody at the JAG school who's an expert in this stuff? You know? And the colonel said yeah, it's you.

Edwin M. Perry:

I think the last time I --

Steve Buyer:

That's what he said to me. It's you. That's when I realized, yeah, this is pretty thin.

Edwin M. Perry:

Maybe Korean war, World War II was the --

Steve Buyer:

Or Vietnam, maybe.

Edwin M. Perry:

I think a lot of those, we would turn over directly to the --

Steve Buyer:

To the, to the South --

Edwin M. Perry:

South Vietnamese.

Steve Buyer:

Okay. Well then you've got to go back to Korea and World War II.

Edwin M. Perry:

Two.

Steve Buyer:

I mean, there wasn't anybody. There wasn't anybody that I could turn to who would say, how do you do this? There wasn't anybody. And that's what the Colonel basically said to me: It's you.

Edwin M. Perry:

How did -- did the training that you'd get, did the mention --

Steve Buyer:

I did get --

Edwin M. Perry:

-- did it mention the Geneva Conventions?

Steve Buyer:

You know, there was a -- they did. We had to read the Geneva Conventions, and there's a book on POW's and prisoners of war and status and all that. And I don't know why, but I remembered it like I had a photographic memory. I -- it was creepy to me. It really was. I -- it's like when your teacher in high school said memorize the periodic tables because you will use it, and you go never. Right? I still haven't used it today. But for whatever reason, I memorized it, and it -- oh, my God, it was absolutely wonderful.

Edwin M. Perry:

What were the principal considerations in putting this together?

Steve Buyer:

What? The camp?

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Steve Buyer:

Well, that was the responsibility of the 800 MP Brigade. Obviously -- I just this cute little story. I remember inspecting the camp for the first time, and I reported to the Colonel and told him that I inspected his camp. And there's one thing I do have to tell you, that you have over 500 latrines that you built, and they're facing Mecca and Medina, and we cannot have thousands of Iraqis urinating in the same direction in which the Saudis pray. You're going to have to turn them, and he turns and looked at me and says, you've got to be shitting me. That's what he said, and I said Colonel, turn them. And that was the first time he realized that this lawyer is just going to be a loyal pain to me.

Edwin M. Perry:

Were you the one that briefed Pagonis about the cigarettes?

Steve Buyer:

Yes.

Edwin M. Perry:

Do you know that is in his book, where he complains that there's this young lawyer who comes up to him and says, General, you're not in complying with the provisions of the Geneva Convention.

Steve Buyer:

Oh, yeah, and he didn't like it. He told me that. He told me, I don't like it. I said, it doesn't matter what you like or don't like. You're going to do this. Oh, was he mad. Oh, my Gosh, but, you know, Pagonis is a tough personality.

Edwin M. Perry:

Right.

Steve Buyer:

But you know what? So am I.

Edwin M. Perry:

What is the cigarettes in the Geneva Convention? What's that all about?

Steve Buyer:

Well, it's -- you know, when you go down the Geneva Convention, sure, it mentioned cigarettes, right? But you know what I wanted to do? You've got 44,000 that are under wire, and we're trying to do the best we can, and they smoke, you know? Give them their cigarettes. At first they were, you know, don't give them any matches. You know, what are they going to burn? You know, they're going to burn their tent? They're not that stupid.

Edwin M. Perry:

It is the winter.

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, and they're not going to do that. So give them their cigarettes. And what I wanted to do was bring them to calm, and as a matter of fact the other thing, in order to -- as a matter of fact, I just briefed this one of the Secretary of Defense last week, about the Iraqi people themselves. To bring calm to the prisoner of war camp, I made sure they got what they wanted: Madonna. They just wanted to listen to Madonna. So we rigged up and piped in Madonna music, all of her popular music. So what we had done to bring western influence into Iraq by piping the air waves? Many of the different tribes of Iraq listen to western music. So if I can give them their cigarettes and let them listen to Madonna, and they don't cause any problems, amen.

Edwin M. Perry:

So you also worked on issues making sure that we got them clothing, proper clothing?

Steve Buyer:

And food.

