The Call - A Mechanic's Story

Recount your experience in the war and swap some stories.
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The Call - A Mechanic's Story

Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 11:39 am



It's been more than sixteen years since we were in Doha as I write this. Over all of those years I've been asked countless times what it was like, by friends, by family, by members of the media, by current Air Force maintainers and pilots. Soon after I returned from the Gulf I stared writing down everything I could remember, I've got pads of paper filled with everything from one-line notes, to pages of 'experiences'. This is where I've been putting them together.

'The Call' is my experience in the Gulf, from inspecting our jets in the hangar, to hanging out in the tent, to shopping in the souq. The good times and the bad, boredom to excitement. I hope that you'll enjoy reading 'my' story, whether we were there together, whether you may go somewhere like it one day, or whether you are just interested in what a not very typical Air Force deployment was like.

It may not always be politically correct, and it may not read the same as an Air Force Historical Report, but this is my story, as seen through the eyes of a young mechanic.

Although 'The Call' is told from my perspective, it isn't just my story. It's my view of the story of the 401st TFW(Dep) & 614th TFS "Lucky Devils', the 'Forgotten 1000', who can stand proudly amongst the best units to ever serve in the United States Air Force.
I was privileged to have served with them.

Mike Kopack
USAF Sergeant 1987-1991
Crew Chief / Phased Inspection


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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 11:44 am

The Call


It was still early in the day when there was a knock on my dorm room door and a call to the telephone. I remember being a bit surprised in getting a call and thinking it must be some of the guys calling from the hangar to set up a Friday night trip, probably into Alcala or maybe down into Madrid. Good, my rum and Coke 'low quantity' light was blinking and it was always nice to get off base on a weekend. I was in for a bigger surprise when I picked up the telephone...

"Good morning Mike...
(It was our SMSgt. Branch Chief, somehow I got the idea that this call wasn't about going out on Friday night)
... do you have any plans for tomorrow?" (Well, odd, but maybe I'm wrong?)
"No, not really..."
"Good. How would you like to go to Qatar?"


Almost six weeks earlier we had seen the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on CNN. It was sad for the oil rich Emirate, but other than higher gasoline prices how could it really affect any of us? It just seemed so far away from us on those warm late summer days at Torrejon Air Base, outside of Madrid, Spain. Over the next several days, as the US Military began to deploy, it all grew closer. Our transit aircraft line grew much more busy with C-141 Starlifter and C-5 Galaxy supply flights making stops on the way to the Mid East. As the traffic increased, at times it almost seemed to crowd our wing of F-16's off the flightline. The 401st Tactical Fighter Wing was the only flying wing assigned to the 16th Air Force, also based at Torrejon. Our commitment was to patrol and defend Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region from our base in Spain, and our deployment locations at Aviano AB, Italy and Incirlik AB, Turkey. With Incirlik's location close to Iraq it seemed like a good bet that we would end up in Turkey before very long. Of course the rumors were flying - how many aircraft would deploy? Where? When? The only thing that I knew for sure was that there was a huge amount of Military Airlift Command traffic through our little airbase. Even I was driving a 'Follow Me truck, guiding visiting aircraft around our flightline, to help our Transit Alert guys ("Umm, guys, you know I don't have a military license?" "Well, just don't hit anything...")

My 'real job' at Torrejon was as an F-16 mechanic, I worked in Hangar 5, the 401Equipment Maintenance Squadron Phased Maintenance hangar, on the 613th TFS 'The Squids' F-16C/D aircraft. Every 150 flying hours we would open each aircraft up, do a pretty intensive inspection, correct the faults we had found, and perform scheduled maintenance. Not the 'glamour' job of working on the flightline (I know, I hated going to phase when I was flightline during my previous assignment at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida) but it was usually more 'in-depth' than line work. It was also nice to be inside, out of the Spanish summer sun and the winter's cold. At the time, we were on 12-hour shifts although phase work had been pretty relaxed since the airlift had started. Fewer aircraft had been flying, so there were fewer aircraft to inspect. It was around midnight on August 28th that we received some of the first answers to all of the rumors. The telephone rang in the inspection dock and the 614TFS 'Lucky Devils' recall was on.

At most stateside bases a recall is basically a telephone exercise. At Torrejon, where telephones were very expensive and still rather rare, it is a door-to-door driving experience. Our supervisor started the fun, "OK, who has a car?" Everyone that lived off base was required to have directions and a map to their house or apartment 'on file' in our office. At this point, seeing some of the maps, it became obvious why some of us became mechanics and not artists. I had a car, and was handed a map. Six months previously I had deployed to Aviano with the 614th and knew the phase mechanics well. That night as I set out into the Spanish darkness for Alcala, about 5 miles up the N2 highway, I knew that the mechanic I was informing wouldn't take the deployment as good news. His wife was eight months pregnant with their first child. By the time I returned from 'my mission' the word was spreading that the 'Lucky Devils' were deploying to Qatar. Now I've always been quite good at geography, and am kind of a 'news junkie', but I'll admit, I'd never heard of Qatar. I asked about the mechanic that I'd informed and his pregnant wife. Being single (and with no real plans for that weekend) I volunteered to go in his place, but was told that he would deploy with his unit and would not return until his unit returned. Several hours later we sent out search parties for some of the people trying to follow poorly drawn maps around central Spain. By the time I returned to work that night the 'Lucky Devils' were gone, with their 24 F-16's, and their equipment and personnel in 3 KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft.

The 614th's now vacant ramp space didn't remain that way for long. We were in the midst of a huge deployment that was growing larger every day. Our phased inspections were cut back even more and I was reassigned to Transit Alert on a full time basis. We didn't even have time to think about our deployed comrades, each day became a constant stream of Galaxys and Starlifters. We kept a log of all of our transit birds and it didn't take very long before we had seen nearly every heavy airlift aircraft in the US military inventory. This even included a C-141 without paint that had been recalled from a depot maintenance facility. Two weeks later there was another recall, this time for the 612th TFS. The Eagles were off to Incirlik AB, Turkey, as we had guessed several weeks earlier. At least they were deploying to a 'known' location, the 612th deployed to "The Lik" twice a year for exercises and knew the base and the area well - actually better than many of the its members would have liked... They were in for a surprise, when they arrived they were met by a much different, much busier base filled with F-15's, F-4G's, F-111's and KC-135 tankers. It was beginning of what would become the 7440th Composite Wing (Provisional).

Back at 'TJ' the deployment of a second squadron, the 612th, left even more space on our flightline for the ever increasing airlift. Training's Hangar 6 had been converted into a 'hotel' by moving the battle damage repair (ABDR) training aircraft to a parking lot adjoining the flightline and setting up hundreds of cots for the passengers of the airlift aircraft. Ramp space was at such a premium 'downstream' that crews overnighted at Torrejon. All flights out were round trip. TJ's flightline was not much better, at times we had every parking space filled and parked aircraft in the taxi areas between parking spaces. When these spaces were also filled, we parked aircraft on taxiways. Even the little Shorts C-23 Sherpa that flew in from Germany daily would be parked off the ramp on the same vehicle parking lot with the ABDR F-105 and F-4. I think that some of the Sherpa crews were surprised that their aircraft wasn't 'axed and patched' when they returned. Because Torrejon was located so close to the Madrid International Airport (Barajas), all of our flights were coordinated through their radar. Just to make things even more exciting, randomly (read - when we were especially busy) Madrid's radar would go down. This would cause a halt to all aircraft movements; no aircraft could land until a fuel emergency had been declared. Our base was so full that, because we even had aircraft parked down the parallel taxiway, we would have to 'scramble' launch an aircraft so the fuel emergency bird could taxi off of the active runway. By mid September most of our Hangar 5 had also been turned into a transit dorm for the troops deploying through our base. Many people lived in our hangar for a week or more while waiting for flights to the desert. Our 'Chow Hall' could not keep up with the number of people and a field kitchen was set up to take up the overload. Unfortunately, our MWR Recreation Center, which had a virtual monopoly on telephones that could dial the States, saw the opportunity to make some money, and doubled their charge to nearly $4 a minute.

Life's pace at Torrejon had picked up incredibly in the six weeks since the invasion of Kuwait. Two of our three squadrons had deployed. Our guys in Turkey starting to become accustomed to their new routine at Incirlik, but we still hadn't heard a word from the 614th. In general though, all the action really hadn't affected me that much, although that was about to change. It was now the morning of 19 September 1990 and I was in the dorm getting ready for another night in Transit Alert when I received the call...
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 11:48 am

The Journey


About 20 minutes later I was in our Branch Chief's office. SMSgt. Jacques was telling me that there was a problem with one the mechanics deployed in Qatar. It seems that someone had been deployed with a wife that was eight months pregnant, which in itself, wasn't a concern to the Air Force. But the fact that his wife had shown up in our EMS Squadron Commander's office the next morning, and each morning thereafter to complain about her husband's deployment eventually caused even our thickheaded CO to rethink his deployment. It was completely my call as I was assigned to another Squadron (the 612th), and if I wasn't interested in going, someone else could be found. I thought about it for a minute...

"I'll do it, let's go."
"Are you sure? It's your choice."
"Yeah, I've never been to Qatar..."
"Mike, I was just like you once, the next thing I knew I was in Vietnam. Have a good trip."

Within half an hour my travel orders were ready to pick up at our orderly room. I was given a short briefing, I would be traveling to join up with the 401st Tactical Fighter Wing (Deployed) / 614th Tactical Fighter Squadron 'Lucky Devils' at their 'Base X' location - my orders actually read "From: Torrejon AB To: XXXXXX". My transportation was to be via 'Space Available'. I was told that because passenger traffic was so backed up at Torrejon that my best bet would be to catch the daily C-130 flight up to Rhine Main AB, Germany. From there I should be able to catch a flight to Saudi Arabia, and then, maybe, to Qatar. About this time I was beginning to wonder what I was doing, when they added that the trip would probably take a week or two, at least. The rest of the afternoon was taken up by traveling to all of the offices on base that had to give me paperwork or sign the paperwork that I already had. Added to this was, of course, the immunization clinic. The Air Force seems to revolve around giving shots. Imagine my surprise when Finance became a trouble spot as I arrived there for my travel pay.

"Hello, I need to get my travel pay, I'm leaving for the Gulf this afternoon."
"These are 'Group Travel Orders' all of your travel arrangements will have been arranged by the 'Group Leader'."
"If you'll flip the orders over you will find that I'm the only one in the group."
"Don't worry, your group leader will have everything arranged. You won't need any travel pay."

"You're an idiot." (Not in an insulting sense, just a statement of fact.)(Actually I'm not sure if I said this or just thought it.)

My last stop was at supply where I was issued 'real' chemical protective gear and chemical weapon 'antidote' self-injectors. I also picked up an M-16 and enough ammunition to deal with just about anything I would be likely to encounter on my trip to 'Base X'. A quick stop at the dorm to pick up my duffel bag and my friends in Transit Alert dropped me off at the MAC Terminal. Right around 4 o'clock I boarded the Hercules, about 6 hours after I first received the call. I was on my way, into what? Full of questions, full of wonder, with perhaps just a bit of worry. Everything had happened too quickly to even think about what I was doing, or where I was going. The flight to Rhine Main was great, flying low over the dry terrain of Spain, over the Pyranees Mountains and over the green of France. We passed directly over Bordeaux and just to the south of Paris, with the Alps in clear view across the southern horizon. I'd never been to Rhine Main, sharing the same runway as the Frankfurt International Airport. The Rhine Main terminal is as large as most civilian terminals and most of the people inside were in civilian clothes. It was busy, but not packed. It felt strange to be walking through with an automatic weapon on my shoulder... I found my way to the ticketing desk and handed my 'Group Travel Orders' to the ticket agent.

