Slight change of focus today. I do not post much about the book or of its progress. I prefer to work in the shadows and one day I hope to surprise you with a completed work. This week I have been working on the book and would like to offer some backstory for your review. Everything you are reading has been written in the last 48 hours. So it is hot off the press and this feels like the backstory that I imagined but up to now have not been able to convey in the work. I know there are some grammar issues but at this point, I am more concerned about content. Does it make sense, does it give credibility to the SOG, does it give you a sense of the historical context, and can you separate fact from fiction?
I am also reconsidering the name of the book. The novel has been called the Soldiers of God (SOG), up to this point. Firmus Of Yahweh is Latin for Soldier of God. I have been thinking that Firmus Of Yahweh (The Book of Lot) might be a better name for the novel. Do you like it? Hate it? If you have a thought either way, I would be glad to hear about it.
I thank you in advance for reading and I thank everyone of you for your continued support. It is very comforting to know that you guys are out there. I feel all of the support and I see evidence of it everywhere I look.
Scene set-up. Eddie is being nominated for induction into the SOG. He is standing on a stage with Abraham, Noah, and Sampson.
Abraham faced Eddie before speaking. “Eddie, we envision ourselves as men and women who defend God and protect those who can’t protect themselves. We have a code of conduct that we follow very strictly and we know that you will also follow it. You proved it tonight both to God, and to us. But most importantly you proved it to yourself. We gave you every indication that we wanted you to murder Jose tonight. We gave you the means, the motivation and the justification. On the deck of the All’ alba del mare you made the decision that his life was more valuable than anything else in your world. I hope that you can accept the fact that you are worthy to join us on this crusade.”
Abraham continued. “For centuries men and women like us have been fighting evil. Our order was established in the fifteenth century and has existed to this day. Our forefathers have never been perfect because at our core we are human. However, they strived to remain in the shadows, working in secret, while always being faithful, loyal and dedicated to their mission, their fellow servants and to God. They have always been and Lord willing, we always will be. We are descendants of the great warrior class, the guardians of the Vatican.”
“The Papal Swiss Guard was originally formed by Pope Julius II in 1506. Three years later, Julius created a secret conturbenium. The squad of eight soldiers were tasked to rescue Julius’s illegitimate daughter, Felice della Rovere from the enemies of the Pope. She had been captured during the War of the Holy League in the battle of Venice. According to Papal history, they snuck deep behind enemy lines, rescued the lady, evaded for seven days before escaping. They succeeded in the mists of a battle which was eventually lost by forces supporting the Vatican.”
“Their victory showed Julius that a small group of highly skilled warriors could succeed where traditional armies could not. They continued to perform special missions for the Pope until Julius’s death in 1512. Lorenso I de’ Medici was the patriarch of a powerful Italian banking family during this time. He had serious reservations about the Firmus remaining under direct Papal control. It was because of his influence his second son, Cardinal Giovanni de’ Medici became Pope Leo X. His first official decree was to disbanded the conturbenium. The third son of Lorenzo, Giuliano promptly reached out to the conturbenium and offered them the opportunity to work directly for the Medici Family. The three men became the original trinity calling themselves the father, son and ghost. Their orders were clear, save those who could not save themselves.”
“The eight Swiss warriors accepted the assignment and took the title Firmus Of Yahweh. They grew their ranks directly from the Swiss Guard forming a formidable force that roamed the world searching out evil and destroying it. As the known world grew, so did the ranks of the Firmus. In the mid-1700’s, discussions were held about expanding the Firmus to the New World. The opportunity to crossover to the new world came from Filippo Mazzei.”
“Mazzei was a respected doctor, who chose to leave Italy and minster to patients in Egypt. In the summer of 1760, Mazzei was brutally attacked outside his home in Cairo. The roaming band of thieves kidnapped him and his family holding them captive for seventy-two days before they were rescued by the Firmus. He recognized one of the Firmus because Mazzei had bandaged his wounds a year earlier. At Mazzei’s insistence, the comandante of the Firmus arranged a meeting for Mazzei with the Medici family. He persuaded the Medici family to allow him to become a comandante della guardia and explore opportunities to form a new detachment. He assumed a position with the Medici Bank as a mercantile importer and deployed to London. His mission was to investigate opportunities in the New World. Setting up business in London, Mazzei found favor with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Adams, who were very open to the idea of Firmus. The Firmus of Yahweh began operations in the colony of Virginia in 1763 under the command of Mazzei and his new colonial friends.”
“As the Revolutionary War heated up, they were placed under the operational control of General George Washington. The Colonial Firmus trained the infamous Culper Spy Ring, and engaged in limited combat action against the British. Their most notable mission began innocently as a random interdiction mission. Three members of the Firmus masqueraded as highway robbers and took custody of British Major John Andre’ and his staff. Major Andre’ had a document in his possession that incriminated American General Benedict Arnold of conspiring to surrender West Point to the British in exchange for 20,000 pounds and the promise of the rank of General in the British Army. The Firmus acted quickly and apprehended Arnold before he could escape. They held Arnold in a farm house outside West Point and were prepared to transport him to stand in front of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.”
“General Washington dispatched his chief spy Major Benjamin Tallmadge and a secret team to take control of Arnold. Having trained Major Tallmadge and his team, the Firmus believed that Major Tallmadge was going to deliver Arnold to stand trial for his treason. Tallmadge lied to gain control of Arnold taking him directly to the British forces in New York City. Arnold was secretly exchanged for the release of thirty seven captured Colonial Officers. This action caused a severe rift between Washington and Mazzei. Eventually, Mazzei withdrew the Firmus from Washington’s command and placed them under the command of Thomas Jefferson.”
