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Back to the Front…

February 11, 2014
back to the front

Just another missed holiday in 2003.
photo from yahoo

Hey Y’all,

So far, I have told my story through a very narrow perspective. I feel that the strategic perspective that needs to be addressed before I continue. In many ways this perspective is hugely important to the story line. In previous posts, I told the story of how every C-130 Flight Squadron was divided into two different groups because of the decision of the leadership. In August 2003, it was apparent to everyone that Iraq was going to be a long term situation. The Army won the ground war before it ever started, but in the exact same way they lost the peace. The new challenge to the leadership was to figure out how to keep the airplanes fresh.

 

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Fortunately I never left a airplane in this shape.
photo from yahoo

 

I don’t think the leadership ever considered how extended rotations impacted the individual soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. They care greatly about things that are hard to replace like airplanes, tanks, helicopters or ships. Therefore these items must be rotated out, refurbished and returned to the fight in good working order. Even by July 2003, I was keenly aware that we were running the airplanes too hard. It wasn’t just how we flew them; it was the extreme heat, sand, and constant use. They needed some attention.

 

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Engine change. Happened a lot because the propeller is a thousand pieces of metal flying in formation. Something will break, it always does.
photo from yahoo

 

Before the war started, the active duty units deployed to the region first. A large handful of Air National Guard units were activated just prior to the kickoff of the war with an equal number of units held in reserve. In May 2003, the active duty went home taking their tired, old airplanes with them. In August, the units that were held in reserve were activated completing the rotation cycle. When they arrived in the AOR (Area of Operations), an equal number of airplanes and crews were relieved to go back to the house. What I couldn’t see from the micro-perspective I had them was this was a planned event and would go on for years and years.

In early September, the second round of planes and crews came over to relieve the group I was with. We started our small break of 35 days. When we returned, the unit tasking dropped in half to four airplanes and eight crews. This meant that we could start our own rotation, essentially in relief of ourselves. The deal was sixty days in the AOR. The time in commute to and from came from the sixty days scheduled off at the house. At first, we could choose where we went as we went back and forth. Usually someone in the Squadron set everything up and they knew what guys liked and didn’t like. But eventually someone broke the airplane in a location off the beaten path and the micro-management started.

Going over, crews took the southern route of the Azores Islands spending the night, Crete spending the night, and arriving into the AOR. Heading back, the stops was a re-fueling stop in Romania, a night in Ireland, a night in either St. Johns or Halifax Canada and then the house. I didn’t care where we went, because they were all fine but I did prefer Halifax over St. John’s mainly because it was two hours closer to being home. The wonderful thing about the rotations is that everyone understood that went you were heading to the AOR, you were relieving someone else. I never saw anyone break the airplane because they didn’t want to get to work. And the airplane had to be hard broke on the way home.

We pulled out of Charleston, WV in early October. I had a completely new crew with two guys who were making their first appearance in a shooting environment. All of the new guys missed the initial call-up because they were in some type of school. Mikey O. was in instructor school. The other three co-pilots Shy Dog, Todd P, and Kevin M. were in some version of flight school. I wasn’t asked who I wanted to fly with this time or ever again. I got Kevin M who was an Instructor in the T-1, a small business jet trainer aircraft for new Air Force pilots. An easy going, laid back guy, I drew a good card from a deck of good cards.

I also had a brand new Flight Engineer, Nate G. We called him Gummy Bear. Tall and slender, he reminded me of Paul S., my FE who was hurt a few months earlier. In fact, I called him Paul at some point on every flight. Every time I did it, I grimaced and apologized to him. To his credit, he never yelled at me or seemed to hold a grudge. I think half of our greetings started with me saying something like Dude, I promise not to call you Paul today. I think the guys had a bet on how long it would take me to break my word. The Gummy Bear did a wonderful job.

The Navigator was my good friend, Greg H. but we called him Harry. He was long in the tooth when I showed up in 1998. A Veteran of Desert Storm 1, Bosnia, and several other conflicts, it wasn’t his first rodeo. Of all the guys I ever flew with, I think my personality and demeanor was the closest to Harry. A quick story about Harry, in 2000, we were in Honduras doing some humanitarian work. When we landed at this dirt runway cut out of the jungle, there was a news crew that wanted to interview someone for their TV show. The FE, Crummy said he would do it. Blah, Blah, Blah he droned on about how pleased we were to help the good people of Nicaragua. He said it enough times that the camera guy put down the camera and told Crummy he was in Honduras. They argued for a moment while Harry and I were giggling above them listening to everything from the flight deck. Harry winked at me and walked off the airplane. Crummy asked him where we were. Harry simply replied Nicaragua and started to walk off. The camera man objected and Harry said, “I’m the Navigator and it is my job to know where we are. We are in Nicaragua.” I laughed so hard I cried. The lesson is never put a camera in the face of an air crew member.

The final crew member was Ron B. I called him RB, he had bounced between career positions throughout his career, when I first met him he worked in the Personnel section. He came to Operations to be a Loadmaster and to get a promotion. Another no drama type, RB was always smiling, happy and willing to work hard. I was glad to have him.