"Hello, I have to get to Saudi Arabia to continue on to my base."
"You are the 'Group Leader'? How many in your group?"
"Just me..."
(As I flip the orders)
"Just you? If we hurry, I have a C-5 going to Dhahran in less than half an hour."

I have to admit that I was pretty relieved by that since I left TJ without visiting the bank and I had about $15 in my pocket, plus some Spanish Pesetas that weren't going to help me at all in Germany. On the other hand, my orders called for $75 daily per diem, and if the trip took a few weeks, and if I could find a finance office, I'd be rich. The ticket agent took the duffel bag and I rushed with my rifle and my 'carry on' bag to the gate. I arrived just as the gate was closing. It was quickly through the metal detector - hand the rifle to the operator, walk through the detector, they hand the rifle back; sounds odd to me as well, but they said it's the law - and up the stairs into the passenger compartment of the Galaxy. It was easy to find my seat, as it was the only one empty, most of the rest of the compartment filled with an Army missile unit from Germany. It was my first flight in a C-5 and takeoff in it's aft facing seats was a little different (hey, were going the wrong way...) It felt nice to just sit back in the seat after a long day. Actually, it was quite comfortable, with more room than on my original TWA 747 flight to Spain. We had been in the air for about an hour when I could feel the aircraft go into a bank, and stay there - we were circling. The aircraft was carrying a 'relief crew' in the passenger compartment, and soon after a member of the 'flying crew' arrived. They all met at one of the small windows and there was a lot of looking and pointing towards the wing. I figured, 'Hey, I'm a mechanic, let's go see what up!' I walked up to the crew and introduced myself and asked what was going on, they said, "#4's on fire, were going back to Frankfurt." I looked out the window and sure enough, it was. Not long after the pilot announced that we were returning to Germany for 'mechanical reasons'. The aircraft's Loadmaster arrived before our landing and told us what the situation was. "The fire is out and we have the engine shut down. We will be making an emergency landing and will shutdown on the runway. We expect that we will be able to evacuate the aircraft via the stairs to the cargo bay, but if there is a problem we will escape via the inflatable chutes." The Air Force Sergeant sitting next to me said "This should be fun." He had 'ridden' a C-5 inflatable chute during an emergency landing which caused several injuries just a few weeks before. On landing we were, thankfully, told to exit the aircraft quickly via the stairs. When we stepped out the door we were met by both the US Air Force and the German airport Fire Departments. Once again, I found myself in the Rhine Main terminal at the ticketing office. We were told that the engine change crew, having just been released from a long day of duty, was being called back in and to report back at in about eight hours at 6AM.

Spain is still quite warm at that time of year and I was dressed to go to the desert, but Germany is in early fall and the carpet floor of the terminal was cold. Needless to say, my mind was full, my stomach was empty, and I didn't get much sleep with my head resting on my gas mask and M-16. (It wouldn't fit in one of those rental lockers...) After an early and unappetizing, yet expensive airport breakfast, I was back at the desk at quarter to six. I recognized many of my fellow passengers. We were told that the aircraft was fixed, and in an hour we were once again on our way for the six hour flight. As opposed to the previous night's flight, this one was uneventful, yet as tired as I was, I still can't sleep on airplanes. All of the passengers were talking with each other, trading stories, and wondering what kind of stories they would soon have. The Army Sergeant Major who I noticed had been looking at the stripes on my arm spoke...

"I know you're Air Force, but what rank is that?"
"I'm a Sergeant, E-4."
"Are you traveling alone? Where's the rest of your unit?"
"They've been deployed for about three weeks, I'm going down as a replacement."
"Alone? If I let one of my E-4's go the the Gulf alone they'd either get lost, or just go home!"

The Sergeant Major was even more shocked when I told them that over the next few days we were also sending out an E-2 and an E-3. Overall, everyone was in pretty good spirits. We soon arrived at Dhahran, an Arabian Gulf port city in Saudi Arabia. As the engines shut down we once again climbed down the steps to the cargo compartment and out the front door. The heat and humidity hit us like a wall, I've never felt anything like it in my life. The wind was still, the air was thick, it felt like the inside of an oven, but with humidity. As we 'deplaned' I witnessed one of the finest examples of the differences between the Army and the Air Force that I have seen. The five or six of us, assorted Air Force members, were the first to leave the aircraft. As we reached the bottom of the stairs we quickly found our way under the wingtip to sit in the shade and await the bus (of course there'd be a bus, this is the Air Force after all...) The Army troops quickly stepped down the stairs and formed up into a tight polished formation with their American and unit flags. After forming up they executed a crisp left face and began marching. Ten minutes later when the bus showed up, they were gone. As far as I know, they may still be marching today. The driver asked, "Where are all of the Army guys that flew in with you?" We could only point off towards the horizon. And smile.

Once I arrived at "the Hangar" that served as a passenger terminal at the Royal Saudi Air Force Base at Dhahran I found my way to the plywood desk that served as a ticketing counter. In my overheated, somewhat sleep deprived, smartass state I spoke to the Sergeant at the desk.

"Where are you going"
"It's classified, I was told not to tell anyone."
"Well then your classified ass is going to be sitting in this hangar for a long time."
"That's one for Doha, Qatar, please." "The next flight leaves tomorrow at 1100, get some water and make yourself comfortable. Do not go anywhere without your gas mask and gear."

Did I mention that it was hot? I went for a short walk around the outside of the hangar. When a group of people was walking towards me, I stepped off the sidewalk to let them pass, down into the deep powdery sand. It was then that it all hit me, where I was, what was going on. Back in the hangar, I sat by the open doors watching the Royal Saudi Air Force F-15's and Tornado F.3's launch in front of us on their patrols up near the border. As I sat there I went over the chemical gear procedures in my head, just in case. It also occurred to me that I had old training filters in my mask, so since I was the 'Group Leader', I made the 'command decision' to change them out. It was still hot, I was waiting, hoping, for nightfall. When night did come later, I found that the only result was that hot, humid, and bright changed to hot, humid, and dark. Sometime during the night, because it was too hot to even think about sleeping I found myself talking to one of my fellow 'travelers'. We talked about where we were, what we were doing, where we were from. We talked about the military, the good, and the bad. Soon the sun started to rise (Hey look, I think it's actually getting hotter!) and a group of us caught the base bus and rode around to the Saudi Dining Hall. (Eagle's Nest, as I recall?) I had a good breakfast, although the milk was a little different, and then it was back to the hangar to prepare for my last flight. Around that time the E-2 and E-3 that left TJ the day after me arrived at the hangar. It was a nice reunion even though I'd seen then just a few days before. The A1C was Stacy Cribb who lived down the hall from me in the dorm, she was leading the Airman around like a Drill Sergeant. Because of the heat, we were all wearing t-shirts. When the guy that I had been speaking with the night before started to put his BDU shirt on and say 'Bye' I asked if he was going to 'Base X' he replied 'Yes'. I told him that we'd be going with him. When he had his shirt on I noticed that he was a Captain, and I was thinking, "Oh God, I picked the wrong guy to spout off to, he'll probably be my Commander - but then again he did as much 'spouting' as me." Well, speaking of God, the next thing I noticed was the insignia on his collar, and I said, "Well, Padre, let's go catch our plane..."

Our flight had to make a stop in Riyadh, the Saudi capitol, before continuing on to Qatar. Because there were few passengers on board I walked up to the cockpit and the crew said to have a seat at the extra observers position. At altitude the temperature in the aircraft felt great and the view was incredible from our fairly low level as we flew inland. As far as I could see in every direction there was sand, it actually looked much like a tan moon. As I looked more carefully I could see that the land wasn't completely uninhabited, occasionally there was a structure or a small village. As we grew nearer to Riyadh we could see more population, and soon we were over a large modern city. After landing the first thing I noticed was that although it was quite a bit warmer than Dhahran it was completely comfortable, with literally nearly no humidity. After an afternoon spent driving around the base with the flightcrew we reboarded for our sunset flight into Doha. As desolate as the Saudi desert looked during the day, it was alive at night with more lights than I would have believed. We passed over the desert and over the heavily populated coast, over Dhahran again and out over the Arabian Gulf. (The people of the Arabian Peninsula don't use the name Persian Gulf that is more common in the west.) We flew east over the Gulf watching the lights of Bahrain below on our right, with the Qatari Peninsula in the distance clearly seen on radar. We didn't overfly Qatar, but circled around it towards Doha, the Emirate's capitol city, midway up it's eastern shore. As we passed Qatar's northern tip, still well out over the Gulf, the speakers came alive with heavily accented speech and the crew responded. The Flight Engineer looked over and said, "I'll bet that six weeks ago you thought you'd never hear that. That's Iranian air traffic control just checking in." Soon after it was back to my jump seat in the back for our short descent and landing. Just as soon as we touched down the loadmaster opened the upper rear ramp door. All of the heat and humidity of Dhahran hit me again, and more. It was dark out and all that I could see to one side of the runway was neon lights and what looked like auto dealerships. Our aircraft headed to the dark side of the field, and after taxiing for a few minutes we slowed to a stop, I could see the silhouettes of a few people gathering as the aft ramp opened, and one, who's voice I immediately recognized as TSgt. John Kissler yelled "Hey, Kopack, Welcome to Qatar!" Welcome to Doha, Qatar, my home for the next seven months. What would those months bring? I grabbed my bags and walked down the loading ramp to find out.
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 11:51 am

Welcome to Qatar


The State of Qatar is a small country, roughly 120 miles by 70 miles, that sticks out into the Arabian Gulf like a thumb from the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. The capitol, Doha, is located on a protected harbor midway on the eastern coast of the nation. Doha, population 400,000, is a medium sized modern city and is the major population center of the country. The majority of the land is low and barren, much of it desert scrub. In the south though, there are mangrove swamps, and the center of the country is dominated by an inland sea, filled with enough tall, shifting sand dunes to match any old tale of the desert. The climate is terribly hot in the summer with observed temperatures in the 50C 120+F range not uncommon. Because of its proximity to the Gulf waters, Qatar also has to contend with high humidity, making summer days even more uncomfortable. On the other hand, the winter climate is actually pleasant with highs in the seventies and eighties, with an occasional rain shower.

Qatar’s history is a long one. There are signs of human habitation from as long ago as 4000BC, both in fishing villages along the coast and Bedouins inland.

The nation is ruled by an Emir, roughly functionally equivalent to a King of European tradition, yet whose basis of power is based more upon his status as a tribal, or family, leader or elder. As the leader of the ‘family’, the Emir makes the rules in concert with other Government officials, but unlike most Western leaders his role as an ‘Elder’ also makes him accessible to his citizens. Monthly, the citizens of the nation are invited to the Royal Palace where they can bring any issues directly to their leader. I was also shocked to see that the first listings in the national telephone directory were for the Emir and his staff. (I could only imagine that here in the US…) We were told that these numbers would actually connect you to the people listed, something that I thought the better of attempting.

The primary force affecting life throughout the Middle East, and especially in the Gulf region, is religion. The Islamic religion forms a basis for much of day-to-day life, from the workweek (Sunday to Thursday, as Friday is the Islamic holy day) through the laws and customs of the land. The amount that Islam affects daily life throughout the Middle East varies widely from nation to nation and Qatar had a reputation of being quite strict – although not nearly so much as the very conservative Saudi Arabia.

During our ‘Inprocess’ briefing we were told to go out, meet, and get to know our hosts in the Qatar Emiri Air Force and the local people, that they were very friendly, and that they love a good discussion and debate.

“But you probably shouldn’t discuss either religion or politics.
The people here have some strong opinions, and are pretty set in their ways.”