“Jefferson, Adams and Patrick Henry became the first American trinity giving direction, instruction and support to the Firmus. The Firmus has evolved over the years but our mission has not. We are dedicated to protecting those who cannot protect themselves and we destroy evil where we find it. Today, we are proud to induct you, Edward Paul Norris into our order.”
Noah stepped forward holding a silver tray. A baseball sized pendant rested on purple cloth. “Eddie, this is one of the very few surviving artifacts that document the story Abraham just told you. We know that there are three existing documents that survived to tell the story of the Firmus. They reside in the Vatican under lock, key and heavy guard. We have in our possession this pendent and the sword that Sampson is holding. They were acquired following the fall of the Italian government in June 1944. Members of the Firmus invaded the Vatican and secretly removed them from the Vatican vault. Four days later, Pope Pius XII issued a secret decree that is still in effect to this day. Until the pendant and sword are returned, the Firmus is considered a terrorist organization by the Vatican and an enemy of the State. He placed the remaining items in the most secure levels in his facility resting with documents that have the highest importance to the Vatican.”
“This pendant was made by Michelangelo himself and is the official symbol of the Firmus. The ruby is a perfect sphere and it represents a world lost in sin. The white gold cross represents the perfect Christ and his sacrifice for mankind. The diamond in the head of the cross represents God who is the father of all. Finally, the bottom of the cross is not gold but platinum and it is shaped to form a sword. This represents us, the Firmus. We strive to be pure and of highly refined quality so that on the day we are called, we will be found worthy of the task before us.”
Thank you for your time and if you have any comments, I would appreciate them.
Late April 2003,
By this time in Tabuk, we had settled into a routine. A very long twenty hour day followed by a twelve hour sleep in the tent and another twenty hour day. The flight time from Tabuk to Kuwait was a three hour trip, before we picked up the supplies for a trip up north. During these twenty hour days, we made multiple trips into Iraq, and each trip included a take-off and landing in many of the airfields in Iraq. By this time we had seen every field in Iraq, Talill, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, H1, Al Takidum (Also known as Al Take A Dump), and Balad. It was not uncommon to fly from Tabuk to Kuwait, to Baghdad, to Kuwait, to Kirkuk, to Kuwait, to Mosul, to Kuwait, to Tabuk. We called days like that Air Medal Days because most of the time we took Tabukian air to Kuwait, Kuwaiti air to Baghdad, Baghdad air to Kuwait. And so on, because most of the time we were flying empty looking for something to move. The only redeeming part of the mission was that at this point we were not being shot at. By the end of May, we will start attracting some shots and by the 4th of July it will be fully on.
To say that it was tiring is an insult to the word tired. To imply that we were fatigued is equally inaccurate. I think I would describe the feeling as being absolutely worn-out, kind of like a walking Zombie. On the airplane we took turns sleeping but it wasn’t enough. The only place that was comfortable was at altitude. Sleeping in the crew bunk while the airplane was on the ground was like trying to sleep in an oven. Laying down in the shade of the wing was equally uncomfortable but at least there was some wind. That wind was like having a hair dryer blowing in your face while laying in a tanning bed. It was amazingly hot and we did not know that it would only get hotter.
Following another successful day of not getting dead, we made it back to the tent, ate another MRE (I was ready for real food by now), chased down by an Ambien to take the edge off, a cold shower followed by a long walk on a dusty trail. It was time for bed. I went to sleep rather quickly in the dark, quiet, relatively cold tent. I have no idea how long I slept before the tent was invaded by Debbie T. Debbie was a Loadmaster on another crew. She is an extremely competent Loadmaster who had been in the Squadron about a year longer than I had been. She was the first female crew member in the West Virginia Air Guard and she earned the right to be there in Tabuk. Her nickname was “Combat Barbie” because of her blond hair.
She opened the door to the tent and started yelling. “Were under attack, Go to the Bunkers!” She was making her way to her crew’s tent to warn them and she had the thought that every tent along her path needed to be warned. I have no idea about many tents were awoken to the screams of terror from Debbie. Think of her as a “Barbie Revere.” Because of the Ambien, I vaguely remember what happened next. Most of it I was told about later. Ambien is a bad drug and all of the warnings are true, but all of that is for another post.
I think I remember hearing some explosions in the distance, but I am not totally certain of that because I thought I went right back to sleep. I heard later that I was walking around the tents asking what all the noise was. I will take the word of other people that I was walking around, talking to everybody. Apparently I had the mental awareness to put on some clothes. I know that must be true because if it were otherwise, there would be pictures. And this would be a different story with a different ending.
Back to the explosions; the base was not under attack but rather it was an airplane crash. A Saudi Arabian F-15 had a problem and departed the runway during a rejected take-off. The pilot fortunately survived the ejection from the jet but there was a fire that engulfed the fighter. The jet fuel exploded and the resulting fire ignited several missiles, hence the explosions. According to guys on the flight line, it was quite the fireworks show.
If you remember back to Jimmy “Two Balls” and our conversation. He accurately predicted this event. He told us that our lack of discipline and highly illegal, unprofessional baseball hats would filter through the camp until a F-15 crashed. In retrospect, I should have asked him for the numbers to the lottery.
Fast forward a couple of months. We moved from Tabuk Saudi Arabia to Al Udied, Qatar. Four months at the exhausting pace of twenty hour days, the entire squadron was given a safety day off. Like a good Airlift Squadron, we put it to good use and had a party. We procured some hamburgers, and the associated side items. We had almost everything for a good party but we were missing two important things; our families and beer. We couldn’t get our families but there was a fix for beer problem.
