Big changes are happening at www.ccriley.com, and I hope my readers are as excited as I am! I’ll be posting some new directions within the next couple of days, but first this is a recounting of an experience at the beginning of Desert Storm. This is from my Uncle-in-law, and I thought that it was more than worth sharing. My favorite part of this is that Mr. Jerry Cummins remembers not just a war, but individuals. I found this inspiring and enlightening, and I hope you do as well. Please comment and let me know what you think, but remember, despite your view of war, this is a personal reflection, and any negative or deriding comments will be deleted. Also, this has been copyrighted, so don’t steal. Ask first. =)
For some, perhaps, today is just another day, but for many Buds, including myself, it is the USAF’s 20th anniversary on the initiation of DESERT STORM. Though many broad and glowing words may be expressed today, my perspective was of the people involved, our sweat and intensity.
So, from the “cockpit trenches”… a war story:
I stood by my jet, 17 Jan 1991, at Oh-dark-thirty and watched the first package of F-4Gs takeoff. We were right behind them. Afterburning jets are always impressive to watch at night as the blue flame extends twenty feet behind the jet and the vibration seems to shake your whole body with intensity.
Our package of eight was to protect the first strike package to Baghdad. The George boys taking off in front were purposed to “give a black eye” to those Iraqi IADS (Integrated Air Defenses) before we got there ( On a side note, George AFB is now closed). We shook hands with our crewchiefs, sort of saying, “Goodbye, thanks for everything, hope to see you soon,” and climbed into the jet, our minds on a hundred different things.
AF folks need to remember that in 1990, we fully respected Iraq as the fourth largest and most experienced army in the world. They had a huge, battle-hardened air defense net that was up to date with some of the latest threats. Our perspective then was vastly different from what it is now. In 1990 and early ’91, I was staring down the guide rails of a Soviet SA-6 and had a healthy amount of respect for their capabilities. I had the day prior even told my flight lead that several of our flight were probably not going to make it back (of course, I had excluded myself from that tally).
Takeoff, rejoin and tanker rendezvous were uneventful and we pressed up north to cross the border. Although the F-4G had a digital inertial navigation system there was no moving map display like the sexy jets of today, so the old “time-distance -heading” applied for when we crossed into Iraq. I can’t quite remember what I said at that point. It was either “Well, we’re in,” or “We are now entering the Mutari Nebula…” Spock’s famous quote as the Starship Enterprise entered a gas cloud in “Wrath of Kahn”. I looked down to see if anything could possibly look different in the pitch black and was surprised to see a series of glowing red “dashes” arcing behind and well below us. “What could those be… shoulder-fired SA-7s?” I always thought AAA would look like dots not dashes. Everybody was yaking on the radio, to the point where I finally transmitted, “BREVITY!!” The com word for keeping your radio transmissions minimal. “What? Have we not briefed, re-briefed, practiced and chairflown this mission a hundred times??” I thought. We were sneaking up on Saddam with a loudspeaker.
I was number eight of the eight-ship. A great place to be for an Iraqi gunner. Fuel was so tight to get to Baghdad and do our business that it was more or less a straight line north from our refueling tanker orbiting in Saudi Arabia to the target area. The F-111s and F-117s we were protecting had enough gas to offset behind us and enter from the east. AWACS, I later learned, had offset itself so far to the south that we were out of its coverage; in other words, they couldn’t help us if an Iraqi MiG aircraft tookoff after us. HHQ had also decided there would be no F-15 Eagle coverage for our mission either- they were back protecting the HVA’s (Higher Value Assets). We were on our own. Each jet was armed with 2 AIM-7 radar guided air-to-air missiles, 2 AGM-88 HARMs and a jamming pod. No one turned the jamming pod past standby because it interfered with our ranging-location system for taking out the Iraqi IADS.
Almost there, my pilot, Capt. Pat “Curly” Pence and I remarked how crazy it was that the airfield we were nearing still had all its lights on. Someone said over the radio “Hey, I think someone taking off down there!” The USAF Thunderbirds couldn’t have coordinated a better maneuver as 8 jets, in pitch black, single file behind each other, flipped upside to take a look. There we were, hanging in our straps straining to look at our impending predicament. “Uh no, it’s just a truck” [driving down the runway] Somebody else said. I reached over and turned the Adrenaline switch from overload back to max.
