Time for another trip down memory lane. Early May, 2003 was moving day. Our time in Tabuk was quickly coming to an end and we were moving. I have no idea about the politics of the situation, but during the summer of 2003, every base the United States was using in Saudi Arabia was closing, including Tabuk. I heard several theories in the following months about why we invaded Iraq and one of them was that the US had been kicked out of Saudi, and we invaded Iraq to provide the military long term access to bases in the Middle East. I don’t know if it was true or not, but it made for great discussion on our daily missions up north.
Tabuk was in the high desert plains of north western Saudi. Sitting at about 3000 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL) it was relatively cool, even in the daytime. It was a real pain to fly our normal 20 hour day, land and then start packing. Somewhere during the day/night/day evolution we found some time to sleep in the back of a C-130. The three hour flight was actually nice because it was cold and I slept the entire time. The airplane was packed with our household goods and four crews (24 guys) plus the crew providing us the lift. Our new home was Al Udied, Qatar.
Qatar is on the Arabian Peninsula, jetting out into the Persian Gulf. 100 miles across the Gulf is Iran. Doha is the capital and one of the most modern cities in the world. Al Udied, is twenty miles to the west of Doha.
We didn’t get to live there. We lived here.
An little known fact about Al Udied, is that it is only three miles from the surface of the sun. I am going to describe hot and trust me when I say this description is lacking. Turn your oven on high and stick your head inside it, then turn on a hair dryer and let it blow directly in your face. When I stepped off the airplane, I promise that the air was sucked out of my lungs on the first breath. It was replaced with a fiery, dusty, stagnant super-heated air molecule. I was told that the good people of Qatar vacation in Phoenix when they want a break from the heat. (I kid you not!)
So here we are, hot, tired and hungry. But before we can find our new tent, we had to attend the mandatory briefings that accompany every arrival at a new base. We got to meet all the cool guys, Colonel So and So who said “Blah, Blah, Blah” and Colonel What’s his name whose briefing was a much different “Blah, Blah, Blah.” My favorite was from Tank. Tank, strode to the front of the tent full of confidence and power.
You see, he was a fighter pilot! And not just a Fighter Pilot, but he was an F-15E Strike Eagle Fighter Pilot. A zipper suited, sun god to the Nth degree. He had actually dropped bombs onto Iraqi’s heads. A real American Super Hero, he was everything we were not. But we had one nugget of experience that Tank did not take into account. We actually landed in Iraq, multiple times a day. Sometimes while the field was under attack, sometimes when a missile was in the air, sometimes when it was light and sometimes when it was pitch dark. Poor Tank considered it an emergency procedure to consider landing at any place other than Al Udied. To us, it was our purpose in life, and it was the one thing we did exceptionally well.
Tank began his briefing with authority demonstrating his command of the PowerPoint briefing. He used terms, acronyms, and classified names of mandatory reporting points. As Tank talked, it became apparent that he was not talking too us, but he was talking down to us. His flight suit was zipped to the top and covered with his ascot (scarf). Our flight suits were zipped down to almost full open. Mine was almost off my shoulders, exposing a highly inappropriate black Metallica tee-shirt. My unapproved baseball cap was in my lap, sunglasses were resting on my messed up hair and I needed to shave. I was not alone in my unprofessional appearance; I was one of 24 unprofessional C-130 slime bags.
Finally completing his brief, Tank committed the ultimate mistake. The fatal mistake was asking if there were any questions. I don’t remember if it was Yogi, a rather large, crusty Flight Engineer or if it was Russ, one of the best pilots I have ever known. But they were a crew together and both of them have a great lack of respect for arrogant attitudes. The first question was “What is an overhead?” Followed by “What does initial mean?” The questions started flowing fast and they all were sarcastic. Of course I chimed in and stated “All of this is confusing, can we just fly a visual and land?” Tank’s face turned as red as his ascot and patches. He packed up his notes and stormed off. By the time he got out of the tent, we were all in tears from laughter.
One last Tabuk story. I did not see it, but I have it from multiple eyewitnesses that this is a true story. We were paired with several units in Tabuk, only Delaware, Oklahoma City and St. Joe Missouri went with us to Al Udied. Nashville went to Oman. One of their crews decided to do a low pass over tent city. Our old friend Colonel Jimmy “Two Balls” Simmons described it a spectacularly low. I do not know how low spectacularly really is. I did a low pass over a field in Pakistan once, about 40 feet and 300 knots. The guy at the end of the runway dove to the ground as we passed over. Another time, I did a high speed pass over a field in Kazakhstan. This time much higher, 100 feet and 300 knots. Another memorial one was when we returned home.
I was the third airplane in a 3-ship formation. I was looking for clean air and was about 75 feet and 200 knots. From my seat, I would not have considered any of these low passes, spectacularly low. At the time, I felt safe and well within my personal limits. I did not feel that I was asking too much from the airplane, my crew of myself. Also, I felt that I could have been much lower, even on the pass that was 40 feet. I would love to see a video of the Nashville fly by. I am sure it was impressive.
Back in Tabuk, Jimmy “Two Balls” was incensed and called ahead to the new base. He ordered the crew to be arrested and grounded. They were met at the airplane by the police and were investigated. They all held to the same story. They received a missile indication immediately after take-off and were maneuvering to avoid the threat. Nothing ever came of it, and they were flying again a couple of days later. Thus a legend was born and I am sharing it with you. I salute my buddies from Nashville, rock on dudes!
Until next time, keep on rocking!