So, of course, that gave us a good place to start…

‘Inprocessing’ to a new base is normally a process which takes about a week, filled with briefings, classes, and of course, the obligatory paperwork that makes the military ‘go round’. Inprocessing into Doha was quick and painless. We stopped off at the orderly room, which was in an ‘accordion–like’ temporary building set up in a one-time parking lot area of what was now tent city. The First Sergeant greeted us with a quick “Welcome to Qatar”, ‘do this/don’t do that’ speech, and that was it. We were assigned tents and were sent on our way. When I arrived they were out of sleeping bags, so for my first week or so I had to make due with my field jacket and extra socks in the heavily air conditioned tent.

Speaking of the tent, I made my way to D-4, which was to be my new address. Our home was a sand colored double tent unit with a veranda attached to the front. Running down the peak of the tent front to back was a roughly 18” diameter duct from which was expelled cold air-conditioned air. Yes, our tents were steel framed, double layered, air-conditioned and heated – altogether not too bad, for a tent. One thing that you couldn’t help but notice, just alongside our tent was the diesel generator that powered the tents in our row. It was a large wheeled unit and whenever it was running it emitted an unbelievable noise – the unit was clearly marked “Hearing Protection Required Within 25 Feet” - it was about 15 feet from my bunk.

Along both walls were sixteen typical Army cots, the empty one (mine) being the second on the left as you entered through the door. Down the central walkway there were a couple of tables, which usually had a card game going whenever the lights were on. My tentmates were mostly AGE guys (Aircraft Ground Support Equipment) and I was happy to see several familiar faces. The AGE shop was next to our hangar back at TJ and we were back and forth fairly often – the AGE toolroom was always a good place to get ‘D’ batteries for our boombox radios when our toolroom caught on to what we were using them for… One face concerned me though, one of the AGE guys back at Torrejon was known as our ‘Base Ninja’. He considered himself quite a ‘martial artist’ (although we had heard stories of his ‘skills’) spoke to very few people, and always kept to himself. I don’t think that anyone felt comfortable around him, and he came across to me as someone you see described on the news as: “He was always just a quiet guy. I would never have expected this…” (Fill in the blank for what this could be…) I deposited my gear under my bunk, unpacked far enough to get my camera to a ‘safe’ spot and wandered next door to D-5 where most of the other Phase guys were living.

It was nice to once again be among friends. Everyone was eager to hear all of my news from TJ and I had carried messages over from several spouses. I was just as eager to hear about Qatar and what our conditions were, they told me that they had only been in tents for about a week after moving from the Gulf Hotel for higher command mandated ‘security concerns’.

At this time there was normally one hot meal every other day, although they were becoming more frequent. The meals were cooked in a trailer mounted field kitchen and were normally something that could be cooked on a ‘homemade’ grill, still a nice change from the soon to be dreaded MRE’s (Meals ready to Eat). Plenty of MRE’s were available though, so we could ‘mix-n-match’ the best selections from each menu. There was also a virtually unlimited supply of locally bottled water available. Much was made in the press about the many gallons of water a day that we were drinking, and while that may have been true for the Army guys over in Saudi, for us – basically sedentary AF mechanics, we got by on a few liters. There was a latrine at one corner of tent city, it was also a field portable unit about one hundred yards away from the tent, luckily usually downwind. There were also two new shower tents (one male, one female) a couple of hundred feet from the tent in the other direction. Only cold water so far, but everyone was told that there was a water heater ‘on the way’. The water temperature in the shower was more affected by the time of day than anything else. Water was trucked in daily and deposited into a black rubber bladder which sat on the ground behind the shower tents, the water, as you can well imagine became pretty warm (very hot) after an afternoon sitting in the Qatari sun. You could be fairly confident about getting a comfortable shower if you could time it right to be there soon after the water delivery, late at night, or early in the morning. On the other hand, whereas our food, latrine and showers were what you might expect in our ‘bare base’ situation, our laundry wasn’t – all of our clothes were sent out weekly to a local hotel and returned nicely pressed on hangars. Tent city was also equipped with a ‘Movie tent/Rec Center’ which had a couple of TV’s and VCR’s which ran around the clock showings of basically whatever videos could be found. However, it was for another day to find this out. It had already been several long days back-to-back and I was tired, John also said that he’d signed us both up for a trip into Doha to visit the Gulf Helicopters housing area for some relaxation. That sounded good to me so I bundled myself up in my field jacket, sweatpants, and extra socks against the air-conditioned coldness and put my head down on my clothes wrapped boots and said goodnight.

Welcome to Qatar.

The next morning we boarded our bus for what was to be my first trip off base. We exited tent city through the back gate, a guarded entry control point, from there we had about a mile drive rough drive over a hard packed sand road to another heavily guarded entry control point and the base’s back gate.

From there, we had reached civilization, not far from the Gulf Hotel (which had served as the Squadron’s original ‘home’) and the blue-green waters of Doha’s harbor – the Arabian Gulf.

(Blah, blah, have to fill this in... -MK)

One of the wives brought of a tray of what looked like...

“Here try a couple of these.”
“Umm…, what are they? Are you supposed to eat them?”
(I wasn’t going to fall for one of those ‘Hey, look what I got that guy to eat’ tricks.)
“They’re figs, they don’t look very good, but try one.”
“Figs like in ‘Fig Newtons’?”
So I tried one, and yes, despite they way they look, the figs were very good along with the dates.

We asked what the houses were like and one of the pilots invited us over. Walking away from the clubhouse to one of the surrounding homes the heat was incredible. You could feel it radiating up from the pavement right through your shoes. It was definitely going to take some time to get used to the local climate, but that made it feel even nicer to enter the cool shade of the house. The houses were beautiful, sort of a ‘southwestern style’, comfortable and roomy. After showing us around our host asked:

“Can I get you guys a drink?”
“Thanks, that would be great.”
(…thinking that a cold Coke would really hit the spot…)
“Good, do you like scotch?”

So here it is, my first full day ‘at the war’ and I’m lying in the sun next to the pool with a tall drink in my hand. My first thought was, “No one at home would believe this…” – so I took pictures, and secondly “If you have to go to a war, that ain’t a bad way to do it…”
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 11:54 am



Military life is based, in many ways, upon long standing tradition. Much of day to day life is based on traditions going back hundreds, if not thousands of years. Now, I'm not talking about the wearing of uniforms, or the saluting of officers and all of that, I mean the important stuff that you would do just the same if it hadn't been drilled into you in basic training.

Military people complain. A lot. Bitch, bitch, bitch, it's all we do - after all, we're keeping up a tradition...


We're not really picky about complaining, but one of our favorite gripes is about the food. It's not that the food is 'bad' (although I have eaten at Army bases where the food was, ummm... less than appetizing) but, let's just say that the meals weren't quite like Mom's - at least my Mom's.

When I arrived in Doha, tent city was less than a week old and our food was provided from a trailer type military field kitchen - in general, we had a hot meal every day. Meals usually consisted of hamburgers, or something that could be relatively easily cooked over a fire. The food really wasn't bad considering what we had to work with - especially considering that it was prepared by the few services people we had - and anyone else who volunteered to help.

We were told that the field kitchen was a short-term solution and that in the future we'd get a full deployed 'dining facility' (chow hall) - although no one really knew when. After all, in the great airlift scheme of things, there were much higher priorities than the decadent luxury of Air Force food for a bunch of guys (and girls) deployed from Spain.

A visit from General Horner, the CENTAF Commander, changed that. When he heard that we were without a permanent dining facility, apparently one of the few deployed AF units in such a situation, he assured us that one was on the way - and quickly. Within a few days we had our chow hall (it's amazing what a few stars can accomplish...) Over the next few days (with everyone eagerly watching) the new facility was set up. It consisted of a series of interconnected tents and refrigerated trailers for food storage, preparation, and a good sized dining area. Having the chow hall raised the overall morale quite a bit, it provided a bit of 'normalcy', in what was still a pretty abnormal world.

Ahhh, the sheer exuberance of it all. Now we could have our fried SPAM and powered eggs for breakfast, just like everybody else. Great. Just give me another damn MRE and a bottle of water.
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 11:58 am



My first exposure to Air Force combat scenario came during my deployment with the Lucky Devils to Aviano AB, Italy during February of 1990. I had still been completing phased inspection training (after having been assigned to the flightline at MacDill) when my assigned unit, the 613th TFS Squids, deployed to Incerlik AB, Turkey, in the fall of 89, so supervision sent me to Italy on the next rotation. While seeing Turkey would have been interesting, personally, having heard about each location, I think that things worked out for the best.

We deployed to Aviano, in ‘northeast’ Italy, north of Venice, for five weeks. During that time we held two four to five day exercises, each of which would start on a Monday morning and continue through Thursday or Friday (so as to not interrupt a weekend – this was the Air Force after all…) when we would practice our own little corner of a cold war turned hot – a battle in central Europe. We surmised that the Soviets and Warsaw Pact forces were flooding across the Fulda Gap and were pressing into West Germany, and we at Aviano, one of the few major bases on what would be the southern flank, were ideally located to fly interdiction missions into the enemy’s rear positions and vital supply routes.

In this scenario all of our aircraft had to be available at all times, there was no time for phased inspections or scheduled maintenance. This allowed most of us support personnel to shift to secondary or ‘wartime’ rolls.

For those of us in Phase these included, but were not in any way limited to (as we were to learn):

- Bomb buildup: If you drop bombs, someone has to build them. This primarily consisted of building and attaching tail and fin kits to our large assortment of ‘dumb’ bombs. Now that I think of it, I hope that the tails and fins were the largest part of the job and that our guys weren’t installing fuses… I never made it over to bomb buildup, and no, I didn’t mind.
- Fuel tank buildup: If our pilots had to fight into and out of a target area, one of the first things they’d do is to ‘punch tanks’ for better maneuverability. The tank crew made sure that there was a ready supply of new 370-gallon wing tanks.
- ABDR (aircraft battle damage repair): A cross section of maintenance specialties from structures to egress to electronics practiced at the art of making repairs ranging from relatively minor up to ‘she has to make just one last flight’.
- …and finally the roll that was selected for me – Aircraft Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Decontamination: In a desperate battle for central Europe it is possible, probably even likely, that weapons of mass destruction would be employed in attempt to gain an advantage – just as they had been seventy years earlier in the trenches of the Western Front during World War I.

NBC Aircraft Decon Training consisted of a one-day course held at Aviano. The first half of the day gave us a good background on the nature of the threat, particularly from chemical and nuclear weapons. We went over the history, the methods of employment, the detection, the types of agents we would likely face, their effects and the protective measures that would (might) be effective against them. When it comes to chemicals, lets just say that there is some really nasty ‘stuff’ out there that even in the tiniest amounts can kill you in the most horrible of ways. With nukes, we felt that if our aircraft came back contaminated we would probably stand a good chance of being able to clean them effectively. On the other hand, if our entire base ended up inside of a blast crater – which was always a real possibility, as the Soviets liked to think big – well…

The second part of the course consisted of cleaning and decontamination methods – how to neutralize and remove agents from the aircraft, basically, plenty of hot water and bleach based soap. There were two different types of aircraft decontamination washes:

- Whole aircraft washes: “Which we won’t be doing. The aircraft will only be on the ground long enough to refuel and rearm.”
- A limited wash, where only where access is required to immediately turn the aircraft for another mission – basically the cockpit area, the servicing panels, the weapons hardpoints, and then on to the next jet.

The next day we suited up, wearing our chemical gear ‘poopie suits’ over our BDU’s with double gloves and rubber booties – on top of which we layered an oversized set of heavy raingear. After those went our M-17 gas masks and then as a finishing touch, we were sealed into all of our gear with duct tape (with which, of course, you can repair anything.) With all of this usually wet, cold, ill fitting gear we waddled around, not being able to feel very much with our hands, bend our limbs very far, move very quickly, or see very much – all things that can be very important when in close proximity to a running aircraft.