My attention returned to my ranging display to see what was up ahead. The F-4G has (notice the tense) an unmatched tactical radar detection capability that gives it a 360 degree FOV (Field Of View) for launching HARMs against enemy radars. To my amazement, my system was picking up an SA-8 100 miles away! “Why would that [short range] guy be radiating now? We’re the closest thing coming” What I had forgotten was that an elite squad of AF folks (affectionately known as “Pumba’s Party”), close to the Iraqi border, had launched a number of BQM-74 drones (like the one sitting in front of this building) especially for our package. They were just now starting to stimulate those Iraqi SAMs. Their “sacrifice” gave us the look that we needed to start targeting. My priority was an SA-6 and an SA-8 providing point defense for the Salman Pak nuclear/bio facility. The big guys at the top wanted the strikers to take these kind of sites out first so that Saddam would have a tougher time responding with weapons of mass destruction.
Up in front, the first HARM I heard being fired was announced by Capt. Derrick “Bo” Knight as he transmitted “M-m-m-magnum!” I knew others had fired before him, he was just the first to say it over the radio. “Whew, I think he’s nervous!” I thought. Our targets were coming into range. It is difficult at this point to write about how busy it was. Everybody was blabbing on the radio. AAA/SAMs were flying everywhere, and I was having a, shall we say, intense time with my higher tasks at hand. They were, in no particular order:
– maintaining radar trail with my flight lead (5-7 mile in front)
– navigating to/keeping SA on the target area
– opening up radar search for incoming Iraqi MiG aircraft
– ranging on the prioritized Iraqi SAMs to ultimately fire HARMs at them
– talking to what’s-his-name in the front seat
In the F-4G, an EWO cannot see out the front because his electronic gear takes up the entire front panel. He sees only “historical events”. The front seat, tasked to do that pilot thing gets an eyeful. Eight ship lead, Maj. “Black Bart” Quinn remarked to me later, “I had taped my flight glove over the repeater scope of what the EWO was seeing enroute to Baghdad because the display was too bright at night. In the target area with everything flying about, I lifted up my glove once and peeked to see what was going on. Shuddering, I returned that glove to its rightful position…”
It was my turn to fire, but as we swung our jet to fire face on, the computer dumped all the information I had gathered. Mystified, I redirected our flight path to regather necessary information for launching a high quality shot. Closer to the threats now, we turned hard to face them again. Just as my thumb closed over the red pickle button on the stick the information dumped again! (Reminds me of our network here). I yelled to Curly that we had a problem and directed him to offset again. This time, just before the threat came to the nose I fired off the missile. Now, an 800 pound, Mach 3 missile does not leave its home of residence politely. But, at that moment, I was concentrating more on our next threat. My secret handshake with Curly was that he would get to fire the second missile. With the known malfunction of our system I knew we could trust that the Iraqi radars were still up and active, besides, we had traveled in closer to Baghdad than the other 7 Weasels and had to get out of there ASAP. I toggled to the next priority target and yelled, “PICKLE CURLY!” The next HARM ignited and chunked off the rail into the black and fire below. We had no time for BDA (Battle Damage Assessment); it was time to go. In retrospect I suppose I could have carefully waited for missile time of flight flyout to see if the impact brought down the SAM, but we were busy. Lead was somewhere in front, and stuff was still flying up at us. We had expended all of our chaff and our fuel state was lower than expected. I had never seen so many SAMs up and illuminating as that night. Two SA-2s were up and looking at us as we turned to head south/home. “Don’t mind us!” If it was possible for 55,000 pounds of steel to just sneak by something… well, we attempted to do just that. As we passed out of their threat rings Curly and I let out a collective sigh of relief. It was then that I noticed that my arms were almost violently shaking! Curly had turned the air conditioner to Full Cold and it was only now that I realized I was freezing! “C-C-Curly! T-t-turn up the heat!”
4.5 hours after takeoff we returned- all unscathed. The maintenance folks were jumping up and down, waving their arms. I unbuckled and stood up on the ejection seat and waved back at them. We were delirious with exhaustion and joy. I remember pumping hands with my maintenance officer and thanking him profusely as we all laughed and said what words we could. The next mission was only 6 hours away…
It’s at this point that the author normally puts forward some inspiring platitudes and generalities about his experience. I leave you to pull those out yourself. Tonight I shall raise a glass to toast those brave men I flew with and to those of you who supported us and gave us our ability to fight and win from the front to the backlines.
Jerry “Ima” Cummin
Wild Weasel, Forever