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Flight One…Part Two

April 4, 2013
colonel 1

One of the few Colonels that I really like.

Hey Y’all

This is part 2 of 3. All of these posts were from a single day in Tabuk. 29 March, 2003. All of the photos are from google images.

 

command tent

Yes, this is a tent. It looks like a hospital tent.

 

There are several types of military tents. In fact, I have no idea how many types there really is, but in Tabuk we had several different types. The standard type was the one we lived in. It slept twelve semi-comfortably. We had it good, the ground guys had bunk beds making it twenty-four per tent. Now that is tight. There were larger tents that were used for offices. Connected together, they could conceivably continue forever. Within each tent, were built in plastic walls. They did not mute noise, but they offered the illusion of privacy.

 

briefing room

 

Within the walls of this type of tent, the classified briefings were held. I never asked if anyone was positioned outside the tent wall to ensure that James Bond wasn’t listening in. I guess it was safe to assume he had better places to be than Tabuk. In the last post, I described how in the early days of the war, we were considered to be rock stars. In reality, we were not rock stars. We were still the same low life slackers that the fighter pilots and Colonels always considered us to be.

 

tent

 

Because this was a totally new base, manned with people from seven different Guard units, working in a different country, gathered together to invade a foreign nation. There were opportunities for mistakes, so the powers that be decided that if they parked the flight crew in one place, it was easier to bring the supporting sections to that one place. By doing that each section streamlined their processes and made sure that we had everything we needed. Hence, we had the illusion that we were the center of the universe. After a month, the crews were released to getting what we thought needed and if we didn’t get it. Then it was our fault.

We were guided into the briefing room of the tent. There were several people standing in the room and I did not recognize any of them. Officer and Enlisted, a couple of guys actually smiled when we walked in. There was one man sitting in a metal chair. Besides remaining seated, the other difference in him was that he was wearing a flight suit and he was sanitized. That means that he had removed all of the patches from his flight suit. The only thing identifying him was the eagles on his shoulders. He was a Colonel.

 

colonel rank

 

Because I lead from the rear, I was the last one in the room. Actually, I was running my mouth and talking to someone that I knew while my crew went ahead. They sat in the chairs, starting with the one that was the farthest from the Colonel. Since I was last, I got the chair next to the Colonel. This should have been the first sign that my crew loved me but at that moment I did not get it. Thanks a lot, guys.

The Colonel leaned in towards me and spoke. “I’m Colonel Jimmy Simmons. With two Ms. I’m going to Iraq with you today.”

 

unwriten rules

 

I would like to take a minute to dissect the statement. I hate to play golf. Not because I don’t like to hit the little white ball, but because I don’t like the enormous amount of unwritten rules. You can do this, but never that. Stand here, but not there. You get the idea. It beats the fun out of the game. In aviation, there are unwritten rules that should always be followed. Even in Tabuk.

 

golf rule

Q. What is the best way to protect your windows from flying golf balls.
A. Dont be stupid and live on a golf course,

 

The first is when you meet a new person; never identify yourself by your rank. I can see the rank on the uniform, even sanitized. By introducing himself as Colonel, He made it sound like it is what his mamma called him when he fell out of her. That tells me he is wrapped up in his rank like a security blanket, I interpret that as meaning he is insecure. Strike one.

When he told me that his name had two M’s in it. I missed it, but fortunately my guys caught it. In retrospect, I still don’t know what did the two M’s refer too? Jimmy? But then his name would have been Jimy. That didn’t make sense. If it applied to his last name, Simons is a different name. Maybe it was Jimy Simons. I don’t know but it was irrelevant information would become a great joke in about 22 hours. Strike Two.

He never asked if he could go with us. In the Navy it is a long standing tradition before boarding a ship that you are not assigned too, you ask for permission to come aboard. You see it in the movies all the time, “Permission to come aboard?” The reply is always the same, “Granted.” The President of the United States is the highest ranking military member. And when they step foot onto a Navy Ship, it is common courtesy to ask permission to board. Likewise, it is the same in the aviation world. It is respectful to ask for a ride somewhere. It is the same thing that prevents you from showing up at your best friend’s house with packed bags. If you want to stay at their house, you ask and never assume. He didn’t ask, he ordered. And in doing so he broke another unwritten rule. Strike Three.

 

permission

Scott, Paul and Tracy. Scott as Kirk. Paul as Mr. Spock. Tracy as Bones.

 

I introduced myself as Rob and gave him permission to go with us. If this had been two months later, I would have given him the permission to take my seat, and I would have stayed home. But I wasn’t going to miss the first day of class, and I know my guys would have literally killed me if I had left him in charge. My next question was very pointed. “Why are you going with us?” I knew he had the attention of everyone in the room.

His reply was some bogus, politically correct, long winded answer of seeing what the crews had to deal with up North. I knew immediately what the real answer was. He was looking for a combat medal. I never trusted a person who wanted to be shot at. As a Colonel, he had the opportunity to get shot at some point in his career. I know everyone misses something, but in the twelve previous years he had Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Bosnia, and Afghanistan to build his rack. For some reason he didn’t take advantage of those opportunities and here he was making up for lost time. Strike Four.

He asked me what I did in my Squadron. I simply said SELO. I bit my tongue and didn’t say something to tick him off. I wanted to say “but here I am in Tabuk earning my tent building merit badge while waiting for Spring Break to be over so the micromanagers in Washington can make a decision and get this war started.” Two months later and I would have said that too and probably something much worse.