Fortunately - for our own sakes - during the exercises, the Air Force provided us with a simulated bunker at the end of the runway (which was a small area roped off on the ground) where we used simulated water from a pump that wouldn’t run to simulate washing aircraft that never even taxied by…

Because these exercises simulated ‘the Big One’ with the battle in Europe, it was our Wing’s mission to keep the aircraft flying:

- Until we won,
- Until we were out of flyable aircraft,
- Or until we lost – or were ‘invaded’ or nuked (and it wouldn’t matter.)

We had a million questions:

- When the flying stops, even temporarily, when do we accomplish the ‘whole aircraft’ decons? Who does them? (What? The six of us? 24 aircraft?) In what location? With what equipment and supplies?
- What is this ‘soap’ and where do we get more when we run out? The same for water, and other supplies…
- We had been told to pool, or confine, the contaminated wash water so it too could be decontaminated – with what and by whom?
- How were we all roped into this train wreck?

Our instructors response to our questions was: “Don’t worry, this stuff is so important that if you ever have to do it for real, there will be someone there to tell you exactly what to do.”

By the end of our deployment, still never having decontaminated a real running aircraft, I was pretty confident that if we could simulate our way through a real war like we could these exercises, we’d be all right. But if we ever had to do the real thing, we were all in trouble.

Such was life in the “Four-oh-worst” Tac Fighter Wing. Scott, I can still hear you saying over and over “God, I hope we never have to go to war with this unit.”

Back in the Gulf at the beginning of each shift the phase guys would get together for a quick, informal, ‘Roll Call’ where we’d lay out what was going on for the day – if we had a jet, what it’s status was and who was going to do what tasks – if not where we’d be hiding (in case someone was looking) and how early we could go home. Once a week or so we would have a more formal ‘stand-up’ briefing with the EMS Commander, Capt. Beatty, and the members of our ‘Branch’ (Phase, Wheel and Tire Shop, and Transit Alert.) Many plans had already been put into place to make our unit ready for battle, so I wasn’t surprised when our commander announced that EMS had been tasked with organizing a decontamination team to cover the aircraft. Our branch chief asked who would organize the team.

“Sgt. Kopack. He’s been through all of the training.”

Later the six or seven of us that made up the ‘day shift’ decon team got together:

“Ok, who remembers any of this from training?”

We, of course, had all the same questions that we’d had back at Aviano eight months before – but this time our instructor was a thousand miles away – well out of range for our questions… Our supervision wasn’t much help, they had thought that we were completely trained and ready to go. So we talked to the people that we were able to, including the vehicle & personnel decon guys in tent city and our counterparts in the QEAF, and we started to develop a plan.

Over the next several days we were told that our truck was ready to be picked up, so a group of us, being a slow day, walked over to the motor pool to see what we had. With a truck, you could ‘go places’, even if it was just out to the Qatari gate to pick up a delivered pizza.

“Hey, were the Decon Team, we’re supposed to pick up a truck?”
“Just a minute, I’ll have them bring it around.”

From behind the building lumbered this desert tan, dump-truck looking, deuce-and-a-half sized behemoth, which rolled to a stop before us.

“Ok, who’s in charge?” asked the driver as he jumped down from the idling truck. Everyone looked at me…

I climbed up into the seat, feeling like Captain Kirk on the Enterprise, with the Transportation Squadron Airman standing on the step next to me. He asked loudly over the idling engine “Have you ever driven a truck with air brakes before?”

After a quick scan of the dashboard I replied, “I don’t even know how to start this thing…”

(As a quick reminder, I should mention again that my ‘normal’ car back in the States was an MGB, and that all I regularly drove in Spain were borrowed Renault 5’s and Austin Mini’s and that I still didn’t have a military driver’s license… I know, just don’t hit anything…)

So after about 90 seconds of orientation we were off, a couple of us in the front and the rest hanging on up in the back, driving down the narrow roads of the base, at least mostly in one lane, trying not to ‘take out’ either oncoming cars, or roadside street signs.

Things smoothed out a lot for the driver (although probably not for the passengers) when we left the road and headed out across the (hopefully) hard packed sand towards the end of the runway. The Doha International Airport shares a 15,000 foot runway with the military airbase, and from the bases main ramp area it’s quite a drive going cross-country (although much shorter than taking the perimeter road/track).

When we arrived in one piece at EOR, we parked the truck in a spot away from the runway that we’d picked to do our inspections and washes. We were at the south end of the runway away from the city and the harbor and it felt remote. We were probably a quarter mile from the base’s perimeter wall in one direction, and a half-mile to a mile from anything else. The terrain was rocky, hardpacked sand with wiry scrub interspersed with really no ‘cover’ – with all of us wearing our ‘woodland’ camouflage BDU’s, consisting of mostly greens and black, I felt really exposed. You’d have almost thought that I was in the Army thinking like that…

Our truck seemed to be fairly well equipped for our mission, and what it didn’t have I was confident that we could ‘acquire’. The forward part of the bed was equipped with a tank holding a couple of hundred gallons of water, we had an industrial type pressure washer, and a pile of poles with scrubbing heads – some of which we’d convert into ‘chemical detection swabs’ using duct tape.

Over the next few weeks we received our ‘brick’ (radio) and ‘Decon 1’ was officially born. When we had the opportunity we’d get the guys together for planning and a little practice.

There were still a lot of questions that we would need to come up with answers to, but as we were driving back to the ramp area one day I was thinking to myself, “You know Mike, we might just be able to pull this off. And if we don’t screw it up too badly you might come out of it looking pretty good…” “…AND we might not all die…”
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:01 pm

The Laws of War


Prior to the start of the war, we went through a briefing / training session on the Laws of War, the Rules of Engagement, and what to expect if (when) the war were to happen.

After dinner, on our assigned night, we all walked the hundred yards or so, from the chow hall over to the Rec Center. Before I even went in to the TV / movie room turned briefing center, I stopped off at the snack bar to buy a soda to help keep me awake through what I could only imagine would be several hours of legal ‘mumbo-jumbo’ (it’s a technical term…)

After a quick introduction, and an overview of what we had coming, the briefing began:

“What’s the first indication that we’ll have that the war has started?”
“A vicious rumor?”

Scott’s answer not only brought of quite a few laughs, but it was also a comment on how many people, at least in EMS, felt about the information that we had been receiving from our NCOIC and new commander. It also set the mood for the rest of the evening.

When the ‘Laws of War’ section of the briefing began, there were many questions. Other than the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners, a lot of guys thought, what is the point? Isn’t war in itself, basically a breakdown of laws? The briefer’s questions let everyone know that, even in war, there was still plenty of room for lawyers to get involved. ‘The floor’ was opened up to a discussion:

“If there is an airborne attack against us, with airplanes dropping paratroopers, can you shoot them on the way down?”

Pretty much everyone shouted out in their agreement to blast them.

“That’s correct, they’re combatants. But what if, in all of your wild shooting, someone is lucky enough to shoot down the airplane and the pilot jumps out with the paratroopers? Can you shoot him?”

The room was much quieter this time, but most people seemed to think ‘no, probably not’.

“No, he’s not a legal combatant if he’s escaping from a disabled aircraft. You have to le him come down to the ground, where he has the opportunity to surrender. If he doesn’t, then he becomes a legal combatant.”
“…and we can shoot him?”
“Yes, then you can shoot him.”
“Here’s another one. If the paratrooper unit that is attacking has a priest or cleric jumping with them, can you shoot him?”

The room was silent as everyone asked themselves the same question.

“How would we know?” Someone asked.
“He’ll have a card like this…” holding up a drivers license sized ID card ”…and no, you can’t shoot him.”


We next went over how to challenge people in both English and Arabic and our ‘Rules of Engagement’. It’s probably a safe bet that few, if any, of us remembered the Arabic words to challenge someone even by the end of the briefing, much less by the beginning of the war. We’d all probably be following back to the old “Golden Rule’ of Engagement – if they’re shooting at you while coming over the fence, you’re pretty safe in shooting back…

Speaking of shooting, up next was our weapons briefer. He gave us a good background and history of our M-16 rifles. From the time that they’d come into service in the 1960’s there had been countless improvements made in both the weapons safety and operation. Although they looked similar, the modern day M-16 was only a distant relative of the rifle which began its service in Southeast Asia. The current M-16 was among the very best combat rifles in existance. But that, all of those years of improvements, wouldn’t help us. We were issued factory fresh M-16A1’s. Mine was marked 1968, the year I was born. Well, they’d look good with our old ‘steel-pot’ helmets…

”Because you guys don’t have the option of a three-round burst (only single shot or full automatic) I definatly recommend only shooting in semi-automatic. In full auto, you’re not going to hit anything…”

Still, I can imagine all of us on the flightline opening up at once as the Iraqis came ‘over the wall’. We might not hit anything, but the noise itself would probably have scared them away. While all of the rifles for those of us on the flightline were kept in a closet in the hangar, they never told us were the ammo would come from “Don’t worry, you’ll have it if you need it…”

At the end of the weapons briefing, one of guys in the back of the room raised his hand:

“When we left our base stateside, we were given a choice of weapons to carry, and since we already had a lot of equipment to carry, we didn’t bring M-16’s.”
“What exactly did you bring?”
“.38 pistols.”
“You mean to tell me that you were deploying to what will very likely be a combat area, and you brought weapons that the security police replaced because of their ineffectiveness? All I can say is you’d better stand behind somebody…”

Oh, here we go…
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:05 pm

Tent City Guard


The very most important rule of military service is to never volunteer. Never, never, never. No matter how good a deal it sounds. Never. Look at it this was if it was that good a deal, they wouldn’t be asking you, now, would they? So when PJ asked for volunteers at the beginning of what looked to be a long, buy easy 12 hour shift (as we had no jet to work) there weren’t any takers.

“It’s a good deal guys, you’ll only have to work six hours…”
- Silence –
“If I can’t get any volunteers I’ll have to pick people…”

Oh well, I was probably going to get ‘volunteered’ anyway… “Ok, I’ll do it.” That must have broken the ice because within a minute or two Ben Goynes had volunteered as well. PJ pulled us over to the side “Don’t worry about it guys, it is a good deal. Get your stuff and report up to the First Sergeant at the Orderly Room.”

From past experience, the ratio of good things, to bad things that resulted from a trip to the orderly room didn’t fall in our favor… When we arrived “the Shirt” was waiting for us.

“Hey, you must be the guys from Phase. What we need is to have a couple of armed people in Tent City, that way if somebody takes some shots at us, at least we’ll have somebody to shoot back.”

I wasn’t really concerned about a large scale attack against our base. We were pretty well defended between our SP’s, the Canadian ground troops doing airbase defense, and the Qatari’s Still, we'd been told that it was possible, in some opinions likely, that we would have individuals or small groups that would attempt to come over the fence. In my opinion, both snipers and mortars were probably even more of a worry.

The Shirt told us that as long as we weren’t sleeping, he didn’t really care what we were doing, whether it was just wandering around, or sitting in the Rec Center watching movies for our shift – which worked for me… He also asked that we also keep an eye inside tent city at some other things, over the previous few days a couple of cables powering several tents AC units had been found damaged and that there we a concern about possible sabotage. Of course, with the amount of voltage running through those lines, if someone actually attempted to hack through one with a knife, it would be probably be relatively easy to identify the culprit…

We each slung the M-16’s over our shoulders that we were handed, and were given 30 round clips, “Yeah, just come back if you need any more…” With that, and my probably 200 rounds of M-16 experience, we were set loose on Tent City.

People look at you completely differently when you’ve got a rifle over your shoulder and I didn’t even get a hundred feet before the first person stopped me and asked a question that I’d hear a lot that evening “Hey, what’s going on?”