The best thing about Qatar is that it is relatively speaking a liberal country. Qatar and Dubai are the equivalent of the Middle East Las Vegas and Hollywood. Anything goes, women don’t have to wear a burka, most people don’t overtly hate the Americans and the locals can drink alcohol. In Dubai there is a bridge that separates that country from Saudi Arabia and I heard that Allah can’t see what happens on the other side of the bridge. I don’t know it if that is true, but it would explain lots. Anyway, the base of Al Udied actually had alcohol, legally! There was a two beer limit in effect, and the counter tabs were kept on punch cards. When we arrived in Al Udied, one of our enterprising crew members sent his card home in the mail. He had a buddy that owns a printing business. A month later, he had about ten thousand cards in his possession. The only limit afterwards was how much a person could handle.
Following the cookout, we held a kangaroo court to celebrate all of the stupid things that had happened in the previous three months. We had a judge, a prosecuting attorney and a defense attorney. The defense attorney was Kyle better known as “Cookie”. In his other life, he was a real live lawyer who worked for the county in the prosecutor’s office. He actually tried to apply the rule of law to the proceedings, but he was fighting a losing battle. The other 100 of us were the jury, and trust me when I say that if a person was nominated of a crime, they would be found guilty. It was one of the more memorable nights of the war. Those who were found guilty had to sing a song or perform some other type of harmless humiliating exercise to the delight of everyone.
Somehow, I was accused of the crime of wearing the un-authorized baseball hat, that caused the crash of the F-15. I could never prove it but I think my little buddy, Morgan turned me in. He was sentenced for another crime that I am trying to get him to allow me to tell about on this forum. But it may have been Billy, the guys on my crew, or it could have been any other of the 100 crew members deployed over there. There were lots of criminals that night and the only way to beat a crime was to dime out your buddy and hope they didn’t call your name. Call it plea bargaining with the prosecutor before the trial. When I approached the bench, Cookie started to council me while the prosecutor demanded that I give him another name of a criminal. I ignored his advice and took the law into my own hands. I faced the jury and spoke.
“I pled guilty as charged.” There were several jeers at the admission. I waited for them to get quiet before I continued. “I did cause an F-15 to crash.” More jeers. “But it was a Saudi F-15! Four more and I’m an ace!”
The applause from the jury was enough to exonerate me.
Sorry that it has taken so long to throw something out. I had a pretty good case of life getting in the way of you guys. My apologies, I don’t like to go this long without saying something. Rest assured that all is well on my side of the planet. I hope that this post finds everything well with you. All of the pictures are from yahoo.
I was chatting with my friend Paul S, and he still feels the stock market is a house of cards waiting to fall apart. I saw this yesterday and this guy says everything that Paul has been telling me. http://money.msn.com/investing/obamas-recovery-has-failed
In the effort to be fully transparent, I got out of the market over a month ago. Remember that I said that you should never take financial advice from a pilot so I am not advocating that you do anything other than be aware of the conditions.
This week Jason Collins, a NBA basketball player made the national news when he came out and told the world that he is a homosexual. I don’t know anything about him and I have no desire to investigate his life behind his bedroom door. But I have a quick thoughts.
The first is that it seems that the only people who are talking about this are straight men. I never like to follow the crowd and I am a little embarrassed that I am bringing this up, but there is something here that is more important than me showing how open and accepting I am. The point is that it is hard to keep a secret. The toil it takes on your life is devastating and long reaching. It is much better to be who you are than to live a lie. I am not a therapist so I am not advocating you do anything other than be aware of this fact.
However I do have a confession. It is time for me to disclose a secret about myself. I have a rope fetish. The other day, I was at the hardware store having the propane tank for the grill re-filled. The guys from the state were inspecting the propane lines and I had to wait about ten minutes. Wondering around the hardware store, the first place I went was to the far back corner where the spools of rope are kept. After five minutes of lusting after the rope, I started laughing at myself. I walked past all the cool tools, supplies and other items in the store and went straight to the rope section. Yes, I have a problem, but now that I have come to terms issues, I feel it is important to share the secret with you. I hope that I can now live my life, in an honest manner.
I have lots of war stories to tell. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten and they will return. The next post will be in about a week or so. Next week I have training for work and according to Paul, it is in my best interest to pass my check ride and keep my night job.
Until then, try to smile, be safe and keep rocking!
In the last post I said that I was going to contact my Senators. I did that on Thursday and I wanted to let you know what I said to them. I don’t know if there is a correlation, but Senator Graham has not been making any statements lately. Of course, he may be busy prepping his Chem Gear for an exercise.
If you notice, I added some new headings on the blog. I separated the posts into several categories for easier access. In the next post, I intend to update the blog and move onto more pleasant thoughts. I do want to thank everyone for all of the support over the past eight months. It has been so fun and I can’t wait to change the discussion to positive things. All photos from Yahoo.
25 April, 2013
I have never written a letter to any elected official before, but I in all good conscience cannot stay silent any longer. I am a former West Virginia Guardsman serving as an Instructor Pilot in the 130th Airlift Squadron from 1995 to 2007. I deployed multiple times from 2003 to 2007 in support of the National Objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I am very conflicted about the actions of one of your colleagues in the Senate. Senator Lindsey Graham from the great state of South Carolina has been very vocal about denying the Fifth Amendment rights to the man known as bomber #2. I am sure you are more familiar than I am about the statements made by Senator Graham.
I took an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution of the United States just as you did. I know that you are familiar with that oath and I believe that Senator Graham has forsaken the oath he took both as a US Senator and as a member of the United States Air Force Reserve. I have always understood that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are to be taken in their entirety, not treated as suggestions or items that can be disregarded when it suits the needs of a person in power.