Edwin M. Perry:

The whole aspects of making sure the food did comply with the --

Steve Buyer:

Well, I'll give you a -- here's a classic example of a lawyer moving fast. The lawyers for the International Red Cross show up, and they're prepared to file a complaint. They want to investigate a complaint upon the United States. And so I met with them, and they said you're feeding the Iraqi's pork, and you're to feed them food to which they are accustomed in a prisoner of war camp. And I said you're absolutely correct. We are required to feed them food which they are accustomed to the culture. That's right in the convention itself. And I said but look around here. I said look around here. This is all concertina wire. We've got our sally ports all set up. We've got thousands of Iraqi's under wire. We've got them in tents. We got shelter for them. We've got sleeping bags, water, latrines. You see, this is not a fixed facility; this is a transient camp, and under a transient camp that is all you have to do is provide for the basic necessities and treat them with human dignity. No pictures, nothing. You keep everybody out. We keep them alive. There's no tortures. We give them their human dignity. Now, we separate the officers and their enlisted -- you see, if we had a fixed facility, you're absolutely right. You've got a structure to it, you've got buildings, and you feed them the food to which they are accustomed. We're just trying to get them MRE's. If a couple of them with pork slip in there, I'm sorry, but this is a transient camp. And he said you're right, and they left. You know what? I made it up. There's no such thing as a transient camp.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay, but it made sense.

Steve Buyer:

But it made sense, and see, that's what you do. Now, if I would have accepted a complaint from the International Red Cross and sent that all the way through to the Theater Army, to the Pentagon, why? Why create all -- why do all that?

Edwin M. Perry:

But did you work the issues? Would it eventually, because in the after action reports, they do mention that essentially they contacted with the Saudi government to provide them rations.

Steve Buyer:

Well, see, that's the other thing that I did share with the IRC. IRC, International Committee for the Red Cross, IRC or something -- or International -- yeah, ICRC -- Was -- I told them that we were going to be transferring this camp to the Saudis, and that's when the provisions were going to kick in.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And they went away, But that's a small little thing. I also did interrogations. I did interrogations of Iraqi command. I did war crimes, interrogations. So at the joint interrogation facility --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

During the ground war --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

Okay? They're bringing in them quick. They're wanting to know where land mines are. They're wanting to know all kinds of this are, right? If there's any hint with regard to war crimes allegations, then I was brought in, and then I did further interrogations, and I did a lot of them.

Edwin M. Perry:

Did you have a list of people that we -- you were asked to look for? Or that we were asked to look for? Iraqi commanders or people who had maybe been accused of war crimes?

Steve Buyer:

No. No. I don't remember that at all.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

It -- it was -- I would get referrals directly out of the JIF, the Joint Interrogation Facility. And there were some really horrific things. Ali Hassan al-Majid was Saddam Hussein's nephew, I think; was -- his nickname in Iraq was The Butcher. And he was the one who was set up to lead the new providence of, the new provincial government, or whatever they called Kuwait. And he was brutal, and the allegations of what he did are just horrific. I mean they are horrific, and I would document all these kinds of things. I didn't, we didn't know what we were going to do at the time with regard to war crimes. I remember one thing that was very helpful to us was -- there was -- one of the interrogations -- a guy out of the JIF. We had an Iraqi major, operations major of an Iraqi division -- this is a good guy to have, right?

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

And we discovered that he had had Lieutenant Colonel Fox in his possession. Well, this was pretty exciting, because Counsel Fox was listed missing in action. And I tell you what, I get the biggest kick out of this interrogation, because everything he was telling us about Fox? Fox was lying his ass off. He would, you know, he told him what his wife's name was. That wasn't her name. He told them how many kids he had. He told them they were in college. They weren't in college. They were, you know, elementary school. You know, that's a lesson we learned from Vietnam interrogations, you know. In Vietnam, it was, you know, be the John Wayne. And now it's lie. Tell them something. So it was interesting, and it was interesting how this Iraqi major, having Fox in his possession and having tried to protect him from Iraqis who would try to beat him. And I asked him, why did you care for Colonel Fox the way you did and protect him? He said, because I treated him the way I would wanted to treated if I were ever captured. And -- but that interrogation took a long time. But here is what I did. I said -- in the middle of the night, because this guy went to such great lengths to care for Fox, he -- I came to his tent in the prisoner of war camp in the middle of the night, and woke him up, brought him outside the tent, and I said, I'm here to report to you that we have intelligence that Colonel Fox has been executed. That 's a lie, okay? I just wanted to see his reaction, if we could get anything more out of him. And oh, my God, he gets upset. He starts stomping his foot, and he goes around in a circle stomping his foot. And he goes, Saddam, Saddam, Saddam, Saddam. You know? And in the circle, he's mad, and he looks at me. And he says, the only one who could authorize the execution of an American prisoner of war is Saddam by his handwritten order. Wow.