In the end, it was almost like having a night off, I watched some TV, read a little, but spent the majority of the time going from hootch to hootch, talking to everybody. Occasionally I’d see Ben: (yelling down the path between tents)

“Hey Ben, have you seen any Iraqi’s?”
“Hell yes, I got a couple of them coming over the fence back there. How about you?”

‘Gentle’ Ben was one of the most ‘wide-open’ guys I’d ever met, he never stopped, and ran at top speed all of the time. One day while waiting for roll call at the start of our shift, Ben (who wasn’t tall) seemed to fly right over me to land on the shoulders of one of the unsuspecting wheel and tire shop guys - just to say ‘Hi!’. He was also always willing to help anyone out who needed it. Once at the end of a long day on which I was really struggling to safety-wire a JFS exhaust shroud (and had already sliced my knuckle open) Ben slid up on one of our rolling stools “Are you still in there? get your ass out of there and let me do that…”

“Just one for me over on the flightline side…”
“Well you’d better pick it up, how else are we going to have stories to tell the women when we finally get home…”


The evening of the sixteenth of January was a normal night. We’d finished our phase inspections, so work was going well. Our aircraft were all armed, ‘bombed up’, and were ready to go. The previous several days our pilots had been tasked with flying provocation missions up to the Kuwaiti and Iraqi borders. Most of these missions consisted of cruising up the Gulf and then accelerating towards the border, just to see what the Iraqi reaction would be – a combination of intelligence gathering (watching defensive radars and aircraft) and keeping the Iraqis awake and a little nervous. Our guys also said that if the Iraqi Air Force wanted to come up and fight, well, that would be all right too.

Yesterday was the day of the UN ultimatum for Iraq to leave Kuwait. It seemed that the war might be just days away. How many days, was open for discussion. Most of us thought that there would be several days or a week before anything would begin.

There wasn’t much going on tonight, I’d listened to the news on the shortwave, so I went to bed early. I don’t know what time it was, but I can remember being woken up. It was Mike from Transit Alert.

“It’s going to happen tonight. At midnight the Stealths and the Strike Eagles are going in.”

I don’t really remember having any reaction at all. Truthfully, I don’t think I was awake enough for it to really sink in.
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:08 pm

The Storm


Sirens blaring. It’s dark in the tent. Almost automatically my hand reaches down under the right side of my cot and pulls out my gas mask. It’s open, and over my head. Without even thinking, I cover the exhausts and blow hard to clear the mask. My palm is over the intake and inhale, there’s no air as I can feel the mask collapse and seal around my face with the vacuum. By this time, someone has turned the lights on and as I am suiting up in my chemical gear I can see all of my tentmates doing the same – with one exception. Our ‘Ninja’ has lost it; he’s running up and down the aisle in the center of the tent yelling:

“I don’t know how to put my mask on!” “We’re all going to die.”

He’s ignored for the moment as I finish suiting up. It’s amazing how short a time it takes from a deep sleep, and over the next few weeks we’ll all get even faster. Suited up now, several of us grab our panicked compatriot, hold him down and get him into his mask and as much of his suit as we can. I grab my helmet and radio and head for the door. Through the first tent flap and a quick left turn after the second, up the steps and jump into our sandbag shelter – where I immediately, and rather forcefully encounter whoever it was that had jumped in just before. I slid over into a corner, all the time hearing the sirens and the recorded message, which went something like this:

“Air raid, air raid. MOPP 4, MOPP 4. All personnel don protective equipment.”

The commotion of suiting up in the tent gives way to silence in the bunker. The sirens have gone quiet and we’re just left with our thoughts. ‘What is going on? Did the Iraqi’s slip a bomber through the air defenses?’ I can’t remember if the QEAF’s Mirages scrambled that night, but even if they did it could be a difficult intercept. I pulled out my shortwave radio and slipped the ear-piece beneath the seal of my mask. Turning the unit on quickly brought news from the BBC in London that word had been received that a SCUD had been fired from Iraq that was headed towards the Saudi capital of Riyadh. It was a relief to know that even though Iraq was firing ballistic missiles, they weren’t directly at us.

Twenty minutes later we were given the “All Clear” signal and we were able to remove our gear. It was then, sometime after four in the morning of the seventeenth of January 1991 (since there was no use in trying to go back to sleep) that through radio and television I learned that the war had in fact started and the aircraft from the first airstrikes were returning to their bases, all while I was asleep. The news was good, although there was no official confirmation, CNN reported that most, if not all of our aircraft were accounted for.

When we walked into the hangar that morning, it was a different place. The people, the aircraft and the tools were the same; but there was an entirely different ‘feeling’, a different attitude from the day before. It’s difficult to describe the change, there was a feeling of ‘seriousness’, yet also excitement. We’d been in the desert for almost five months and were finally to start what we came here for. The previous night President Bush had said:

"The liberation of Kuwait has begun. In conjunction with the forces of our coalition partners, the United States has moved under the code name Operation Desert Storm."

All of our aircraft were to be flying missions, so we wouldn’t be getting another inspection soon. My main ‘mission’ was now decontamination and crash recovery. I picked up the ‘brick’ (radio) and out behind the hangar checked out the Decon truck and our equipment, hoping that none of it would be used. We had quick meeting with our team, making sure that we all knew where to find each other if we were called. I then headed back to the hangar.

When our pilots started stepping to the jets, everyone came out to the flightline - and I mean everybody, Americans, Canadians, French and Qataris up and down the ramp in the hundreds, if not thousands. I didn't want to watch from the hangar, so I went out and was a fireguard for one of the launching acft (probably the only time I volunteered to fireguard...) Pride. Determination. It was kind of a weird moment, I guess we were watching history happening.

We'd already been in the desert for over five months, preparing and waiting (and waiting, and waiting...) and it was an incredible sight to be standing on the flightline watching each aircraft, loaded down with bombs to be dropped for a real purpose, thunder one-by-one down Doha's runway, climbing to the north.

Our F-16's had launched out several hours before, and were due back within the hour. We were suiting up in our chem gear, ready to inspect the acft on their return, hoping that we wouldn't find signs of chemical weapons residue. Everyone was quiet as we waited, wondering how the mission was going as we sat in the back of our truck 'Decon 1', listening to reports on the war from the BBC on my little shortwave radio...

The first day of the war had gone well by all accounts, the Allies had lost six aircraft, which considering the resistance and the heavy anti-aircraft defenses was less than most expected. The Iraqi's were taking a beating from all sides, both in Kuwait and in Iraq itself. Thousands of sorties had delivered thousands of tons of weapons on a wide range of targets. Things were looking good, although we all knew that we were only at the beginning of what had the potential to be a long hard fight.

For us in Doha with the Lucky Devils, our pilots and aircraft came back without a scratch from their first missions. I did have a nervous moment at Decon when our first aircraft came back - one of the guys 'swabbed' the wing and carried the 'stick' up to me. There was a blue-gray haze where it had been wiped across the wing, which was, theoretically at least, a possible positive indication. Could it be chemicals? Damn, it couldn't be. I'd just talked to the Ops guys and nothing at all had been reported anywhere in the theater. I swabbed the acft myself in all of the places where residue could/should hide. Everyone on the team looked at me - it was my call. After a moment I said, "No, it's clean. Send them home." I've second-guessed that decision a million times since then - although I swabbed an acft that didn't even fly that day and got the same result after we got back to the hangar. But what if I'd gotten it wrong...

It had been a long day, in and out of chem gear who knows how many times, for decon inspections and for the intermittent SCUD launches. In theory the SCUD's couldn't reach us in Qatar (according to Intel) but later we'd find that to be not quite true. Between the war at work, and watching the war on TV, I was tired, and tomorrow would come soon enough so I called it a day. Our first day at war. But before I crawled into my sleeping bag I placed my old steel helmet and gas mask just under the side of my cot where I could reach it the instant the sirens went off again. And again.

Over the next few weeks we'd have plenty of chances to practice suiting up in the middle of the night. Before I fell asleep I said a little prayer for the guys that we'd lost that day, and hoped that tomorrow would go as well.
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:10 pm

The Storm - Day Two


The 18th of January was the second day of Desert Storm. In the morning and then again in the afternoon we'd launched our pilots and jets north, to Kuwait and Iraq and - and as a reporter said during the Falklands - I counted them all out, and I counted them all back. The Allies had lost several more aircraft today, but we were all relieved that the numbers of losses were much lower then the official projections, or those that we had discussed around the picnic table. Although the weather wasn't as good over the theater as we'd hoped, the Iraqis were still being pounded around the clock by US and our Allies airpower and whenever the Iraqi Air Force decided to launch a sortie, it was generally a 'one-way' trip, courtesy of our Saudi based F-15's. We all hoped that our guys would have their opportunity against the MiG's and Mirages as well.

Tent City seemed a little odd though, being apart from the 'action' on the flightline, there didn't seem to be much going on out of the ordinary - as if 'the war' didn't really effect many of those who didn't work on the aircraft and with the pilots. One change that there was in Tent City didn't last long though, the chow hall (I know that it's not the 'politically correct' modern name, but this is my damn story...) announced that the dining hours would be reduced and that there would be no more midnight meal, as they had been tasked with their secondary wartime roles. This didn't go over well with our Wing Commander. Apparently the chow hall and its services personnel double as the morgue during wartime. "My people are hungry, not dead," he said as he assured the SVS commander that there would be four full meals a day and "Any time of the day or night that one of my people is hungry, there WILL be something for them to eat, even if it's just an MRE." Anything for his people, I'd have followed him anywhere.

Once again we were in and out of our chem gear and masks quite often during the day and night. Several SCUD's had hit Israel for the first time, and we were concerned about them retaliating, quite possibly with nuclear weapons as a response to a major chemical attack. An Israeli response, especially one possibly involving nuclear weapons, had the potential to break up the Allied coalition and put us in a sticky situation with our host nations. I had dinner with a couple of the pilots one night as we discussed it and the fact the prevailing winds pretty much headed our way. "If they did something like that to us and we had to evacuate back to Spain, I know where we could jettison a lot of bombs on the way home..." Fortunately cooler heads prevailed and the Israelis stayed out.

The jets were flying well, so my main job was decon. We prepositioned ourselves over at the Qatari parachute shop, which gave us a good place to wait prior to our runs out to EOR. We usually went out an hour before the acft were due back, giving us time to get suited up and to have our equipment ready. Now that I knew what to expect when I checked the swab, the inspections went quickly. Spirits were high and things were going well. After just two days, the war had settled into a routine. President Bush asked the American public to not get too confident, that there was a long way to go, but perhaps this whole thing was going to turn our easier than we'd expected. Time would tell.

It seemed from our perspective that the only Iraqi target that hadn't been hit in the first 48 hours was CNN's Peter Arnett.
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:14 pm

The Storm - Day Three
"Package Q" to Baghdad


January 19th, the third day of Desert Storm, began as a 'normal' day. My alarm went off in the tent at about 5am, then it was over to the shower tent for a cool shower, as our hot water heater had failed almost as soon as it was installed and the water, kept in a large rubber bladder, cooled quite a bit at night. Fortunately I wasn't driven from the shower this morning by another SCUD - it felt odd to carry your chem gear, mask and helmet down to the shower.