As disgusting as the individual known as bomber #2 is to me, he is an American citizen and as such he has earned the ability access all of the rights entitled to him by the Bill of Rights. I am satisfied with the President’s decision to legally treat bomber #2. My issue is that Senator Graham continues to insist that bomber #2 should be denied his rights. I believe that this is grounds for investigation into the legal status that Senator Graham has to make such inflammatory statements.
I believe that his dual-status as a Senator and as a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve is incompatible, and his continued comments are in fact a violation of the UCMJ. When I served, I was constantly reminded that I was not allowed to speak out against the elected officials of the United States. I understand that Senator Graham should be allowed greater latitude because of the fact that he is an elected official, but it is inconceivable to me that he can make statements from the Senate floor and on multiple media outlets that he would willfully deny an American citizen of their rights.
I am sending this exact e-mail to the office of Senator XXX and Senator Graham. Please encourage him to reconsider his position on his view that classifying an American citizen as an enemy combatant is reckless, immoral and illegal. His constant harping on this closed subject brings great discredit upon himself, his position as a leader on this great country, and the United States Air Force.
I am ashamed to feel compelled that I have to write this letter and illustrate the shame that Mr. Graham brings to the service which I proudly served. I gladly welcome any response to this communication and if I am in error in my position, I am willing to be educated on this matter. Thank you for consideration of my views and for any assistance you can give to Senator Graham will be greatly appreciated.
xxxx ZZZZZZ YYYYY Rd
Culloden, WV 25510
This is the response from Senator Manchin. I know it is a auto-response type statement but it feels good and it feels like he is on the job.
“I have received your e-mail and look forward to responding to you soon. If you are a West Virginian, and need my immediate assistance with a personal matter, please don’t hesitate to call my office. If you call after-hours, please leave a detailed message, and a member of my staff will get back to you promptly. Thank you for contacting me, and please know that it is my great pleasure and honor to serve the people of West Virginia in the U.S. Senate.
Joe Manchin III
I did not get a auto response from Senator Rockefeller. I just got a message that he received the e-mail. I will let you know if/when I hear something from his office.
I also sent the same e-mail to Senator Graham. I didn’t feel right about doing this unless I contacted him. Here is his auto-response.
“Thank you for taking the time to contact me. I appreciate the opportunity to hear from you.
Due to the large volume of mail I receive, I regret that I am only able to respond personally to inquiries from South Carolinians.
As we continue our work in the 113th Congress, I look forward to supporting our troops in the War on Terror, repairing our economy and creating jobs, strengthening Social Security, lowering the tax burden on American families, and making the federal government more accountable and efficient.
If your correspondence pertains to a scheduling request, please fax your request to (202) 224-3808.
Follow Senator Lindsey Graham
I will not comment anymore about Mr. Graham. You can decide for yourself about his leadership abilities.
I feel better, I did my part and exercised my rights as a voter. Keep on rocking Y’all.
Note: All photos are from yahoo.
I am going to take a short break from story time. I said in the last post that I wanted to talk about some important things like baseball, Memphis Grizzlies basketball, Arkansas State Football and the NFL draft. Maybe next time, before I continue on I must confess that I am irritated. I only hope to contain it. My Grizzles lost last night and the LA Clippers’ with their drama queen antics are driving me insane. I am so upset that I am considering leaving the Billy Crystal fan club. It is that serious.
I will do my best not to rant but to provide a logical, sane argument in the following words. However, if you feel that I am more on the edge today, it is Blake Griffin’s fault. Has anyone ever seen a 280 pound power forward fly through the air after being mauled by a 150 pound point guard? He must be as weak as a kitten, or maybe he went to Billy Crystal’s acting school. Either way, I nominate Blake for the Oscar, Emmy and a Grammy. He is either talented or he is a whinny baby. You can decide.
Last week, like everyone else I was glued to the television watching the events unfold in Boston. I am sad, shocked and depressed because of the attack. I wish I had some comforting words to offer those who are hurting because of the actions of two deranged boys. I don’t have anything to offer except heartfelt prayers and best wishes to all.
We all know about Bomber #2. I know what is name is and I will not use it here. He hasn’t earned the right to be called anything but bomber #2 on my site. Call him what you want on your own time. Bomber #2 started out as a model terrorist. He planted a bomb on a crowed sidewalk, walked away and killed a kid while maiming a number of people. He went back to school and even found some time to smoke some weed. I am sure he was a little stressed. Then he killed a cop and hijacked a car. He and his brother got into a massive, Hollywood style shootout with the police and ran over his brother to prevent him from being captured. So far, he is doing his job being public enemy #1. But when he was alone, something happened. He got a conscience, and when it was his time to do the right thing and kill himself. He chickened out like a scared, 19 year old punk.
Before I continue, I understand that Bomber #2 is a religious fanatic. He murdered a child, two women and a cop because he thought they worshiped a different god. He never bothered to ask them their religious preference, he just blew them up. He is a murder and he will pay for his crimes. I hate terrorists, no matter who they choose to worship. Contrary to popular belief, Bomber #1 isn’t hanging out with 72 virgins; I believe that he is doing the backstroke with 72 demons in a burning, lake of fire. Bomber #2 will be there soon enough.
