By DEEDEE ARRINGTON DOKE
Stars and Stripes
17 Jan 1991
AN AIR BASE IN QATAR - They call themselves “the Forgotten 1,000,” the men and women who also are known as the 401st Tac Fighter Wing (Provisional).
Qatar pronounced “cutter” here, is an unfamiliar locale to most Americans, But U.S. forces have been there since August, building most of their base from the ground up and training hard for war.
The “forgotten” part comes in because of their location. Outsiders usually consider Saudi Arabia the one and only potential battleground. But Qatar a small sheikdom on a peninsula jutting into the Persian Gulf lies at the outer edge of Iraqi SCUD missile range, and few here believe that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein will exempt Qatar from his fury.
The Persian Gulf portion of the 401st deployed from Torrejon AB, Spain with F-16 jet fighters and pilots and maintenance workers, among other personnel. About 60 other bases are represented here, including 20 in Europe.
“ The challenge… is the get them all to have loyalty to our organization here and not just loyalty to the folks back home, “ said Col. Jerry Nelson, the provisional wing’s commander.
Pilots here match their F-16’s in training against the fighters they’d meet in the air war with Iraq. Qatar’s Air Force and French troops assigned nearby fly the French –made Mirage F-1, Iraq’s fighter of choice.
“It’s one of the greatest advantages of being in Qatar,” Nelson said.
Training in Qatar has other benefits. The airspace is less crowded than at Torrejon, where civilian aircraft in an out of Madrid’s busy airport compete with military traffic for room.
The added space also means that pilots can practice certain missions closer to their home base, this saving fuel.
“It’s as good a training as you’ll ever see,” said Maj. Jon Ball, a 401st pilot.
The 401st’s aircrews fly six days a week and holidays while they’re in the gulf. At Torrejon, they only flew five days a week, and holidays were holidays.
“ They’re probably the most fired-up, ready bunch I’ve ever seen,” Nelson said.
“By ready, I don’t see mean childish glee and all this kind of stuff. I mean they’re mature; they’re very well trained. They’ve got the look in their eye that really ought to worry somebody if they’re on the other side of the border.”
F-16’s need more cleaning in the desert than they do in Spain. So a “water buffalo” was crafted out of a munitions trailer, a fiberglass bathtub and other odds and ends to handle each aircraft’s fresh water rinse every 15 days. Jets also get full washes once every 30 days now instead of at 90 days.
“They look better now than the average jet does at Torrejon,” said Capt. Gary Lane, the officer in charge of the 614th Aircraft Maint Unit.
That’s just one of the challenges maintenance crews have to tackle. Another is having fewer hangers for maintenance work. “But the environment is right for getting down to work” said Staff Sgt. Leslie Johnson.
Winning a war in the Persian Gulf will depend on reliable communication as much as on heavy artillery and high-powered aircraft.
That’s’ why the 11th Combat Communications Sq. has more than $15 million worth of sophisticated equipment in Qatar. The squadron, part of the 1st Combat Communications Group based at Lindsey Air Station, Germany provides the base’s inside and outside communications system.
Camouflaged tents conceal vans with high tech equipment and protect it from the sand and dust.
Those who staff the systems are more than glorified telephone operators. In peacetime, they play war in one-and two-week exercises with aggressor teams to practice keeping the linkups safe from enemy hands.
Communications is high-tech warfare with a down-to-earth, approach. Advances in communications technology alone would make war with Iraq different than the Vietnam conflict.
“Vietnam was fought with manual typewriters and without computers. If a war has to be fought, I think people will be surprised with what we can do,” said Capt. Leo Bukowski, an officer assigned to the unit.
Rising mounds of dirt around the base show that berm building leads to civil engineering crew’s priority list.
Berms are steep, man made ridges that the Air Force uses to store weapons when buildings aren’t available.
“When you don’t have any place to store weapons, you go back to Mother Earth,” said Maj. R.L. Hunt, who deployed from Nellis AFB, Nev.
The combined civil engineering squadron had offices atop “Mount C.E.” a mound of dirt above the base’s tent city. Unit members include workers from Nellis AFB and units from air bases in Germany: Bitburg, Hahn and Spangdahlem.
And the techniques they use to work common construction problems reflect a blend of ideas from each unit.
“You get more tools in your toolbox. You go back with 100 percent more knowledge,” Hunt said.
For instance, using concrete slabs from rapid runway repair, the most common practice at U.S. Air Forces in Europe bases, had been put aside in favor of a technique involving fiberglass and crushed stone. It takes less than half the time required with the concrete slab method, Hunt said.