Back at the tent I put on the same woodland BDU's that I'd worn the day before. By this time most of us were down to only a few pairs of serviceable uniforms, and the laundry had a couple of days turnaround, so we didn't change too often. Uniforms took a beating on the flightline during the best of conditions, and the desert sand made it even worse. Supply hadn’t been able to get us replacements, and although I’d picked up a pair from – believe it or not, an Army Navy Store in Doha – I still had several pair that were just worn out. Once I had the BDU's, on I kitted up with the rest of my daily wear gear, my web belt with canteen, first aid kit, gas mask, my Fairbairn Sykes SAS knife (good for slicing MRE's and whatever else may need 'opening') about 10 each of the Atropine and 2-Pam self-injectors, I took my P-tab (nerve agent pretreatment) put my helmet on, and headed out for the day. First stop was over at the chow hall to pick up a case of MRE's. Most of us would get a case every day or two, because we normally couldn't get back for lunch, and so we would have a good choice of menus and no one would get stuck with the disgusting omelet with ham. Those of us who didn't get MRE's would pick up a case of water for the day.

It wasn't a long walk from Tent City over to the hangar and the flightline, not more than a couple of hundred yards. We'd always stop by and talk to our Qatari friend who manned the flightline checkpoint. Carrying an exotic looking (to those of us that were used to our M-16's) FN rifle, when we asked if he had been given ammo, he tapped his shirt pocket and laughed "Yes, five rounds. I'm not allowed to load them unless someone actually shoots at me."

Over at the hangar we completed our shift change with the night shift decon team. They would always make sure that we were gassed up and ready to go, so I took my M-16 and ammo and walked over to the phase dock to see how everything was going. Rumors were going around that there was a big mission today and as soon as the pilots were stepping from Ops we heard it, the "Target for Today: Baghdad". There was almost a sense of excitement in the air. While Baghdad was a long way away, and amongst the most heavily defended targets anywhere, our guys were going to take the fight right to the heart of the enemy. Once again we stood in front of the hangar as our pilots taxied away, and the ground seemed to shake as each aircraft lifted off.

We were busy back at the Phase dock where we were preparing to open back up for business. The Colonel told us that there were two options for the unit as far as inspections went. We could overfly the phases until the end of the conflict, at which time all of the aircraft would be grounded until inspections were completed, or we could do combat phases as we went along. Several guys asked what a 'combat phase' in fact was, unfortunately no one knew. So a group of us sat down and laid out exactly what we wanted a 'combat phase' to be. "How fast a turnaround do you think we can get on an inspection? We really can’t afford to have any jets down." It was difficult to say without actually attempting one, "How long do we have?" "At our current flying rate we'll go through our 150 flying hours roughly every 24 days." Twenty-four days, twenty-four aircraft. We had to find a way to complete a normally 3 ½ - 4 day inspection in a day...

Soon it was time to take a break from the planning and head out to EOR to prepare for our decon inspections on the returning aircraft. We loaded up 'Decon 1' and headed out down the ramp and across the hard-packed sand to the end of the runway. I put my chem suit on, keeping an eye to the sky looking for the jets, listening to the brick to hear if the MOC had an ETA, but the net was quiet, probably more quiet than normal thinking back. Soon the first aircraft appeared, with no overhead break, they were coming straight in. I counted each aircraft as I'd gotten into the habit of always doing and was several into my count when I noticed something odd "What's that under the wings?" it took another couple of aircraft before someone answered, "They've all blown their wingtanks, that's the mounts..."

From that moment I had a bad feeling about it and as I continued to count the last aircraft touched down "They're not all here. There are two missing." The bad feeling had gotten worse. I'd hoped that two had needed to stop in Saudi or Bahrain for fuel, but inside somehow I knew that it wasn't the case. As we waited for the aircraft to backtaxi to our position, they cut back across the runway, skipping our inspection, and were headed straight back to the ramp. "Everybody in the truck, let's go. Now."

I had the decon deuce-and-a-half flying on the way back to the ramp and we arrived just as engines were shutting down where we heard the news that the two were down over Iraq. A lot of unrecorded records were set in the next few minutes as the aircraft were ICT (combat turned with simultaneous rearm and refuel)(the QA guys were told to stay in the hangar because they didn't want to see what was going on) just in case our guys could get back up there to help in the search. In the end, because of the distance and the fact that more capable aircraft were already tasked and overhead they didn't go.

Still pretty much in shock, four or five of us walked up to our Wing Commander, Col. ‘Jed’ Nelson, as he walked out of debrief and although I’m sure that he had a hundred more important things to do, he patiently explained what had happened. Mike 'Mr.' Roberts, whose son would be born in the next few weeks, went down over Baghdad and was feared lost and Jeff 'Tico' Tice was down in the desert between Baghdad and the Saudi border.

Within an hour we'd seen the HUD tapes taken during the mission. Mr. took a SAM amidships, his aircraft, 87-0228, just exploded. It didn't look as though anyone could have survived, but Col. Nelson said that he thought he'd seen the canopy come off as the wreckage descended, the first step of the ejection process, so there was at least a sliver, if only a sliver, of hope. Tico's aircraft, 87-0257, took a proximity hit and was sprayed with shrapnel. He struggled with the dying aircraft as far as it could take him, roughly halfway back to the Saudi border, when he was forced to make a controlled ejection. We felt pretty confident that if he could get hunkered down until dark there was a good chance that we'd get him back. We watched as 'ET' Tullia dodged at least 5 SAM's guiding on his aircraft with no operational chaff/flare, in the best example of defensive flying that I have ever seen.

While growing up, my heroes weren't baseball players or sports stars; they were people with names like Luke, Bader, Malan, Stanford-Tuck, Gabreski, Zemke, Olds and Ritchie. I'd read about losses and sacrifice, but now I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut. It was a long walk back to Tent City that night. I sat in the chow hall, just looking at my dinner, while at the table across from me sat Bill Hinchey, the crew chief who had launched out Tico, sitting alone. I felt as bad as he looked, and knowing Bill, I know that he felt much worse.

I hardly remember walking back to the tent. When I walked in, there was a loud card game going on at the table, everyone happy and carrying on. I wasn't in the mood, "Hey, have you guys heard that we lost two pilots today?" "Yeah, we heard, what can you do..." I crawled into my sleeping bag, rolled over and shut out the world. It was our roughest day in Qatar.
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:17 pm

The Storm - Day Four


I'd awakened in a better mood on the 20th of January, the fourth day of Desert Storm, than I'd gone to bed the night before. We all knew that the chance of losing aircraft and pilots was always there, but it was still a shock when it happened. Hopefully when I got to the hangar I'd hear that they'd picked up Tico during the night and that he was on his way back to us.

I was running early that morning, so before I left Tent City to go over to the hangar I stopped off at the Rec Center to catch up on CNN and to see if I could find a recent Gulf Times (Qatar's English language newspaper) or even better, a Stars and Stripes. The news that came from either was pretty limited, but any news was better than nothing. Probably one of the best parts of working with Transit Alert (which was also among my duties) was occasionally getting real news from the States as airlifters were transiting through. I was once lucky enough to talk a C-141 crew out of a day old Sunday edition of the New York Times which we all read 'cover to cover' for about two weeks...

Just as soon as I opened the door to the Rec Center and stepped in, I heard "Look, there he is!" as several Crew Chiefs rushed towards me (I'm thinking “Holy Crap, what have I done now???”) The night before, after I'd gone to bed, the Desert Camel and the Star C-130's had come in with supplies and mail, one of which had also carried the latest issue of the Air Force's "Airman Magazine". The crew chief's held up a copy, open to the inside of the back cover, printed on which was a page of 'airmen doing their part' in Operation Desert Shield. One of those airmen was me, in a picture taken a couple of months before, sitting on the wing of 87-0228 - Mike Roberts’ jet that had been lost the day before over Baghdad. They explained to me that 'it would be better for all of us' if I didn't have my picture taken with any more of our jets. And not being one to tempt fate too often, I agreed. It’s the only picture I have of me with one of our aircraft - having a picture taken with a jet before a mission can be 'old school' bad luck, dating back to WWI, when pilots would often refuse to fly if they'd been photographed prior to going up.

I grabbed a bunch of copies of the magazine and carried them back to the tent; they'd be good things to send back to all of the relatives - probably even better than the MRE fruitcakes that I sent everyone at Christmas. All the way to the hangar I heard a lot of 'Hey, you're the guy in Airman' (but didn't sign any autographs...)

The mood was still dark on the flightline; we were still missing two of our own. There was no word from Tico up in Iraq, which troubled everyone. Last night we all felt the chances were so good that the Rescue guys would have gotten him, but when they arrived over the area, there was no sign of him. We'd also lost two of our aircraft. As a crew chief, your airplane is more than just a machine. You know it inside and out and its personality (every jet has one, and they're all different.) They may be made of metal and plastic and wire, but they might as well be alive as much as they can become a part of you – after all, you probably spend more time with your jet on a day to day basis than any member of your family or any of your friends. Trying to lighten the mood, one of the guys said, "What's even worse, was that 228 and 257 were two of the last three jets that had gone through Phase. At least the Iraqis could have shot down the ones that were due inspections..."

I was worried about what I'd see when the pilots came out of Ops that morning on the way to the jets. They'd had two friends blown out of the sky from amongst them the day before, and from seeing ET's tape the night before, it was obvious that even a second of distraction could be the difference between coming home and not. I was worried that I'd see what I'm sure that they were all feeling after yesterday's mission, and worried about how it might affect the morale on the flightline. I hadn't had to worry though despite what they'd been through in the past 24 hours. As each pilot walked out of the Ops doorway on the way to their awaiting jets, they touched the top of the doorframe - on which was hung a hand painted sign that read "God Bless Mr. and Tico."

As LtCol. Bruce 'Orville' Wright, the Lucky Devils Commander, put it: "The motivation and commitment on the faces of our Lucky Devils as they walked across the flight line on the morning of the 20th to attack the enemy and avenge the loss of one their brothers was clear and, had the Iraqi military been watching, scary."

I don't know what the 'protocol' was, but whenever I walked through the Ops doorway, I touched the same sign. In that moment the darkness that had hung over us, and me personally, lifted. The war was personal now, and it had hit home close to all of us. We were no longer fighting just to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait; we were fighting for our own two friends who were still up there. Somewhere.
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:19 pm

The Storm - Day Five


The weather in the Gulf region is usually pretty nice during this time of year, and it really had been in Qatar. Highs in the 60’s and 70’s with comparatively low humidity were a whole lot nicer than the 120+ and 90% that we had a few months ago. Unfortunately the weather in Iraq and Kuwait hadn't worked out quite a well. Iraq was going through a '100 year winter', cold, cloudy, with heavy rain and in places, snow. All of this made bombing quite a bit more difficult for our guys who went north each day - it also made it a lot more difficult to find the SCUD launchers, hidden in the western deserts, that the Iraqis had been using to launch missiles against Israel.

Out weather, as I said, was nice, so it wasn't a big deal to be in and out of our chemical gear during alerts and decon inspections. The SCUD alerts were beginning to become less frequent, not due to the lack of ballistic missiles being fired, but due to the policy of setting off the alerts. Over the first few days of the war whenever a missile was detected, no matter the projected target, the entire theater was alerted, now it was a little more specific. If Riyadh were the target we wouldn't end up in the bunker, but if the direction was towards Dhahran or Bahrain it was time to 'go visit the Canadians'. While we had some pretty nice 'bunkers' that doubled as porches, or 'hootches' in front of each tent, 'at work' most of the shelters were basically low square walls of sandbags, maybe three feet high, that we were supposed to hide behind. On the other hand, the Canadians, with whom we shared our hangar, half buried square cross-sectioned reinforced concrete pipe, overlaid with a thick layer of sandbags, with heavy doors, water, food, and telephone communication to their command post. You can guess where we normally went when the sirens went off. "This is shelter #5, we have four Canadians, and sixteen 'others' inside..."

