It was still early in the day when there was a knock on my dorm room door and a call to the telephone. I remember being a bit surprised in getting a call and thinking it must be some of the guys calling from the hangar to set up a Friday night trip, probably into Alcala or maybe down into Madrid. Good, my rum and Coke 'low quantity' light was blinking and it was always nice to get off base on a weekend. I was in for a bigger surprise when I picked up the telephone...
"Hello?" "Good morning Mike... (It was our SMSgt. Branch Chief, somehow I got the idea that this call wasn't about going out on Friday night) ... do you have any plans for tomorrow?" (Well, odd, but maybe I'm wrong?) "No, not really..." "Good. How would you like to go to Qatar?"
Almost six weeks earlier we had seen the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on CNN. It was sad for the oil rich Emirate, but other than higher gasoline prices how could it really affect any of us? It just seemed so far away from us on those warm late summer days at Torrejon Air Base, outside of Madrid, Spain. Over the next several days, as the US Military began to deploy, it all grew closer. Our transit aircraft line grew much more busy with C-141 Starlifter and C-5 Galaxy supply flights making stops on the way to the Mid East. As the traffic increased, at times it almost seemed to crowd our wing of F-16's off the flightline. The 401st Tactical Fighter Wing was the only flying wing assigned to the 16th Air Force, also based at Torrejon. Our commitment was to patrol and defend Southern Europe and the Mediterranean region from our base in Spain, and our deployment locations at Aviano AB, Italy and Incirlik AB, Turkey. With Incirlik's location close to Iraq it seemed like a good bet that we would end up in Turkey before very long. Of course the rumors were flying - how many aircraft would deploy? Where? When? The only thing that I knew for sure was that there was a huge amount of Military Airlift Command traffic through our little airbase. Even I was driving a 'Follow Me truck, guiding visiting aircraft around our flightline, to help our Transit Alert guys ("Umm, guys, you know I don't have a military license?" "Well, just don't hit anything...")
My 'real job' at Torrejon was as an F-16 mechanic, I worked in Hangar 5, the 401Equipment Maintenance Squadron Phased Maintenance hangar, on the 613th TFS 'The Squids' F-16C/D aircraft. Every 150 flying hours we would open each aircraft up, do a pretty intensive inspection, correct the faults we had found, and perform scheduled maintenance. Not the 'glamour' job of working on the flightline (I know, I hated going to phase when I was flightline during my previous assignment at MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida) but it was usually more 'in-depth' than line work. It was also nice to be inside, out of the Spanish summer sun and the winter's cold. At the time, we were on 12-hour shifts although phase work had been pretty relaxed since the airlift had started. Fewer aircraft had been flying, so there were fewer aircraft to inspect. It was around midnight on August 28th that we received some of the first answers to all of the rumors. The telephone rang in the inspection dock and the 614TFS 'Lucky Devils' recall was on.
At most stateside bases a recall is basically a telephone exercise. At Torrejon, where telephones were very expensive and still rather rare, it is a door-to-door driving experience. Our supervisor started the fun, "OK, who has a car?" Everyone that lived off base was required to have directions and a map to their house or apartment 'on file' in our office. At this point, seeing some of the maps, it became obvious why some of us became mechanics and not artists. I had a car, and was handed a map. Six months previously I had deployed to Aviano with the 614th and knew the phase mechanics well. That night as I set out into the Spanish darkness for Alcala, about 5 miles up the N2 highway, I knew that the mechanic I was informing wouldn't take the deployment as good news. His wife was eight months pregnant with their first child. By the time I returned from 'my mission' the word was spreading that the 'Lucky Devils' were deploying to Qatar. Now I've always been quite good at geography, and am kind of a 'news junkie', but I'll admit, I'd never heard of Qatar. I asked about the mechanic that I'd informed and his pregnant wife. Being single (and with no real plans for that weekend) I volunteered to go in his place, but was told that he would deploy with his unit and would not return until his unit returned. Several hours later we sent out search parties for some of the people trying to follow poorly drawn maps around central Spain. By the time I returned to work that night the 'Lucky Devils' were gone, with their 24 F-16's, and their equipment and personnel in 3 KC-10 Extender refueling aircraft.
The 614th's now vacant ramp space didn't remain that way for long. We were in the midst of a huge deployment that was growing larger every day. Our phased inspections were cut back even more and I was reassigned to Transit Alert on a full time basis. We didn't even have time to think about our deployed comrades, each day became a constant stream of Galaxys and Starlifters. We kept a log of all of our transit birds and it didn't take very long before we had seen nearly every heavy airlift aircraft in the US military inventory. This even included a C-141 without paint that had been recalled from a depot maintenance facility. Two weeks later there was another recall, this time for the 612th TFS. The Eagles were off to Incirlik AB, Turkey, as we had guessed several weeks earlier. At least they were deploying to a 'known' location, the 612th deployed to "The Lik" twice a year for exercises and knew the base and the area well - actually better than many of the its members would have liked... They were in for a surprise, when they arrived they were met by a much different, much busier base filled with F-15's, F-4G's, F-111's and KC-135 tankers. It was beginning of what would become the 7440th Composite Wing (Provisional).
Back at 'TJ' the deployment of a second squadron, the 612th, left even more space on our flightline for the ever increasing airlift. Training's Hangar 6 had been converted into a 'hotel' by moving the battle damage repair (ABDR) training aircraft to a parking lot adjoining the flightline and setting up hundreds of cots for the passengers of the airlift aircraft. Ramp space was at such a premium 'downstream' that crews overnighted at Torrejon. All flights out were round trip. TJ's flightline was not much better, at times we had every parking space filled and parked aircraft in the taxi areas between parking spaces. When these spaces were also filled, we parked aircraft on taxiways. Even the little Shorts C-23 Sherpa that flew in from Germany daily would be parked off the ramp on the same vehicle parking lot with the ABDR F-105 and F-4. I think that some of the Sherpa crews were surprised that their aircraft wasn't 'axed and patched' when they returned. Because Torrejon was located so close to the Madrid International Airport (Barajas), all of our flights were coordinated through their radar. Just to make things even more exciting, randomly (read - when we were especially busy) Madrid's radar would go down. This would cause a halt to all aircraft movements; no aircraft could land until a fuel emergency had been declared. Our base was so full that, because we even had aircraft parked down the parallel taxiway, we would have to 'scramble' launch an aircraft so the fuel emergency bird could taxi off of the active runway. By mid September most of our Hangar 5 had also been turned into a transit dorm for the troops deploying through our base. Many people lived in our hangar for a week or more while waiting for flights to the desert. Our 'Chow Hall' could not keep up with the number of people and a field kitchen was set up to take up the overload. Unfortunately, our MWR Recreation Center, which had a virtual monopoly on telephones that could dial the States, saw the opportunity to make some money, and doubled their charge to nearly $4 a minute.
Life's pace at Torrejon had picked up incredibly in the six weeks since the invasion of Kuwait. Two of our three squadrons had deployed. Our guys in Turkey starting to become accustomed to their new routine at Incirlik, but we still hadn't heard a word from the 614th. In general though, all the action really hadn't affected me that much, although that was about to change. It was now the morning of 19 September 1990 and I was in the dorm getting ready for another night in Transit Alert when I received the call...