Edwin M. Perry:

Because he needed that degree of control?

Steve Buyer:

Wow. Tells you a lot of things.

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Steve Buyer:

But we also have now for the first time the direct oral testimony of someone that if one of our pilots has been executed, that is Saddam's hand.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

You know? So, when you say, what does a lawyer do at a prisoner of war camp? A lot of things.

Edwin M. Perry:

What would you describe the mood of most of the Iraqi POW's?

Steve Buyer:

They called the prisoner of war camp the hotel. Because we took care of them. A lot of them were conscripts, and we took care of them better than the Iraqis were. The Iraqis would charge them for water. Most of them hadn't had baths in a long time. I remember watching them being matriculated. A lot of them had really horrific wounds from the Iran/Iraq war. They hadn't seen their families in a really long time. You could really spot the difference between the Republican Guard and the conscripts. The guard -- especially the officers and the enlisted. The officers had good teeth. The others didn't. The Republican Guards were cared for. We even put them in orange jump suits. We wanted them identified. And we did that when outside of -- of -- oh, my God, it's been so long ago -- Along the Euphrates River, where the 24th Infantry Division was? Which was --

Edwin M. Perry:

Basra?

Steve Buyer:

Basra. Basra. The conscripts began to run, and they, I was called in because we were bringing in so many of these wounded, and they were all shot from the waist down, and they were prisoners. And we said what the heck is going on? And it was the Republican Guard shot their own men. So at that point, we knew that point we knew was such a distinct difference. And they were all put in orange jumpsuits.

Edwin M. Perry:

You had to work the issues related to the medical issues of POW's and how we --

Steve Buyer:

Well, yeah, but we also -- I'll give you an example, we started helicoptering during the war around Basra, a lot of civilians were brought in to one of the combat support hospitals, and I was called over to investigate why -- what happened to all these civilians. And someone had said that we put a round into a city bus. And I was brought in to say why? Why did one of our tank commanders fire -- fire up a civilian bus, and I was brought in to investigate. And come to find out, Iraqi soldiers jumped onto the bus and were firing from the bus, and one of them had an -- is it called RPG?

Edwin M. Perry:

The grenade --

Steve Buyer:

The grenade --

Edwin M. Perry:

Rocket propelled grenade launcher?

Steve Buyer:

Rocket propelled grenade launcher. They had one of them, ran onto the bus. And they put a round into the bus, which made it permissible as a target.

Edwin M. Perry:

Mm-hmm.

Steve Buyer:

And so those are those kind of operational law kind of things that we would get involved in. I got involved in the prisoner exchange, our first prisoner exchange. And one of the prisoners that we had sent back in exchange for our prison ended back up in our prisoner of war camp. And he started making all types of allegations that prisoners that we had sent back had been executed, and so I had to take him through a series of interrogations, to test the validity. And I had determined that the validity of the statements were not true, and we continued on then.

Edwin M. Perry:

He just didn't want to go back.

Steve Buyer:

He just didn't want to go back.

Edwin M. Perry:

How did these exchanges work? How did that first one work?

Steve Buyer:

I think it was very, successful. Probably though when I look back on it -- we were more interested in getting our own prisoners back and didn't stress as much for -- I guess if we had to do it over again, I wish we would have stressed for greater accountability of all lot of the -- of the Kuwaitis, civilians that were taken, because they've never been accounted for. It's really sad. They never have.

