Remembering our veterans: Kel Hodel
Kel Hodel was born and raised in Kentucky. Upon graduation from high school in 1988, Kel decided to join the US Army. He decided upon Air Defense Artillery and spent his first 8 weeks in El Paso, TX. Kel was given orders for his first permanent assignment in Kaiserslautern, Germany. While in Germany Kel was fine tuning his skill set as a Patriot Missile Operator/Mechanic until late 1990. Thinking he would not see action, Kel was surprised when he was in the middle of Desert Storm. He was one of a small team of 12 individuals who were sent to Tel Avivi, Israel to execute what they had been training for. Their mission was to keep the airspace over Israel safe as SCUD missiles were being launched by Iraq.
Kel’s memory of deployment is very vivid and will share in his own words. My memory of this deployment is vivid. We will go back to the night when given orders to deploy from Germany;
In late October of 1990, our unit was training in the field and I was on kitchen patrol serving other soldiers their last meal of the day. I recall my Lieutenant came to me in frenzy, red eyed and hurried. He said that we had to pack all of our gear into one duffle bag immediately, “Wheels up for Tel Aviv in 2 hours”.
I remember dropping the serving-ware and running to our tent to grab everything. Trying to remember if I’d tested my gas mask and chemical protective gear recently enough. A half hour later, we were sitting on a C-130 humming down the tarmac headed into a very dark night. This mission would be the very first in the history of our armed forces to work in tandem with Israel in a joint task.
We had played many scenarios of going to war and Israel’s airspace is one that we had studied. Still, I had never actually been to this country, nor did I have any knowledge of what the terrain looked like. I imagined a baron wasteland in the desert for us to be setting up our systems.
After what seemed to be only a few hours of rest in the night we landed on an airbase, Stedove, just outside of Tel Aviv. We grabbed our gear and headed to the hot zone to be briefed. Since the Israeli Defense Forces already had 3 Battalions of Patriot Missile Systems we traveled lightly.
Initially, our plan was to help the Israeli Defenses to properly set up their hardware. We re-initialized their radar systems, 8 launchers, and engagement control station. We worked until daylight hit and the city of Tel Aviv became visible to me. We were close enough to read the names of businesses on buildings, if I could ready Hebrew. The city was beautiful and looked a lot like L.A., smaller but very similar. I also noticed that directly behind us was the Mediterranean Sea and gorgeous beaches.
I’ll fast forward to the first appearance of a SCUD missile. This occurred on a cloudy night which was the most difficult time for satellites to pick up where and when launches were made. We saw the SCUD
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missile on our radar and knew we had a few minutes before it came into range for target. What we didn’t know was if there was any kind of radioactive chemicals, germ warfare, or noxious gases onboard these SCUD’s.
The first two nights of firing on the SCUD’s, the Tel Aviv skyline looked like the most amazing fireworks show you’d ever seen. The Patriot Missile System was confused by the many large fragments of the SCUD missiles and firing on everything that appeared to be a threat. In essence, 4-6 Patriot Missiles were being launched when in some cases only one was needed. These missiles cost nearly $1M each at the time. We had 8 launchers each with 4 missiles, so something had to change. Experts from Raytheon and Martin Marietta spent the next 2 days revamping the software to shoot at only the warhead on each SCUD.
The next series of attacks were much smoother and we detonated each warhead in midair without one casualty. The system had worked wonderfully for the task even though the Patriot Missile System was designed to shoot down aircraft not missiles. We were also very lucky that none of the SCUD missiles carried more than the warhead and a few top Iraqi Generals that Saddam had chained to them in his fury of losing the war.
We finished our mission in Feb 1991 and had the opportunity to visit the Old City of Jerusalem and tour around some of the country. These are memories I will carry for a lifetime. Proud to have been an ARMY soldier.
Kel and his wife and sons 9, an 8, now live in Waxhaw, after looking around for good schools, and a small town, which they fell in love with. After arriving in Waxhaw, Kel established a small business focusing on increasing bottom line profits for companies, specializing in credit card processing, point of sale systems, ATM’s, alternative financing, and most important, he works for his clients, not his friends.
Prior to moving to Waxhaw, the Hodels lived in Atlanta, Georgia, where they lived for 15 years. While there he studied Business Administration at Shorter College, earning his BS in Business Administration.