It was now the 21st of January, the fifth day of the war and things were definitely becoming a routine. Things were picking back up in phase as we were preparing to receive our first 'combat phase' aircraft. Our phase plan had been approved and we were told that it was going to form the basis for F-16 inspections in the theater. Not too bad for something that we basically hashed out on the back of Chinese take-out menus and scrap paper. Our plan wouldn't leave anything out of the typical phase package, but we wouldn't put anything else in either. Instead of depaneling the entire aircraft, we would only take off the access panels that were absolutely necessary for other work to start. Then each panel that was required to remove for inspection would be pulled, inspected, faults corrected, and immediately closed. Our QA inspectors had given us quite a bit of leeway, they told us what they really wanted to see, and the rest we had authorization to close on our own. I still didn't know how the phases would go, or how long they would take (well, we'd been told that we had basically a day, due to flying hours and the fact that we definitely weren't going to be the ones who made an aircraft miss a mission...). A lot would depend on just how the aircraft continued to fly in the demanding desert and wartime environment. As far as that went, to this point the birds were doing great, probably even better than when we were back in Spain.

We were worried that we still hadn't heard anything about either of our guys that went down the day before yesterday. I don't think that anyone really expected to hear much about Mike Roberts, but we really thought that we'd have heard that Jeff Tice had been rescued and was on the way back, but he'd just disappeared.

The war went on, as we did each day we stood out in front of the hangar as the aircraft departed for their morning mission, and were in place out at EOR as they returned, the same in the afternoon. As we prepared to head out to EOR that afternoon the word spread through the hangar, likely from Ops, that an aircraft had gone down. "Damn, not again." It was that same feeling back from two days before, but within minutes we heard the news that the pilot had already been rescued and the low feeling changed to high, just that fast.

Once the pilots came out of debrief we, once again, got out own less formal, debrief in the hangar. The pilots had been attacking a target on the Kuwaiti coastline, under Iraqi SAM and AAA fire, when Jon Ball, the 614th Ops Officer flying 87-0224, had dropped his Mk.84 (a two thousand pound, general purpose 'dumb' bomb). Just after coming off of the wing, the bomb detonated and the ton of explosives and shockwave tore through the aircraft. He was able to guide the crashing aircraft back out over the Gulf and eject. Within a short time a Navy helicopter that hadn’t been far away picked him up. The rescue helo had transported him to the carrier for medical attention. Immediately an investigation was started concerning out Mk.84 and their fuses, had the fuse been improperly set by a weapons crew rushed to load bombs during a long shift, or had it been a one in a million accident? The investigation would tell, but fortunately this time we were getting our guy back. Although we didn't know Jon's condition, it was an incredible weight that had been lifted off of us. To celebrate, instead of dinner at the chow hall that night we went over the Hardees/KFC, just outside of the Tent City entrance for chicken. And nothing goes better with chicken, than some of that 'special mouthwash' that the guys back in Spain had sent over in the CARE package...
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:22 pm



The last step of a phase inspection is a maintenance engine run, this can range from a fairly complex trip to the trim pad with a truck full of test equipment if a high-power afterburner run is required, to a ten minute idle run on the flightline for leak checks. Most our recent inspections had only needed a quick line run, which was really helping to keep the aircraft moving through the inspection process.

Since the aircraft had to return to the hangar for some final work after the run, and we wouldn’t be outside for long, we didn’t want to carry much with us. So quickly, in order to not let all of the days heat into the hangar, we opened the doors hooked up the tow bar to the nose landing gear, and sent PJ – our crew leader/engine mechanic/engine run man up the ladder to act as a ‘break rider’ for the tow.

When towing an aircraft it is required to have ‘wing walkers’ to watch for clearance at the wingtips (less important on a F-16, much more so with a B-52) and a brake rider sitting in the cockpit. It is the brake rider’s responsibility to bring the aircraft to a safe halt in the rare instance of a towbar separation or failure. In the even more rare instance of a brake failure, following a towbar separation or failure, it is the brake rider’s added responsibility, in coordination with the wing walkers (who will probably be attempting to throw wooden wheel chocks in front of the wheels) to act as witnesses for the upcoming accident…

We pulled the aircraft out onto the flightline, not far in front of the hangar, chocked the wheels, and disconnected the towbar. One of the guys ‘borrowed’ a fire bottle and PJ lowered the canopy signifying that he was ready to go. As I was ‘running ground’ – sort of a ground control or communications point between PJ up in the cockpit and the guys that would be doing the checks under the aircraft – I walked over to the ‘traditional’ marshalling position. For good visibility, both of the aircraft, and for the guys on the ground and in the cockpit, you stand at a point roughly in front of the left wingtip launcher and forward to just about the radome.

As the canopy closed and locked, the aircraft battery power was turned on and PJ gave me the signal for engine start. A quick look at the jet insured that the intake, exhaust and JFS areas were clear and that the guys were ready, I repeated the hand signal followed by a thumbs up and as PJ went to ‘Start 1’ the jet fuel starter (JFS) doors opened and the starter engine began to spool up.

In most cases when an F-16 is running, either during an actual launch, or for maintenance, the crew chief on the ground can speak to the person in the cockpit via a headset and comm cord interphone connection – although, if it is required, most technical information can be communicated through a series of formally (or somewhat more informally) recognized hand signals. Because this should be a maximum ten-minute, straightforward idle run, we decided to just use hand signals.

The JFS surges slightly as it comes up to speed – it is itself a small jet engine, geared through the accessory drive gearbox (ADG, every crew chief’s nightmare) which turns the core of the General Electric F-110 up to starting speed. PJ lifts the throttle over the horn to idle, there’s fuel flow and ignition – from the ground you can feel it as a low deep rumble as the aircraft comes to life while the engine accelerates. The anti-collision strobe comes on as the generator comes online then the engine settles to idle speed with its familiar F-16 inlet scream.

PJ gives the ‘all clear’ from the cockpit and I relay the message to the technicians. They immediately move under the aircraft to begin their checks. It’s loud out in front of the jet and much more so down where the guys are. Someone would have to yell directly in your ear to even have a chance of being heard, so most of the ‘inspection plan’ is worked out ahead of time. There’s a ‘thumbs-up’ from the main landing gear wells, it looks like no leaks from the hydraulic filters that we had changed, or any of the myriad of lines that are accessible in the wheel wells. Now both guys are down under the engine, opening the JFS and its opposite constant speed drive (CSD) hinged access doors, armed with flashlights and towels they are just inches from this living, fire-breathing beast, looking for anything that could be out of place. It’s hot and unbelievably loud. They’re finishing up now, it looks as though we’ve got another good jet…

“Boom, boom, boom, boom-boom, boom” Deep, heavy concussions roll across the flightline that I can easily hear over the jet’s inlet scream. I look around quickly and back to the aircraft. A second glance shows everyone else looking, and then running for the sandbag bunkers that surround the flightline and that the security police had raised their Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher to the firing position. I wave away the guys that had come out from under the jet and give PJ, who can see little of what is going on, the ‘fingers across the throat’ sign to shut down. Knowing that something was up, PJ camly hunches his shoulders and raises his hand and asks, “What’s up?”

With visions of F-4 Phantoms mortared in their revetments in Vietnam, and feeling very exposed - and by this time – alone, on the flightline, I was at a complete loss for what hand signal might express our current situation…

I made a gun with my fingers, pointed it at the cockpit, and ‘pulled the trigger’ a couple of times. That obviously did the trick because PJ now looked as anxious as I felt, the throttle pulled straight to cutoff and the canopy was coming up. We hadn’t brought an entry ladder with us and PJ wasn’t waiting. He was a pretty big guy and I did my best to at least slow him down as he went over the side. We ran across the flightline and took shelter in the nearest sandbag bunker over on the runway side of the ramp. Once I got there, I realized that, for the first time since the war had started, I didn’t have my chem gear ‘within arms reach’. In the hurry of getting the aircraft out and run I’d left it sitting in the hangar. So there I sat in the bunker wearing my helmet surrounded by people in masks and gear, feeling like someone who didn’t get a memo. As the Canadian alert sirens faded away, it was nearly silent on the flightline. Looking over the sandbags and down the ramp I could see helmeted heads looking out of the next shelter, about 100 yards down the line. It looked as though we hadn’t been attacked, there was no smoke, no sirens, and within a few minutes (although it seemed like a lot longer) the ‘all clear’ sounded. Everyone looked around with an expression that said, “What the hell was that?” Later that afternoon we heard that the concussions were sonic booms, probably caused by Canadian Hornets.
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Post by MKopack » Sat Jun 30, 2007 12:26 pm

Homeward Bound


By the first of April it was plain to see that our deployment was coming to a close. Our aircraft had redeployed about three weeks previously and with almost every airlift aircraft that we had heading for Spain, we had at least a handful of people aboard.

Day by day, Tent City was shrinking, not only in population, but also in actual size. As people redeployed, those that were remaining were concentrated into other tents allowing us to dismantle those that were now empty. Quite fairly, for the most part, the redeployment was based on a ‘first in, first out’ policy and since I didn’t make it to Doha until about three weeks ‘late’ in arriving, I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon.

Once the aircraft went home there wasn't much work in Phase – no aircraft means nothing to inspect, so, while we still had our daily roll calls, we were usually either back in tent city, or riding around in the transit truck within minutes. Even out of our small group made up of Phase, Transit Alert and Wheel & Tire shop with almost every roll call there were fewer of us to count. Of course, in a lot of ways, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing (especially if you were one of the ones picked to leave); we were now a ‘one-shift’ operation, it was now even easier to get on the list for shopping or beach trips, and when the much cooler jungle boots (as opposed to steel-toed) that were ordered months ago finally arrived, I became the proud new owner of six new pairs of size 12’s – being one of the few left with that sized feet. The new boots were great as mine were pretty worn by this point, but despite the perceived safety hazard, I hadn’t worn steel-toes since I’d finished Tech School…

It had taken us a few days to ‘wrap-up’ our phase dock, to pack up all of our tools and equipment – and to dispose of the stuff that wouldn’t be coming back – leaving room in our connex for souvenirs and personal items. One of the things that ‘didn’t make the cut’ was a nearly full case of petrolatum, or petroleum jelly, which we used for lubricating seals prior to instillation. We had a case, when even a full can would have been overkill, because due to a bit of bad planning, it issued from supply as a case, rather than a can. Luckily it wasn’t by the pallet… It was left with the Qatari Alpha Jet squadron, where they found it pretty funny that the ‘pet’ – a byproduct of the refining process of oil, that was likely drilled near here, was being given ‘back’ to them…

As the days went by and we got closer to April, I began to run the phase roll calls, mainly as there weren’t too many of us left and because nobody else seemed to want it. My main responsibility, well, realistically my only responsibility, was to get a headcount each day and to report it up the line – of course unless you were going to ‘stow away’ on a MAC flight, where else were you going to go? Actually, while ‘stowing away’ sounds a little far fetched, talking to the right member of a flightcrew that was transiting back to Spain could have possibly gotten you a seat. In my case, talking to the cute Canadian Lieutenant at the bottom of the airstairs on the last CC-137 (refueling 707) flight out of Doha went like this:

“How’s it goin’, eh? (In my best Canadian accent…) Are you heading back to (CFB) Trenton?”
“Finally, yes. Just a refueling stop in Germany and we’re going home.”
“I’m from Syracuse, about 100kms past the Thousand Islands Bridge, how about we trade uniforms, and I go home too?”
“Sure, I’ve got an extra set. I don’t know if your bosses would like it though…”

I was kind of half imagining what kind of look I’d get at the Orderly Room if I’d asked for leave paperwork, as I watched the 437 ‘Husky’ Squadron Boeing climb into Doha’s afternoon sky.

We’d all been watching a lot of CNN on TV, reading a lot of papers and listening to a lot of radio to pass the time. It was full of reports of homecomings and happy celebrations for the troops who had already made it home. It left everyone both excited and anxious, ready to go, but with no idea when, whether days, weeks, or months. The lack of work, combined with our new exposure to the outside media and the frustration of just not knowing led to bitterness amongst some people, and the “f’s” on the “Not one more life, Return with Honor” signs kept being painted out. But I knew that the day would come, if not quite soon enough for all, as our numbers became smaller and smaller almost every day.

