Flight One…Part Two
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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/