Now back to this discussion. You and I have a problem because of this coward. Bomber #2 is an American citizen and he was denied access to a lawyer and was not reminded about his rights via the Miranda speech. My friend over at JB’s Sanctuary makes a great argument about why it is important for bomber #2 to have his rights and why should we care. Give him a look and know there is zero difference between his view and mine.http://jbsanctuary.wordpress.com/2013/04/23/tsarnaev-and-miranda/
I wonder why so many so called patriots of freedom are so willing to deny bomber #2 his rights. Senator Lindsey Graham has taken the lead in the denying of the rights. Before I say another word, please understand that I have never met this person. All I know of him is what I see on the news. Actually, most of this I am learning today as I research what Mr. Lindsey Graham actually stands for and believes in. But here is what I think. He is a dumb, stupid, phony individual. Please don’t be fooled when he says that he is a military veteran.
According to what I can find, he is a Colonel in the South Carolina Air Force Reserves. He claimed that he was a veteran of Desert Storm and Desert Shield. He actually briefed the deploying airmen on their legal responsibilities before they deployed but never left the great State of South Carolina to join the effort. From 2001-2009, I expect that he had several opportunities to deploy in support of the fight against the Taliban or against the Insurgents in Iraq. I guess life was getting in the way of serving his country. It is funny that no one ever asked me if I wanted to go to Iraq in 2003 or Afghanistan in 2004, 2005 or 2006. I have friends over there this minute that were not given a choice to deploy. However, in 2009, he finally had the opportunity to leave the United States and get into the fight.
Our little chicken hawk, hero warrior, Mr. Graham deployed to Afghanistan during the middle of his re-election campaign. How could anyone campaign against a candidate who leaves in the middle of the election in order to serve his country? Hiding behind the uniform is one thing, but using it as a shield against your opponent in a political race is disgusting. He is a full bird, Colonel and according to my records he actually deployed in support of national objectives exactly one time, while involved in an election to the US Senate. Do you remember what I said about Jimmy Two Balls? I think Mr. Graham makes my man Jimmy look like Alvin York.
Mr. Graham is a dedicated supporter of the Second Amendment, which is fine. But he is on record of being opposed to the Fifth Amendment, at least for some Americans. He said this from the Senate floor in 2011.
“When they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them: ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer. You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined Al Qaeda.” – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, 2011- Quoted directly from Wikipedia.
This is very tough talk from someone whose only taste of combat is a chow hall in the most secure location of Bagram. I wonder if they even gave him a gun? The rule at Bagram was that everyone carried their weapon at all times. Maybe that is why he is for gun rights.
I digress, his views have not changed since 2011. In fact, they may have become more radical. Here is one of those tweets from last week.
These two links document all of his tweets from the Boston Bombing and in the following days.
I am greatly disturbed that an acting US Senator, and a person who currently is in a command position in the United States Air Force has forsaken his oath to the Constitution. When I took my oath and when I gave it to others, I did not have the opportunity to say that I would protect and defend the part of the Constitution that served me at that moment. No, I pledged to protect and defend the entire constitution, even when it didn’t work for me.
When Mr. Graham willfully states that his intention is to deny an American citizen of their rights, he is effectively saying that he will deny you and I the rights we used to enjoy as American citizens. The issue is that bomber #2, did what he did in the name of religion. According to Mr. Graham, just because Bomber #2 believes in a different god from whatever Mr. Graham believes in this week. He gets no rights. What happens if my religious beliefs do not align with Mr. Graham? These people committed acts much worse than Bomber #2 but they got their rights. I am very uncomfortable denying an American their rights based solely on religion.
What will be the issue of tomorrow? I chose to have a gun? I chose to go to church? I chose to speak out against those in power? I told some Army guys they couldn’t sleep in my house? I refused the police from entering my house without a search warrant? (This also happened in Watertown) Do I have rights or do I have to submit to Mr. Graham and his view of my rights?
Several years ago, I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. I was serious when I took it and I don’t believe that oath was severed when I separated from the military. I am just as bound by it today and I was ten years ago in Iraq. I am going to forward this entire post to Senator Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin. I will ask them to investigate Mr. Graham because of his comments. I believe that he has failed to follow the oath he took twice and that his actions rate consideration for impeachment.
If anyone wants to join me by contacting your elected official, I welcome your participation. I will save a spot next to me at Gitmo. When I was in survival school, I was known as criminal #24. The guard would shout. “Criminal Number 24, empty your dung and urine can in the waste collection facility then put your paws on the criminal in front of you.” Those were fun days and I am very fond of the name. I am putting in my request for that number when I am thrown in prison, but like everything else on the Senate floor. Everything is open to negations.
This is the third of a three part series. All of the following events happened on 6 April, 2003. This is a long post, I apologize in advance. In the coming days, I am going to take a break from war stories for a short while. I need a break from memory lane and I am looking forward to talking about more important things like my fantasy baseball team, the nfl draft, ASU football, and other more pressing life issues. I have made several offers to offer a guest post to my fellow Tabukians. Thus far no one has taken me up on it, but I am hopeful. I appreciate all of the support and off line comments from my former partners in crime.
We approached H1 airfield from the southeast. Almost every runway in the Middle East is aligned in basically the same heading. Oriented to the northwest and southeast, the most common direction for the runway is 15/33. This means that an aircraft can land either northwest (330 heading) or south east (150 heading), and take off in the same directions. When winds are an issue, pilots like to land pointed into the wind as much as possible. For several reasons, but the main reason is that it just makes things easier.
We contacted the Special Operations guys on the ground through the secure radios. There are several way to make the communications secure. The two best options for us were “Have Quick” that changes or skips through several frequencies in rapid succession. Secure Voice is basically a narrowing of the bandwidth frequency to a very small range.
I preferred to use Have Quick because the conversation is clear. The listener hears the literal click in the transmission as the frequency changes. It switches frequency at a random, preprogramed rate with multiple switches every couple of seconds. Think click, click, click, click, click… If you care, here is the Wikipedia description of Have Quick.
