War Stories - Page 2: Pope's Deployment
Since I wasn't going to be part of the initial deployment, I was put in charge of the launch. As OIC (Officer-In-Charge) of Maintenance Control, that was my job anyway. While everyone was attending briefings and getting vaccinations, I was inspecting aircraft and checking cargo plans. All the Aircraft were loaded on Monday for a Tuesday launch. We were ready to go but we still didn't have the order or the itinerary. Which meant we knew we were going, we just didn't know when or where.
The answer came the next day. The planes began leaving late Tuesday morning. Normally a En Route Support Team (ESTA) coordinates support equipment along the route before departure, but since we didn't know where they were going, they just took off. The planes departed without problem, but we didn't know where they would refuel. How would we get them spare parts? If a plane broke would the maintenance team stay to fix it or would we send another team? There were too many questions those first few hours.
We had some excitement when one of the maintenance technicians refused to get on the aircraft. He said something about not wanting to fight for Arabs. Captain Collins said he'd been warned before hand and had the military police waiting. I think that sergeant is still in jail.
Egypt Day One
We got a call from Gloria (Captain Edwards) that they had arrived safely in Egypt and were waiting for clearance into Saudi Arabia. Several of the planes had developed problems on the long flight, but nothing serious. They were working really hard through the night to continue on the next day.
The big joke was Gloria's boss. She was so arrogant that she spent every minute micromanaging every repair action. Finally, while inspecting a fuel leak, she walked off the top of an aircraft and broke her collar bone. She didn't want to be the first person in the war to be sent home, so she never went to the hospital. Would you call that guts or stupidity?
Gloria says the were very nervous when they crossed Saudi Arabian airspace the next day. They weren't positive they had clearance and didn't know where they were suppose to land. They thought the Saudi's might shoot them down or worse, have to crash land in the middle of the desert. They finally received directions to land at what became known as LZ 94 and LZ95.
Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
Meanwhile, here at Pope AFB, planes were falling out of the sky like rain. Although we were exclusively a C-130 base but C-5 Galaxies and C-141 Starlifters were landing one after the other to pickup and deploy troops from the 82nd airborne division from the neighboring Fort Bragg. At one point I counted five 747s in a row parked on green ramp. Pope AFB had become the staging base for what seemed like the entire US Army. Since most of our personnel had already departed, we were being run ragged refueling and repairing aircraft. Headquarters finally sent us some support teams from other bases when we convinced them that there was no one left at Pope and no one qualified to repair C-5 aircraft.
The support teams actually set-up tents around the base to be nearer the aircraft. I felt really bad for them. But I guess a tent in North Carolina is better than one in the desert.
It was interesting to watch the TV crews broadcasting from outside my office. The TV showed the hundreds of Army soldiers loading the aircraft.
Is that safe?
After a couple of dozen C-5, C-141, and 747 departed Pope AFB, we got this call from an air traffic controller in Germany. He wanted to know what kind of explosives were being carried on the aircraft so he could park the aircraft accordingly. Since none of us knew, I called the command post. He didn't know either and suggested I check with an Army coordinator down with the aircraft. I took a walk out on to the aircraft ramp looking for an Army coordinator.
Imagine my surprise as I watched these guys passing out grenades and land-mines like they were candy at Halloween. 400 Army rangers times two hand grenades times one land mine, crammed in a 747 landing in Germany in a few hours: Not to mention their proximity to refueling aircraft.
I wish I could have been there when the Air Force Generals laid into the Army Generals. But they immediately halted the free give-away and the aircraft were rerouted all over Europe. Luckily nothing happened.
A few years later two planes collided over Pope AFB
and one crashed into planes and people on the ground. Over a hundred were killed and injured while waiting to load into aircraft. I wonder how many hundreds would have been killed that night, if one of those grenades went off inside a 747 full of fuel.