Guilty as charged…
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.