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Air-war' Starts Earlier than Most People Remember

'Air-war' Starts Earlier than Most People Remember

By Staff Sgt. Bob Oldham, 314th Airlift Wing Public Affairs.

Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas -- January 17, 2001 (AFPN) -- While Jan. 17 marked the 10-year anniversary of the start of the air war in the Persian Gulf, for airmen in the cargo-airlift community, the "war" perhaps started five months earlier around Aug. 7, 1990.

 While Jan. 17 marked the 10-year anniversary of the start of the air war in the Persian Gulf, for airmen in the cargo-airlift community, the "war" perhaps started five months earlier around Aug. 7, 1990.

Photo by Retired Senior Master Sgt. Rose Reynolds

These airmen did not fire missiles at Iraq or drop bombs on members of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard. Instead, they had the laborious task of transporting troops and cargo to Southwest Asia and providing intra-theater airlift once the troops and cargo arrived in country.

At the core of intra-theater airlift was the C-130 Hercules, 16 of which were sent from Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., to the region.

At 12:55 a.m. Aug. 7, officials here received a secure telephone call from 22nd Air Force to form the base's crisis action team, which is where key base leaders, such as group commanders, wing staff chiefs and other mission-critical people meet to "go to war."

On Aug. 14, the 16 C-130s and more than 400 people, primarily aircrew and maintenance troops, began departing. On Aug. 21, a civilian Boeing 747 left the base with more than 250 people and support equipment. The majority of which were deployed to Bateen Air Base, which is near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, to form the 1620th Tactical Airlift Wing (Provisional). Others were sent to bases throughout the region.

Then-Staff Sgt. D.L. Thompson, a flight engineer who is now a technical sergeant assigned to the 314th Operations Support Squadron, was on the first C-130 that left the base.

"I remember when we threw on the power on the airplane," he said. "It took it a few minutes to get rolling because it was so heavy, and it was amazing how much runway it took up to get that thing airborne."

Two days later, they arrived at Bateen Air Base.

"It was a nice long runway. It looked like a desert environment," he said. "The initial shock of where I was at was probably when we opened the crew entrance door, and it was so humid. Arkansas is very humid, but it's nothing compared to Bateen. It is humid as all get out, and in August it was bad."

He said there was one gigantic hangar, and everybody was sleeping in it until "hooches" arrived at a later date.

Crews were notified around midnight, each night, if they were flying the next day. In some cases, Thompson said, crews didn't receive their full crew rest before being dispatched to fly another mission.

He said he also remembers how uncomfortable the country was.

"You couldn't put on shorts and a T-shirt without your body just drenching in sweat," he said.

Insects were also a problem in the region.

"No matter what you did, those flies would just try to get into any opening they could," he said. "Your ears, your nose, your mouth; they were just a nuisance. You couldn't get away from them."

And sand was everywhere, he said.

Thompson recalls hauling a lot of Meals, Ready to Eat; troops; spare parts and bombs to various points throughout Saudi Arabia to prepare for the Jan. 17 air war and the eventual ground war, which only lasted 100 hours, he said.

One memory for Thompson is how service members were creating ways to make MREs more palatable.

"Hot sauce became a very popular item," he said. "You didn't have to worry about heating anything up, because all you had to do was put the MRE, like the ham slice, on top of the airplane, and it would be ready in 10 minutes. And I mean it would be boiling; it would be so hot."

While the base's C-130s accounted for 10 percent of the total C-130 force in the region, the base's cargo aircraft performed 18 percent of the C-130 airlift used during operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Although Thompson had to return home early before the Jan. 17 air war started because of a knee injury, others, like then-2nd Lt. Miles Price, who was newly assigned to Pope AFB, N.C., and is now a major assigned to the 314th OSS, stayed in the region to continue hauling cargo and supplies.

Price started his tour in the gulf at Thumrait, Oman. Five months later, the unit he was with moved to Dhahran AB, Saudi Arabia. Dhahran was the site of a scud missile attack, which struck a dormitory killing 28 service members and wounding another 98.

"One of the scariest things was listening to the (Patriot anti-missile batteries) go off," Price said. "The first time the Patriots went off, I thought it was the end of the world."

There was no mistaking the thunderous sound of a Patriot missile as it screamed through the air to seek out an incoming Scud missile, he said.

Dhahran AB is one place where Army troops arrived in country and C-130 crews flew them to airfields near the front lines.

"They would march out a whole bunch of troops who were loaded down with so much stuff they could barely walk," Price said. "You'd bring them into the aircraft, and we wouldn't put the seats down or anything. We just walked them in like cattle and shoved in as many as we could, and they'd sit on the floor of the aircraft because we could get more in that way. Then we'd close up the doors."

One time, he and his crew had just got the plane loaded with troops when over the radio they learned they were under attack.

"I walked down the stairs from the flight deck, and right there by the door was the real young-looking kid," he said. "It was dark and loud, and I'd been up all day; it was night time. I asked him 'How's it going?' He said 'It's going OK, sir.'"

We talked for a few seconds, and "you could tell he was just (pale) white, nervous and scared," Price said.

The Army troop had just arrived about two hours earlier from California. Price told the young Army troop they were under attack, and he said the troop's eyes "got big as saucers."

"'We're under attack? Shouldn't we do something?'" Major Price said the soldier asked.

The young lieutenant told him there was not much they could do. If a missile landed anywhere near the ramp, the fuel stored underground would probably have ignited and blown everything up.

In some cases, Hercules crews didn't even land on established runways.

On the border of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was a two-lane highway that was converted into a landing strip for C-130s. The Army parked a Humvee at one end, bulldozed out into the sand to create a bypass road for traffic and put another Humvee at the other end to mark the end of the runway.

"It was kind of cool," Price said. "The guy in the Humvee is sitting right there with his machine gun, and you're coming in right over his head. Then you take off right over the other Humvee."

Crews had about 3 feet on either side of the tires before they would hit sand.

"I hope the pilot makes a good landing," Price remembers thinking during these landings.

"I think (C-130 crews) are unsung heroes," he said. "The stuff that they moved, the work that they did and the conditions they did it in nobody seems to care about."

On Feb. 28 one of the base's C-130s was the third aircraft to land at the newly liberated Kuwait airport in Kuwait City. Aircrew members described that airport as "being almost entirely destroyed."

More than 300 wing members redeployed home Mar. 27, 1991, and were greeted by more than 5,000 well-wishers, friends and family. (Tech. Sgt. Devin Driskell, 314th Airlift Wing historian contributed to this article.)


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).