Edwin M. Perry:

You mean the Kuwaiti POW's that were taken by the Iraqis --

Steve Buyer:

No, these were people of the upper echelons of the Kuwaiti society who were taken when Iraq invaded Kuwait, and they've never been found. So there's got to be a mass grave out there somewhere where he just killed them all. And I know that you try to keep separate your exchanges with military and civilian, but I don't think we did as well a job in our cloture there in accountable of coalition. And I also ended up in the Kuwait in southern Iraq because we ended up in -- you know these lines, to bring back prisoners. So I was at 6th Ring Road the day after the battle at -- within the 48 hours, it seemed like a day, or 24 hours after the battle at the International Airport --

Edwin M. Perry:

Really when you get to the end of the --

Steve Buyer:

Hmm?

Edwin M. Perry:

-- the end of the ground war was really not the end -- I mean --

Steve Buyer:

Oh, my god --

Edwin M. Perry:

-- for you, it actually probably picked up the tempo?

Steve Buyer:

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I wasn't a ground combatant. I was not out there, but I mean, you aren't not scared, I can tell you that. And just because there's a ceasefire doesn't mean that everybody knows --

Edwin M. Perry:

Yes.

Steve Buyer:

-- I mean, I can tell you that. I mean, we were in downtown Kuwait, and -- I'm travelling with a Kuwaiti soldier, and he was also my interpreter. And he took me to his house, and I got to meet his family. Oh, they were so excited to see him and all. But on the way, there was a phone. There was a phone. So I thought, I would just do something stupid, pick up the phone and see if it worked, and it did. So I tried to call home, and there's no answer. I get the answering machine. Honest to God. And I can't reach anybody, and I get my sister. So I've got my sister on the phone, and I say Karen, you're not going to be believe this, but I'm in downtown Kuwait. I just want you to know I'm fine, okay? And I'll see you soon. And I'm in the middle of the sentence. The building at the other side of the block, explodes. It just explodes, and before it started to explode, I heard some rapid fire. And the building explodes and the phone goes out, and my sister's never forgiven me. So just because it's a ceasefire doesn't mean that it's all calm. I can tell you that.

Edwin M. Perry:

But really, at that point in time, the lawyers' work probably picks up, because everything sort of has gone static, but now you've got to go and do all the investigations.

Steve Buyer:

Yeah, but before I left Kuwait, I was out at Death Valley.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

And being at death Valley and being on the battlefield left a lasting impression on me.

Edwin M. Perry:

Death Valley for those who will view the tape later on is -- -

Steve Buyer:

Death Valley is the sole road headed north out of Kuwait City toward Iraq that the Iraqi army was fleeing on.

Edwin M. Perry:

It's where the 24th Infantry Division --

Steve Buyer:

No, they were over at Basra.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

There was a -- I don't know if it was Naval Air or the Air Force --

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

-- somebody dropped a 500-pound bomb. This road leading out goes over this sand dune. It's like a hill. It goes over the hill, but somebody drops a 500-pound bomb on the top of this hill and blows out the road, and in that crater -- there's an ammunition truck that drives right into the crater. And as a matter of fact, I took one of the ammo, one of the ammo boxes off of the truck -- are we ready? Done?

Edwin M. Perry:

We've got to pick it up a little bit here, I think.

Steve Buyer:

I took one of the ammo crates off of the truck. It's my garage today, because it's from an Amman, Jordan, and the instructions for how to use the weapon is in English. And here I'm taking it off an Iraqi truck in Kuwait you know?

Edwin M. Perry:

How long did you stay after the ground war ended? When did you actually get an opportunity to deploy back?

Steve Buyer:

I redeployed back -- I come back home June 6th.

Edwin M. Perry:

Okay.

Steve Buyer:

So I was on active duty, really not that long, six months-plus. But it was very eerie to -- the day I left was the day we welcomed the Iraqis back into southern Iraq at the Tri-Border Mark, and I stood there as they came back; the Iraqi patrol came in. They were on the one side of the berm, and I was on the other. And I got the word that I'm going home, and I got in the Jeep, went to Dhahran. And 20 hours later -- when I left, the Tri-Border Mark was 126 degrees, and I arrived in Indiana, it was 70 degrees. I put on my shorts, I walked outside, and I shook like a poodle with a hair cut.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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