Secure Voice is different. It enables several radios to communicate but both clarity and range are sacrificed. It reminds me of listening to an AM radio station near power lines. Captain Bill Grimes told me that he never could contact the ground forces. He landed not knowing who would greet the airplane. Things like that happen in war. Again if you care, here is the Wikipedia description of secure voice.
We were able to contact the ground forces and they cleared us to land on runway 15. The wind direction they called out to us was 330 at 10 knots. This meant that we were landing with a ten knot tail wind. Not a big deal, Scott was flying from the left seat and started the approach. The C-130 has a navigator and has a navigation system known as SCNS (Self-Contained Navigation System). It has dual inertial gyros that are updated by GPS. It is very accurate to within three feet, and highly reliable.
All approaches in the C-130 are hand flown. This required Scott to be 100% eyes outside the aircraft. He was looking for the box of IR lights that identified the landing zone. My job was to give him constant audible updates on airspeed, altitude, and descent rate. The navigator’s job was to update the pilot on the course to the field. “Turn left/right 5 degrees.” Gary, used the readout from the SCNS as well as his NVGs to help Scott maneuver the airplane to the runway. The flight engineer, Paul’s job was to monitor everything inside the flight deck and be the safety monitor. I think he had the hardest job because all he saw was darkness outside the windows. His job relied 100% on faith that the two knuckleheads in front of him, wouldn’t kill him. Deron and Tracy were in the back, along for the ride.
The winds at altitude were close to a forty knot tailwind. This required Scott to increase the descent rate. A normal 3 degree is a descent rate of 750 feet per minute. With this tail wind, Scott needed to double it at a minimum. When I first learned to fly, I thought one of the most unnatural actions was to deliberately point the nose of the airplane at the ground. In fact, that is the only way to descent. Flying on NVGs while staring out into the dark vastness of the dessert, Chuck Yeager would have been afraid to increase the descent rate to 2,500 feet per minute.
The weather guy told us the visabiliy would be good, six miles or greater. He was wrong, it was one mile and less at times. The winds were blowing the dust and sand that dramatically limited what we could see. It could be best described as landing in a haboob, in the pitch dark, with no moon, no cultural lighting, in a poorly lit aircraft with an unsuitable, improvised flight deck lighting procedure all held together with duct tape. What could possibly go wrong? Scott saw the lights about a mile from the end of the runway. We were too high, so Scott wisely went around.
In my aviation career, I have gone around a number of times in training. It is something that is practiced and highly encouraged by everyone. If the airplane is not in a safe position to land, you go around and try again. Most pilots perform a go-around once a year. It is uncommon to go-around, but not out of the realm of normal flight operations. This was our first time, on this night.
We stayed low, about 1000 feet and entered the downwind for the runway. While we were flying, everyone praised Scott for his decision and then we offered recommendations to get in the second time. Nothing unusual so far. Scott looked out his window and saw the landing zone perfectly. The second airplane was still ten miles out so we had time to try for a second time. Scott descended early and kept the descent rate up but it was not going to happen. Too much tail wind. He went around the second time. I relayed the information to the second airplane.
They went around, number three went around and number four went around. The fourth airplane had the combined knowledge of the first three and it was just too much tail wind. The forth airplane told the ground guys that they needed to turn the lights around so we could land from the north. The problem was an unsecured oil pumping station to the north. The bad guys could be there and shoot us while we tried to land. Oh well, but no one is landing unless they switched sides. The ground guys did as requested and asked for thirty minutes to do it.
Here is an aerial photo of H1 and the pumping station. It is a much larger compound that it was described before we departed. If I had seen this picture I would have tried another approach to 15.
No worries, we climbed to 3000 feet and started holding ten miles north of the field. Flying into Iraq, we turned off all the lights, the radar, transponder and any other transmitting equipment so that the Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles could not track us. In the vastness of the Iraqi dessert, there were four airplanes holding in a small piece of air. I made a casual radio call to the others, just to let them know where we were. “If anyone cares, we are ten miles north of the field at 3000 feet.”
I expected something other than what the reply was. “So are we!” “We are too!” “Us too!”
That is not good. Scott, Paul and I all bumped hands reaching out to turn on the transponder that would transmitted our position to the other aircraft. Immediately it started barking out orders, “Climb!” “Descend!” I think it even said, “You dummies are going to die!” Paul turned on the navigation lights and I turned on the wingtip lights. With the NVGs the other aircraft were easy to see, Scott picked a clear area and gained separation. There is no doubt in my mind that there would have been a fireball over Iraq that night if someone didn’t speak up. We climbed to 6,000 feet while the other airplanes stacked below us with 1000 feet separation. We were scheduled to be the first to land, now we were going to be the last.
The runway was turned around and we started in order from the lowest altitude to us, the highest. In single file line, the first airplane went around, then the second, then the third, then us. We never saw the landing zone after the first pass. The reason was that we were looking in the wrong place. The tactics guys loaded our data transfer devices with all of the information that Gary needed to enter into the SCNS. When we arrived late to the airplane, Gary barely had enough time to get the SCNS set for take-off. On the 45 minute flight, north he did his best to verify the information from the maps to what was given him. The coordinates to Runway 15 were correct. The mistake was that the coordinates to Runway 33 were wrong, they were cut and pasted from runway 15. We were not approaching the runway from straight on, but actually from an angle. The landing zone was off to the right and 1.5 miles closer in that what the SCNS indicated.
