The Pre-Invasion Briefing
Colonel Bailey gathered all the maintenance personnel in the main maintenance shelter and announced that the ground assault was immanent. He stressed that just because we're at war now doesn't mean we throw out the regulations and do what we want, but instead follow them even more closely.
Of course everyone was disappointed to hear this. We were all tired of those silly rules and were ready to throw out the regulations and get the mission done. [Rules like: you have to were eye protection whenever you use a hammer, you can't climb out the side of a pick-up truck - someone has to lower the hatch and you have to go out the back.] We were all anxious to get the mission done.
For the next 48 hours we flew dozens of missions to Log Base Charlie, moving the Army for what was to become known as the "Great Hail Mary Pass." For us in maintenance in meant a few days of intense hours of work in the morning launching the missions and in the evening recovering and fixing. It wasn't too bad and it felt great to be actively contributing.
The Ground War Starts
Then it finally started. On February 23rd the Armies started the great attack across the desert. You've read about and seen it on CNN so I don't need to go into it here, but for us it wasn't as exciting. We kind of sat around waiting for someone to call for airlift. For two days we did almost nothing
Then we got a call for a resupply of ammunition, just as a thunderstorm rolled in. We weren't going to let a little rain stop us, so as the storm blew all around us we refueled and prepared the aircraft. Then the crew taxied the planes over to the aerial port to be loaded. But Guess What Happened? This private refused to load the aircraft because there was lighting in the distance. There's a regulation that says no to do work outside if there is lighting and he quoted Colonel Bailey who said to follow the regulations TO-THE-LETTER. While the Army guys were dodging bullets and tip-toeing around mines, junior wouldn't do his job because he might get wet. We spent hours arguing with everyone in MAPS, but they would NOT load the planes. We were really upset. And the Army was really upset.
Several hours later we loaded the aircraft and completed the mission. Colonel Bailey congratulated the little weasel on doing the right thing. Go figure.
We flew several missions over the next few days: mostly resupply and movement of EPWs (Enemy prisoners of War). Nothing really intense or exciting. I was really anti-climactic. Since we were far from the front lines and the flying mission wasn't very heavy anymore, we really had a tough time believing we were actually at war. Several members of my maintenance crew flew into Kuwait City to setup operating fields, and many others hopped on-board for the ride and to take a look around.
Everyday, when the missile detection system alerted us to a missile launch in Iraq, we would move to the bomb shelters. We took the alerts very seriously since we were now in the middle of the Ground War. Still, since there was little chance of a direct hit on us, we would often pop our heads out to see the show. Late in the evening of February 25th we were alerted to a missile attack and went to the shelters. Shortly thereafter we were given the all clear since the missile wasn't near us but was instead heading out into the Gulf of Arabia past Daharan. I actually watched the scud missile fly past us. A few minutes later the missile broke-up in flight and killed all those people. It was upsetting to know our defense systems had been wrong and that it just as easily could have been us.
What I remember most clearly was the destruction and the smell. The Iraqis had set many of the oil wells on fire, and the oil fires had turned the sky black. Even a few hundred miles south, the air still stank of burning oil. It wasn't until months later when I watched a special on PBS that I realized how many oil fires there were. I really respect those firefighters for putting them out.
Look What I Got
Of course we were told not to collect souvenirs, we didn't want to give the impression of being a bunch of wild looters. But of course everybody did. Some idiots actually brought back live land-mines. It got pretty hairy sometimes, finding explosives where you didn't expect to, but luckily nothing happened. I can't really publicly announce what I got or my friends got, but at least we didn't steal cars and people's belongings like we saw on TV. I saw someone with a propoganda leaflet, but I didn't get one. But we didn't come home empty handed either. If you visit Pope AFB in North Carolina, you might see a piece of Iraqi field artillery, I wonder where that came from? Considering that it weighs a few hundred pounds and is bigger than a car, I wonder how they got it home without anyone noticing? *wink* *wink*
I can tell you that I brought back a case of used A-10 shells. I handed about 24 out to the crew left behind at Pope. They're decorating desks all over the world by now. I had one engraved with "Desert Storm - KFIA - Red AMU." If I every get a job with an office and a desk I plan to have it prominently displayed.
The Storm Ends
Almost as quickly as it started, a little while later it was over. They signed a peace treaty on February 27th and by the 30th we were planning the return home. Since Pope AFB had been one of the first bases in, they were going to be the first ones out. On March 15th, Pope AFB personnel started the trip home.
©2002 Stefan Oestreicher
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Last revised Mar 26, 2002