 

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The Base at Masirah from the air. Believe it or not, it was a garden spot.
photo from yahoo

 

Our newest home was to be Masriah Island off the coast of Oman. Resting in the Persian Gulf it became the first point the USA used to prosecute the war after 9-11. By the fall of 2003, it had been through a couple of transformations and when we got there. I thought it was just about perfect. The tent was segregated by wooden walls, with a nice porch. If it was on MTV Cribs, it would have been the Mack Daddy of tents. Masriah had gravel roads, full functioning toilets plenty of water for long showers, a full functioning chow hall, and a recreation center. If you had to be in a war zone, this was a good place to be.

The down side was that it was almost four hours to Baghdad and six to Bagram in Afghanistan. From Masriah Island, we would be doing both and working some long days in the process. It could have been worse, so we accepted it and moved on.

Arrival day was always long. We arrived from Crete, which required that we fly aver almost the entire Middle East to get to Masriah. It was a long way, something in the neighborhood of twelve hours. After we arrived, we needed to get all of our briefings before we could go to the tent and unpack. From landing to bed was usually another six to eight hours. I cannot understate how long of a day it was. We piled into the make shift briefing room which was relatively speaking, very nice. Everyone had a chair, it was air conditioned and had a restroom near-by. I remember thinking that we were walking in tall cotton.

I sat next to Russ P. Russ is in the top five pilots I have ever flown with. He knew how to make the airplane talk but Russ is also one of the quickest witted people I have ever known. I almost never heard him miss an opportunity to give a verbal jab or sarcastic comment. He is close to the professional comedian level as anyone I ever met. So there are, back in the AOR after 35 days off listening to people tell us about a life that we lived a month earlier. We were tired, cranky, and ready to make out bunks and get some sleep. Our final briefing was given by Lieutenant Colonel Love from the Pittsburg PA Reserve Unit. It was our tactical briefing, basically telling us the rules of flying in a tactical environment. Instead of giving us a five minute update of changes in the past 35 days, he was giving us the hour long briefing of everything that happened in the past seven months.

Everything he told us to do in Iraq were the things we had already been doing. Some of the things he told us to do, we even invented. Strike one; the second strike came when he started telling us to do things that we knew were not correct. Somewhere along that path he was questioned and told us this is how it is “Up North.” like he was a bad dude, snake eater, back in the Nam, combat vet. Russ was fidgeting in his seat because he wanted to say something. I am a trouble maker and I whispered under my breath “Who does this guy think he is?”

 

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LTC Love as we saw him.
photo from yahoo

 

Russ took the bait and called the Colonel a character from an Eddie Murphy movie “The Nutty Professor.” Russ yelled out “Buddy Love!” The little circle around us started laughing. But the Colonel didn’t see the humor in the comment. With his hands on his hips, his Captain Picard haircut and scraggly month old combat mustache he defended himself. “Listen to me. I have seventeen missions up North. I know what is going on up there.” Except for the new guys, everyone in the room had well over a hundred missions. He was greeted by a stream of applause, laughter, oohs and aahs.

 

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LTC Love as he saw himself.
photo from yahoo

 

The Colonel actually turned out to be an ok guy once he knew understood where we had been and we got to know him. But as far as I remember, his new call sign stuck.

 

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See ya next time
photo from yahoo

 

Until next time, keep on rockin.

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6 Comments
  1. At the time, did you ever think you would be looking back and laughing at these days? So… what is your call sign and do you use it today?

    • Karlene,

      Thanks for the comment. To answer your question, yes I think back then we all knew some of the experiences were funny. There was a lot of laughing at the time. To be sure that some of the laughs were to keep from crying, but you know pilots can find humor at the most desperate times.

      My call sign has always been Rob. Others have been offered but nothing really stuck. Some guys call me Robbie, Little Robbie, or Walking Small. My favorite was in flight school where I was Shady A. There was a trailer park called Shady Acres outside the base. At one point I was called Green because of Green Acres but in the C-130 you cant say green except when the green light comes on for a airdrop. Everything else is emerald, or lime. If you say green then have to buy a round of drinks so that call sign didn’t stick. Probably the most common call sign for me is dumb ass.

      Is there something folks call you? Special K? Pilot K? KP?

      • Rob, That’s funny. Yes… my names through out my life: K, Five Mile Legs, Karly, Sweetheart, Honey, Mom, Gaga, Grandma, KP, and my dad called me Sam when I was little. Lately I’ve had a couple people call me Darby. There are other names I’m sure, but most won’t say them to my face. lol. Mostly… Karlene has stuck.

      • I think I like Special K. That is my final answer.

  2. Interesting as always, Rob. I was hoping to get a look at “the Mack Daddy of tents.” What, no pics? Thanks for the share.

    • Rhyan,

      As always, thank you for stopping by. It is funny that I don’t have many pictures of anything that happened after the first couple of months in 2003. When it kicked off, we all looked like a bunch of stereotypical Japanese Tourists. If it moved, we took a picture.

      But that soon wore off and eventually the camera’s went into the pocket and never came back out. I really wish I had taken more pictures.

      The thing that made the tent a mack daddy was probably because we didn’t have to do anything to it. IT was perfect and move in ready. That was a first for us.

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