War Stories - Waiting For It To Start

Who's Next?

Starting a few days after the initial departure of our main contingent, we started getting requests for specialists. One day an engine mechanic, another day a radar technician. Little by little they were shipping everyone left behind at Pope into the Gulf. Everyone worked and waited their turn to be called up.

The really scary thing, was that they weren't joining up with our troop in the Gulf. They were being assigned to other units with personnel shortages and in need of special skills. Imagine spending years preparing to go to war with one group and then getting separated and thrown into another. It was really hard for them. And, since they were the "new guys" they got assigned all the lousy jobs and usually put on the night shift.

It was really hard on the spouses too. Since these people weren't with our units, we would lose all track of where they were. They weren't able to pass information back easily and got lost in the system for weeks. We, in the MOC, tried to act as a link, but we just couldn't get through most of the time either. Our people were too spread out and there just weren't enough phone lines. The families would go crazy with concern.


As the weeks passed, the volume of planes dwindled. Of course since there were so few people left, we all had to work additional hours. I was working 6pm to 6am six days a week. It wasn't hard, but was exhausting.

Pretty soon we were getting bored and tried to find ways to stay awake. The next few weeks were spent playing Spades: a card games similar to Hearts. I felt kind of guilty, since I was sure every one else on the base was working hard. So I decided to leave the control center and look in on the other maintenance shops. With Brick (hand radio) in hand I started looking around. I tell you there was a card game in every single room I looked in. There were tournaments of poker, dungeons and dragons, chess, and everything else imaginable. It made them uncomfortable when I walked in, I was an officer after all, so I went back to my hole in the ground. If there wasn't work to do, I figured I'd leave them alone. We were working outrageous hours, let them rest while they can.

One of the guys donated his VCR to the cause and brought it into the office. He figured he was spending more time at work than at home anyway. Someone else brought in Total Recall and Pretty Woman. I think we watched them six times each that week. I'm so sick of Julia Roberts now.


Whenever a military base is alerted, a crisis action team (CAT) convenes in a secure location. The team and the room they are in are referred to as "the CAT". Usually just the high ranking base officers: colonels at Pope AFB, are assigned to it. Of course, being a Lieutenant, the only chance I would normally get to see the CAT was when I had to deliver briefing slides. But as the weeks passed, and the staffing grew thinner, the colonels passed on the late shifts to the majors, who passed it on to the captains. Imagine my surprise when I was told I would be pulling the night shift in the CAT for maintenance.

The first time I answered a phone call directly from the pentagon asking the status of a particular departure was pretty scary. But after a while it all became routine. Still, it felt kind of good to have all that responsibility. Some nights a huge contingent of aircraft would pass through as new units were activated and deployed. And I knew I was a key person in the whole operation.

As Christmas approached, I wondered if I'd actually manage to stay home this time. They say the third time is the charm. But we started to hear rumors of a Germany deployment. Since the planes in the desert were overdue for heavy maintenance, and we had all those bases in Germany doing nothing, they decided to set-up a Desert Repair Station in Germany. Of course the bases in Germany were empty too, so the idea was to round-up the left-over people from the US and move them to Germany. My third Christmas in a row was about to be ruined.

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©2002 Stefan Oestreicher
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Last revised Mar 26, 2002