The gaggle continued as Scott said that he almost as many NVG go-arounds as he did NVG landings. When we started training, the minimum requirement was three NVG landings to be qualified. We gave a few more, I think it was six landings. Scott was a basic Aircraft Commander at the time, and we were in a time crunch. He got the minimum number of landings plus a couple if we had the time. As one of the Instructors, I sat through hundreds of landings, and I got to demonstrate one to each student. I had my minimum of three, plus an additional twenty as demos. We had been flying for over two hours, and we still were not on the ground. My neck ached from wearing the six pounds of helmet, NVG, battery pack and extra weight to even out the load. The birthday present was beginning to look like it wasn’t the good deal I thought it might be.
On downwind an amazing thing happened. The first airplane landed. Then the second one landed, and then the third landed as we started our five mile final. Dang, things were looking up. Scott started his descent normally and about a mile out we saw the first two lights of landing zone. We were not lined up exactly, so Scott made a slight bid to the left and then back on course heading directly for the pair of lights. From this point on, Gary was looking at the zone with his NVGs, backing up Scott with the descent rate and line-up. Scott is 100% eyes out the window focusing only on flying to the lights. Paul can’t see anything but the instruments. My job is to watch the instruments and call out the airspeed, altitude and vertical descent rate. All is going as it should.
I am a fairly spiritual person. I always have been even though I may not have always closely held to the tenants of my belief structure. I have heard stories about divine intervention, miracles, and other seemingly indescribable events happening at just the right moment in time to avert disaster. I am not sure that I totally believed that if those type events were true or the figment of someone’s imagination. By as I sit here today, I swear the following event happened and I offer it without exaggeration. It still feels more like a dream than something that actually happened.
By the way, I never shared this with any of my crew in the days that followed this night. I may have shared it with Scott at some point in the last ten years, but I am not sure. I have shared it with my wife and some other folks, but not many and always in an environment that I felt comfortable. So here goes.
About 100 feet above the ground, I literally felt my head twist to the right forcing me to look out of the right side window. I don’t know many pilots who look out the side window when they are landing. That night, my job was to provide constant, reliable information to Scott. There was no time for goofing off, idle chatter or sightseeing. It was serious and 100 feet above the ground, we still didn’t see anything except the two lights in front of us.
When I say I looked out the window, I mean I had to twist my head to the side and literally look back over my shoulder. And when I say that I felt my head twist, think putting your hand on the head of a little kid and you twist their head to the direction you want. It was over-powering and it was anything but an delibert action on my part. My eyes focused on the four lights hovering in the darkness, it was the landing zone. Realizing what I saw, I felt the force release my head. I looked back forward to see what Scott saw. Two lights on the ground. I did not believe what my eyes told me, so I looked again forcing my mind to make sense of what I saw. To the right and behind the airplane sat the runway and the landing zone. In front of us were the twin lights of a C-130 taxing on the taxiway. We were lined up with and prepared to land on top of the airplane that had just landed in front of us.
I started screaming “GO-AROUND!” I don’t actually remember yelling it out, I do vaguely remember saying it and Scott following the command. Later, they said I was screaming. Climbing away, we got the landing gear up and then I was asked the question. “Why did you call the go-around?” I was too chicken to tell them about how my head was turned, but when I described what I saw, there was complete silence. We were 15 seconds from killing ourselves, the 60 dudes in the back, the crew of that other airplane and their 60 dudes. That is a lot of death for no good reason.
Scott said that he was done. I got it, he had been flying for a long time, and he was tired. He didn’t quit because of those reasons. He is a smart guy. He knew that we were trying to do something that was way past our level of experience. Later on, a friend spoke to some special ops pilots who landed at H1. Their airplane was fitted with forward looking infrared radar (FLIR). Basically it turns night into day. It is magic equipment. They could not believe that slick (C-130s without modified magic equipment) crews were landing at H1 without the FLIR. They told their superiors that someone was going to crash.
I was ready to quit as well, but Gary had something to say. He told us there was something wrong with the SCNS and told us to turn it off. He wanted to do another approach, this time with the radar. I asked Scott if he minded if I tried one. He said simply “Please!” I told the guys that if it didn’t look good, we were going home. One shot and we would land or leave, no mistakes, no unacceptable risk and no exceptions. We started down, and Gary gave me the exact headings to fly. Left three degrees, right one degree. I didn’t move my head to see the instruments. I only moved my eyes, and flew his exact headings. He also gave exact target altitudes and distance from the field. Scott kept me updated with the speed, altitude and descent rate. Together, they build a virtual 3-D picture for me. At 50 feet above the ground, I could start to make out the difference between the dark green of the NVG and the darkness of the approaching runway. At 25 feet, I felt some confidence that we were going to land on concrete.
That was the last time I flew on my birthday. Ever since that night, my birthday present to myself has been to keep both feet firmly on the ground.
Ten years later, when I think of this night. My heart beats quicker, and writing it today is no exception. I landed that airplane but it wasn’t me. It was a crew effort. Scott is one of the finest pilots I have ever known. My admiration for him only grew when he realized that he was doing something that he wasn’t trained to do. In retrospect, I should have turned the airplane around and taken it home. It was dumb to try another approach and even though it ended well, it was not a good decision. That my friends, is poor leadership.
We returned to Tabuk and I told our commanders, “KK” and “Sleepy” that we were not going back. That was too dangerous and someone was going to die. He relayed that information to higher headquarters. Over the next week, several crews made the NVG trip to H1. Everyone came back and with the same description that I gave. Only one crew did not land. It was Seabass’ crew. He made one approach and came back. He is the only pilot in our squadron who had any sense. He is my hero and I hope that I remember that lesson for the next time.