 

rumsfeld

I will give you a dollar if you can find one Tabukian that likes either of these men.

 

SELO stands for Standards/Evaluation Liaison Officer. I wasn’t an Evaluator, I was an office administrator. He said that I should have known his name since he was the Chief of Stan/Eval for the Air Force. Another title, another bullet point for his resume and another reason to distrust him. I acted like I recognized his name, but I had no clue who he was.

In Tabuk, he was the Vice Wing Commander. He was the second in command of the base. If I were the active duty Vice Wing Commander and I was in charge of seven Guard/Reserve C-130 units. I would have made it a priority to meet my crews. I would have put a MRE in my pocket and gone out to eat with my troops every day. I would have made sure that they knew who I was and I would have made sure I knew who they were. It is called leadership, but I am just a guy so what I would have done, don’t matter.

 

zsu-23

Russian made ZSU-23. This thing is scarry and can turn a good day into a bad one very quickly.

 

The briefing was detailed and long. The short version was if we stayed south of the Tigris River, there was only one threat to be concerned about. There was an Iraqi ZSU-23 somewhere along our route of flight. The ZSU-23, is a Russian made, self-propelled, anti-aircraft weapon. Optically guided, it is the real deal and if we saw it, they would shoot us dead. There were fighters overhead looking for it and if we survived the initial contact, we were instructed to call on the radio with coordinates. The other item of note was that we were instructed to fly no lower than 1000 feet above the ground. The Army helicopters were assigned the altitude below 1000 feet. The altitude of 1000 sounds low, but in a combat environment you were asking to be shot. We trained to fly at 300 feet and in the dessert of Iraq and even that felt high. It wouldn’t be long before we regularly flew at 100 feet and below.

Briefing complete, we went to combat with an insecure, self-impressed, by the book, active duty, war hungry, Air Force Academy graduate, who is praying that we get shot at so that he can pad his resume in order to be promoted to General. What could possibly go wrong?

 

self center

Ain’t that the truth.

 

Next time we will discuss the responsibilities and duties of law enforcement officers. Until then, keep on rocking!

If you are enjoying this trip down memory lane, I have a friend who is telling his side of the war from his perspective. Don was an Army Paratrooper who made the trip from Kuwait to Baghdad in 2003, one town at a time. Check out his blog and tell him I sent you. http://carryingthegun.wordpress.com/

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From → military

12 Comments
  1. Keep it coming! Sitting on the edge of my seat….at least I know you lived to tell the tale!

    • Abby,

      I am glad that you enjoy the trip down memory lane. If you know how I can keep you wondering if we make it or not, I would love to know. That would be a great literary technique.

      • lol….I think you could only do that if you were telling it in Third Person POV. First Person lends itself to knowing the character will survive. 🙂

      • That is where I made my mistake. I should have done this in fourth person. That would have made things better. Well I hate to spoil the surprise, but we lived.

  2. I live in Colorado and we’ve done a couple of the tourist trips with visitors from out-of-state, to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It’s an impressive place. I’ve watched as students (I guess) line up, get yelled at, and walk around with such precision and just know I would falter in this line of command and discipline. As I’m reading this post, I’m full of complete awe and admiration of you Rob and am smiling at your description of “Jimy Simons” ;). Did you say, “I’m Rob– one B” Loving these posts. So good.

    • Julie,

      I will keep my thoughts about the value of the military academies to myself. There are some great advantages to it and there are some disadvantages.

      I have done nothing to deserve your awe or admiration. I was just a guy who was there and now I am telling my experiences. I did nothing. There are guys out there who are real heroes; most of them are 90 years old. Many of them are 70 years old and there are a few our age. They deserve our respect.

      I did not say I was rob with a b. There is something much better. One of the most memorable quotes of history. Next post.

  3. “Strike Four”… I am pleased you didn’t rack up a Strike Five”… But you did in a way. I hope you didn’t encounter the moving Bofors on steroids… 🙂

    • Strikes five through ten come in the next post. This is just the beginning.

      Spoiler Alert, no one shot at us on this day.

  4. ” I knew immediately what the real answer was. He was looking for a combat medal. I never trusted a person who wanted to be shot at.”

    It looks like this happens all over the place. It upsets me a little bit when you have US troops dying all over the world in combat, that you get these high-ranking guys that want to come out and experience a little taste of gunfire just for a ribbon or metal on the chest. Like you said in the previous decade of war if a guy really want a chance to taste combat he would got it and he wouldn’t have come as a full bird colonel. I’ve had my taste of war, gunfights, and IED’s and I don’t wish for another taste of it.

    Great blog by the way, keep writing.

    • Thank you sir.

      Being honest, there were parts of combat that I really enjoyed. Most of it, I could do without. Having said that nothing good comes from war, especially, when the objective is to not gather/enjoy the fruits of victory.

  5. I, for one, am loving these posts. About a week ago I was in Phoenix at a hotel and they had a drink you could order called Haboob Storm Cloud. Thought of you (your blog entry) and decided that I didn’t really want that drink.

    • Thanks Lynn,

      Sorry that I am invading your life as well. That is a very dangerous thing for you to do, let me into your mind. Especially if you knew what was in my mind. Okay I will tell you, nothing. It is a black hole where thoughts go in and most never return. Scary stuff.

      If I get out to Phoenix, I will try a Haboob Storm Cloud. I have a friend out there, Big Joe. Maybe we can get him to sample it for us all. He is crazy like that.

      Thanks for all the support.

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