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NY Times…

March 19, 2013

tabuk 023

This picture was taken in Al Udied, in the summer of 2003 by Captain Bill Grimes. It is just another example of guys killing time.

Hey Y’all

I guess today is the tenth anniversary of the actual start of the Iraq war. The NY Times is encouraging folks to submit articles about where they were when the war kicked off. I did not intend on talking about this because there are better stories to tell.

You can sum up the news like this. Paul S. stated to the tent. “Hey guys we just bombed Baghdad!”

“Wow, I guess that means we are really going to do something.” Rob replied.

This conversation was followed by a hours of boring BBC coverage from a long distance AM radio station. It was torture for me to listen to the station, so I went inside the tent and listened to some music.

I submitted the following piece to the NY Times. I will let you know if I get a hit back. Keep Rocking!



Going to war is a tough concept for anyone to comprehend. Waiting for war is torture. Waiting for that war, in a complete news vacuum is inhumane. That is where I found myself in early March, 2003. A part of the largest C-130 Airlift Squadron since Vietnam. Tabuk, Saudi Arabia was home to 56 C130s from nine Air Guard and Reserve units from Niagara Falls, NY, St Joseph MO, Louisville KY, New Castle DE, Nashville TN, Oklahoma City OK, my unit from Charleston WV. Additionally, there were several squadrons of F-15s tasked to gain and hold Air Superiority during the war. Well over 3,000 personnel sat in the communications black hole waiting for the war to start. No e-mail, no news, no television, no phone calls, no contact with the world.

One of my crew members(Paul S), a Chemistry Major at West Virginia University rigged a make shift radio antenna around our tent and connected it to a tiny hand held radio. It worked best at night, and gave us garbled AM access to a BBC news station. Some nights we stayed in the tent watching war movies others we sat outside listening to the static while talking. The night the war broke out, a small crowd gathered for the latest news briefing.

It was surreal to be in a news blackout and still be in the know. Today, we take the ability to communicate for granted. Just ten years ago, it was a different world. Living in Tabuk, if not for my Flight Engineer we would have resorted to smoke signals.

For my crew, the war started on 29 March, 2003. We flew to Kuwait City, landing in the middle of the biggest C-130 convention I had ever seen. Literally we were parked wingtip to wingtip the entire length of a taxiway which is nearly two miles long. Waiting for hours, we finally got out cargo, five pallets of MREs and water. Our destination was the airport serving Al Nasiriyah, later we found out that was the city where Jessica Lynch was taken captive and on that day was still missing. Private Lynch’s hometown is about 30 miles from Charleston and another pilot in my tent was from her hometown, knowing her extended family.

This was the first of hundreds of flight, I and my crew made into the war ravaged country and several short tours in Afghanistan. Before I quit in 2007, I was shot at by anti-aircraft missiles, guys with AK-47s, kids throwing rocks as we flew over and self-promoting Officers who wanted to use the war as a step latter to become a General.

Rob Akers quit the West Virginia Air National Guard in 2007 after a 13 year career as an Instructor Pilot. He is now a Captain at a major airline and makes his home in West Virginia. He is married with two young children. He has completed the first draft of a novel and blogs at

From → writing

  1. Karlene permalink

    This is totally another world that it’s hard to envision without being there. I’m so glad you made it back safely. For those who didn’t, Tom is writing a post on that subject Thursday.

  2. Thanks Karlene. I describe it as an extended camping trip with 6 of your best buddies and no contact with the outside world. Once we got settled in, it was okay.

    Spoiler Alert. Things will pick up soon.

    I enjoy Tom’s posts. He has a different perspective than I do and I appreciate his comments. Fortunately we all lived but my Flight Engineer, Paul was seriously injured over there. His story will be in a couple of months.

    • Karlene permalink

      Life is all about perspective for sure! Looking forward to Paul’s story.

      • Paul’s story is not one that will paint the military or the government in a flattering light. Or me either. I failed on many levels and it haunts me in many ways. It is a story of war.

  3. worldsbeforethedoor permalink

    Thanks for sharing this. I still find it crazy how much of war is just waiting.

    • The waiting will continue but will be comming to a end soon. In many ways the waiting was safe. When we started working, bad things were happening.

  4. Amazing insight, you described the agony of the wait very well, Just wondering though, no anger or discontent by the info blackout on the frontline?

    • Thanks Wilson.

      Maybe more frustration than anything else. But, it was strange how we all reacted . I wasn’t as bothered as others. I focused my discontent on other struggles. I don’t remember anyone who enjoyed this period of the war. All for different reasons, of course.

      Spoiler Alert: There was a communication device available. I will talk about it in a couple of weeks. We cheated and smuggled something into war. There is much more to this story. Ha ha

      • Honestly, if you are writing a story. It should be about this. You humanise the soldiers on the field. No need for dramatic flair. That’s for fiction.

      • I agree the dramatic flair gets quite draining. There is always a fair amount of communication that happens in real life but I quickly tire of the entertainment industry’s interpretation of combat, the need to explain every movement and the general dumbing down of movies and books. Reasonably smart people can figure out the plot, even if we have no operating knowledge of a subject. I know military and aviation movies are guilty of this style storytelling, and I would expect the lawyer and medical stories fall into this trap as well.

        It is about the characters and telling a great story. Not dramatic flair.

  5. Icabu permalink

    Your stories are jogging sand buried memories, Rob. I haven’t thought of outhouses and gang showers for nearly 20 yrs. And MREs … and Saudi sands … brown tents … letters from home (the real paper kind) … rush, rush, rush … wait, wait, wait … sweat and fear. War is hell, no matter the decade.

    • I think we all find that every though our experiences, location, and reactions to events are all difference. Somehow, they are all similar. I have wondered for a long while if the Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban experience PTSD like so many of our side seem to experience.

      I am sure they do, we are all human after all.

      Thanks for saying hi and I hope all is well in your world.

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