The force that twisted my head is still a mystery to me. When we returned to the tent, I never told anyone what really happened. It has only been in the past few years that I have even felt comfortable enough with my own spiritual growth to even contemplate the event. I am convinced that I did not twist my head on my own will. It was not a conscience thought to look out the window. Even a quick glance would not have been enough to see the landing zone. There was an outside force acting on me that night, I will allow you to draw your own conclusions. I am comfortable with the conclusions that I have made and my only comment is that it was a “God thing.”
Until next time, keep on rocking!
All of the events of this three part post occurred on 6 April, 2003.
Recently, my wife and I were having a conversation about my blog and the things I have been saying. She asked if anything I was saying was classified. Or if anything I was planning on talking about would be information the government/military might not appreciate being out in the world. I told her I didn’t think I was saying anything inappropriate but that I would always check just to be sure. I am including two links to an Iraqi Air Force Base that I found. One is to the website Global security and the other is to Wikipedia for additional reading. Here are the links to the sites that give more background on H1.
We were alerted late in the afternoon on 6 April. Our mission was to haul 60 Special Ops personnel from our home base of Tabuk, Saudi Arabia to an Iraqi Air Field known simply as H1. At that time, I had never heard of the field, but I was unconcerned. Located about an hour north of Tabuk, the evening was shaping up to be a nice surprise birthday present to me. We would be the lead airplane in a four ship package heading to H1 that night. Each aircraft would fly in five minute spacing and would land via Night Vision Goggle (NVG) procedures.
When Captain Bill Grimes stopped by my bunk a couple hours earlier, one of the points he wanted to pass on was that he was briefed that the field had standard NVG lighting. This was not the truth, he discovered that it was a non-standard lighting configuration. Standard lighting would be a pair of covert NVG compatible lights 1000 feet from the end of the runway and another pair of lights 500 feet farther down. These lights would form a box pattern that we would use as the landing zone. A separate light would sit at the end of the runway to identify the end. It is called a box and unfortunately I could not find a good picture. I will keep looking.
The field was actually set up with the box and one with additional lights marking the mid-point of the 10,000 foot long runway. When Billy landed he said the visibility was extremely poor and he floated out of the 500 foot landing zone. If he had been landing on a 3000 foot dirt runway, he would have focused on landing within the touchdown zone. But landing on a runway that is over 1.75 miles long, landing a little long isn’t a huge deal. Billy kept his cool and landed. Rolling down the runway, he saw the non-standard lights and he thought that they signaled the end of the runway.
Not knowing why they marked the end of the runway there, he used maximum braking and stopped short of the lights. All was well, but during the unloading of the troopers, there was mass confusion about if his airplane had hot brakes. Hot brakes can be very dangerous on an airplane, if they get too hot they can heat up the tire until it explodes. Smart people designed the tired with fuse plugs. These plugs are made to melt if the brakes get too hot. This will deflate the tires and prevent the tire from exploding. In the heat of the moment, it was an event that demanded Billy’s full attention. In the end, he did not have hot brakes and all was well.
Armed with Billy’s information I relayed it to the Intel briefer and the tactics officer. Neither guy had heard of this new information even though Billy had submitted a written report during his debrief. Just another example of how the information flows in the most advanced military in the world. We went straight to the airplane, and to our surprise they were actually people there and they were boarding the plane. We were the late but like the old saying goes, the Captain is never late. Immediately we went to work readying the flight deck for NVGs.
In the Air Force, there are three model of the C-130. One of the models is a modern, high tech marvel of the aviation world. Known as the “J” model it is an advanced version of the C-130 that looks like other C-130 but internally is actually a new and different airplane than the ones I flew. The next model is known as “H-3”. It is almost exactly the same as the version I flew except it has a modern avionics package with cool, high tech, multifunction displays. Both of these versions are NVG compatible by pressing a single button.
My unit flew the “H-2” version of the C-130. Our airplanes were built in the late 1980s. Like a dependable pick-up truck, they were extremely versatile but we discovered they had a single, major limitation. They were not designed to work with NVGs. We used chem-sticks and duct tape to set up the instrument panel before we could fly on NVGs. The bright lights would over-ride the NVGs and prevent us from seeing outside the window unless we turned off all the interior lights. But when we did that, we couldn’t see the instruments to fly the airplane. When we first started taping the cockpit, it took almost an hour to get everything darkened. After a couple of months, we had it down to a science and could completely darken it in ten minutes.
We first started training on NVGs in the spring and summer of 2002. Our introduction to the NVGs was using them to fly low level and airdrop cargo. In January 2003, we made a big push to get Airland qualified. Meaning, that we would wear them for take-off and landings. Bill and I were a part of the initial cadre of five Instructors to get trained on using the NVGs during landing. During the next two months, we flew Monday through Friday nights working with the Squadron’s pilot force to teach everyone how to use the NVGs for landing. During the ramp-up, I would estimate that I saw over 200 NVG landings. Maybe that is a low estimate. The fallacy of what we were qualified to do was not what we were about to do would soon be appearent to all.
It was Scott’s turn to fly in the left seat. It was good fortune because I felt most comfortable flying and landing from the right seat. In training, we never flew without almost perfect conditions. We were required to have some moon light, good visibility and we learned that the lights from the city near any airport provided a lot of additional light for the NVGs to function properly. We were going to a runway that was in the middle of the dessert, with improper lighting, no moon but it did have a predicted six mile visibility. Bill had told me that the visibility was about a mile with blowing sand. His weather report was better than the weather guy who had no idea that the field was in the middle of another night of a haboob. We would soon find out that the visibility was not measured in miles, but in feet.
Next time, we will play a game of how many lives does Rob have left.
Until then, keep on rocking!