I found it pretty surprising that even though we probably had 70% less people remaining on base than we’d had at the conclusion of the war, just over a month earlier, that there were close to as many – if not more – rumors running wildly. And we weren’t even starting them… The latest rumors, mostly about our redeployment, ran the gamut from ‘everyone will leave together in X number of days/weeks’ to ‘a few at a time over the next few months’ to ‘the Emir knows that we have to leave Spain, and has offered to allow us to stay in Doha and that we were to form the basis for the new base’. One rumor seemed to be more prevalent than all of the others though. ‘Rumor had it’ that on April 1st (which should have probably been a clue) a commercial aircraft would be arriving to carry the remainder of our personnel back to TJ. The Civil Reserve Air Fleet had been very active throughout the conflict and a lot of aircraft were being used for the redeployment, so it seemed plausible and each day we seemed to hear the rumor from higher and higher sources. Finally, two days before the 1st we heard the official news at our Roll Call. After a final ‘go’ on Monday morning we would dismantle the rest of the tents and pack up the remainder of Tent City in preparation for the afternoon arrival of a 747, which would return us all to Spain – with connections for those who were continuing on to other bases. It seemed that a huge weight had been lifted from us and that the day that we’d been waiting for was nearly here…at least it seemed that way for the next twenty-four hours…until we were told that ‘our ride’ wasn’t coming, that our 747 had been reallocated to a ‘higher priority mission’ who could make better use of this resource – by this time we would have only filled half of the aircraft. From his face you could see that our Commander felt as bad telling us as we did hearing him. “It’ll only be a couple of more days, we’re working on getting some airlift in here, but there are a lot of units that are trying to get home now.” We’d been so close, but our disappointment was tempered when he continued, “On the other hand, we told you that we were leaving Tent City tomorrow, and we still are. Tomorrow morning we’re going to take down the rest of the tents, and we’re moving to the hotel.”

We all went back to our tents for the final night there. Most everyone was already mostly packed, as we had been for a couple of weeks. When we’d been able to get people out, a few at a time, on transit airlift, there was usually less than an hour, and sometimes only a few minutes of notice – so it paid to be prepared.

The next morning I left the tent early – with actual work to do for a change – there were a pair of C-130’s due in that we were going to handle. Both ended up taking longer than I’d expected, so once they launched and we drove back over to Tent City – it almost wasn’t anymore… Some of the tents were completely down and being rolled into their crates, others were steel skeletons being dismantled, and the rest were quickly getting to that point. I actually had to look for D-4, which had been my home for the previous six plus months. My tentmates from AGE had been helping out some others and were now making quick work of our tent. The foyer was already down, walking inside I could see that everything had been cleared out, and much of the tent’s fabric inner liner had been pulled down.

“What can I do to help?”
“Oh, it’s nice of you to show up,
(he said at least partially smiling) don’t worry about it, we’ll be done in no time. All of your stuff is over on the curb.”

I went over and found my ‘stuff’, pulled out my camera, and spent the next hour watching Tent City, which had been home for a thousand members of the 401st TFW(P) turn back into the dusty field that it was before we’d arrived – with the only reminders that we’d been there being the grid of concrete hard patches of sand where tents had been, an asphalt basketball court that now really looked out of place, the flagpoles where the Canadian, French, Qatari and American flags still flapped in the breeze – and the million plus sandbags that had been dumped into and around the muddy pond that had become affectionately (or not so affectionately) known as Lake Nelson.

It was a nice day and although we weren’t going home, we were still going… there were footballs and frisbees out and people were relaxing on the piles of duffel and flight bags. For lunch we had our last meal of MRE’s and Kool-Aid flavored warm water. Soon it was time to load up. We jumped into every vehicle that we had (it would take a couple of trips) with several of us amongst the duffel bags in the back of what looked surprisingly like our wartime ‘Decon 1’ (thankfully no one asked me to drive…) and in a convoy we headed down the dusty and bumpy dirt road out to the back gate.

As we headed out we heard that our destination wouldn’t be the Gulf Sheraton, that was located just down the road from the back gate, but the Doha Sheraton – who had treated us all so well (with trips for swimming, wind-surfing and meals) during our deployment. The Doha Sheraton was located on the far side of Doha, so our convoy of mixed military and civilian trucks and busses made its way along the busy Corniche road. We must have looked pretty unusual, given the number of smiles and waves we received from pedestrians and other motorists as we passed while riding in, and on, our myriad of vehicles while dressed in everything from woodland and desert BDU’s to Hawaiian shirts, shorts, and flip-flops…

As we pulled up to the front entrance of the pyramid styled Sheraton, the ten mile drive had taken us from a land of living in tents with the latrine a football field away, and your shower temperature determined by the strength of the sun, to a land of uniformed doormen, “Please let me get that for you, sir…” mirror polished marble, and where everything that sparkled like gold – probably was.

Check-in was a breeze, it’s nice when your rich uncle (Sam) picks up the tab. I’d be rooming with my friend Chadd, which would work out well as we’d shared a room at Aviano a year previously and I’d been over to his house in the Royal Oaks base housing area at TJ quite a few times to hang out with his family. A group of us walked across the opulent lobby to the awaiting glass elevators. Comparing room numbers, it seemed that the majority of us would be grouped together on the first two floors – although our room wasn’t. It seemed that Chadd and I would be staying a little higher. When we reached our level we were within a few floors of the top of the pyramid, just under the luxury suite level. The room itself was very nice, but the best part was walking out onto the balcony, over ten stories up, overlooking the pool, gardens, swimming lagoon and with a panoramic view of the Arabian Gulf. I spent an hour in the swimming pool sized tub, scrubbing off six months worth of sand and dirt, then took a shower and came out feeling quite human again. Dinner that night was buffet style in a ballroom at the Sheraton’s new convention center, as were all of our meals at the hotel. While it may not have measured up to the previous Thanksgiving feast, I don’t think that anyone complained. Do you like steak? Go ahead and take three…

I ended the night out on the balcony, my feet up and a cold soda in my hand, watching the sky grow dark over the Gulf. I went to bed early that night, lying down in a real bed, in a real room (with walls that didn’t rock with the breeze) for the first time in 195 days – and a million miles from where I’d been just twenty-four hours before.

The next morning brought good news. It appeared that a C-5 would be in on the 5th to bring the majority of us back to Spain. Not quite all of us would be going yet though, several people had been picked, and they were looking for volunteers to stay behind for a couple of weeks to complete closing down of the base and the removal of the unused munitions from the bomb dump. It actually didn’t sound like a bad deal at all – staying in the hotel, hanging out by the pool, eating in the Sheraton’s restaurants with a meal card – and driving back to the base for a day or two a week when the trucks came to remove the bombs. At least for a short time I considered volunteering, but you know what they say about volunteering in the military… A couple of the Transit guys went back to the base to ‘turn’ some airlifters, but the rest of us spent our last day in the Gulf relaxing. Some went back down to the souq for some final shopping, but most of us just kicked back on the beach under the palm trees, swimming, windsurfing, or hanging out by the pool.

The 5th of April dawned bright and sunny. It was already hot as I walked out on to the balcony. Summer was returning to Qatar, but it didn’t matter to me. I put on my Desert BDU’s, they not only seemed ‘fitting’ but also they were really the only uniform I had that was still close to serviceable. The bus was leaving for the base at 9AM, but since Thor had to go and catch our jet, I rode along with him. After I picked up some last minute post cards from the shop in the lobby, I put my stuff in the back of the Land Cruiser, and we made our way, for my final time, back through Doha, down the Corniche, and to the base. Through security at the back gate, down the dirt road, trailing a column of dust. We passed through the inner gate, and across the now barren field that had, until a few days before, been our Tent City, and onto the flightline. The line looked empty without an aircraft in sight, our F-16’s were back at home, as were the Canadian Hornets, and the French Mirages. It seemed that today would be the day that we’d be following them. Home.

After a while, people in ones and twos started coming out of the front hangar doors and lining their bags up along a flightline strips. It was time to leave the ‘Follow Me’ truck and become a passenger, so Thor dropped me off and I added my bags to the slowly growing line. It was actually quite a bit later that I found out the reason that everyone was coming out of the hangar singly, was that they had been going through a security and customs check… Oh well, they’ll get over it.

A small group of us pulled chairs against the hangar doors to wait. It was hot, but we didn’t care. Someone (who should probably remain nameless) produced a bottle of rum from their bag, some of which was poured into a cup and passed around. Everyone was pretty quiet, you could feel the nervous anticipation in the air, and we all had one eye towards the sky.

Not long after its scheduled time, appearing through Doha’s haze, appeared our lumbering, ‘lizard-painted’ Galaxy. As it touched down smiles of relief appeared on all of our faces. We’d expected them to refuel over on the commercial side of the field prior to coming over to the base, but the C-5 back-taxied and turned off straight up onto ‘our’ ramp. She was Travis based 007 – our ‘Freedom Bird’. It took an hour or two for all of the freight along with our now palletized bags to be loaded, but soon it was time for us to make the walk across the ramp, into the cargo compartment, and up the stairs to the upper deck passenger compartment. The engines started and we began to taxi – to, what soon became apparent to us, was the other side of the field for fuel – so close… Once the engines were shut down it didn’t take long for the afternoon heat to overcome the meager air conditioning put out by the APU. The C-5 is a big airplane and it holds a lot of fuel, so we were there for about an hour – although it seemed like a lot longer. Then the engines were restarted, and we taxied out to the runway. With the Galaxy’s characteristic moan, we accelerated, rotated, and we were off, with a cheer erupting through the cabin.

It was a long flight, but quite frankly, I don’t remember any of it. Soon we could hear the engines throttling back, the hydraulics lowering the flaps and finally the landing gear. Another cheer went through the cabin as we felt the huge airlifter touch down on Torrejon’s runway. We taxied to the ramp and the engines shut down. After 198 days – home.

It was after midnight when the loadmaster came up to tell us that it would be just a few minutes before we could deplane (much to everyone’s anxious dismay). The next face we saw was one that I’ll never forget, Colonel Jerry Nelson, our Wing Commander and leader for the past seven months stepped up into the passenger compartment to welcome us home (as I was told he did for every aircraft returning from Qatar, no matter the time of day or night) “I don’t want to see any of you on base for a week from right now. If anyone gives you a problem with that, tell them to call me and I’ll handle it.” He shook every one of our hands and returned every salute as we stepped off of the airstairs into the cold Spanish night. A bus (after all, this was still the Air Force) carried us to the ‘reception center’ in Phase’s own Hangar 5.

We’ve all become accustomed to seeing pictures and video of troops returning from overseas, families running into their open arms, the reunions, the introductions, that’s how it was, almost like out of a movie - except for those of us who were single and living in the dorm. In a way, it was almost depressing to walk into the hangar, knowing that there was no one there to greet you. Although we were ‘home’, it wasn’t like most of the homecomings we’d been watching on CNN; I was still three thousand miles from home. The hangar was set up for what looked like a big ‘Welcome Home’ party, which unfortunately had ended four or five hours before, but there was a much appreciated barrel, filled with iced down beer, which I’ll admit, has probably never tasted better. Once we had our bags, we were released and the hangar had cleared out pretty quickly. I had a pair of heavy duffel bags, and threw one over my shoulder as the hangar lights were being shut off. It was about one in the morning when I walked alone out the hangar door, into the snow flurry filled cold darkness, to walk the half-mile back to the dorm.

And that was it, I was back at the dorm, where 198 days before I’d received ‘the Call’. It was over.
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