The weather in the Gulf region is usually pretty nice during this time of year, and it really had been in Qatar. Highs in the 60ís and 70ís with comparatively low humidity were a whole lot nicer than the 120+ and 90% that we had a few months ago. Unfortunately the weather in Iraq and Kuwait hadn't worked out quite a well. Iraq was going through a '100 year winter', cold, cloudy, with heavy rain and in places, snow. All of this made bombing quite a bit more difficult for our guys who went north each day - it also made it a lot more difficult to find the SCUD launchers, hidden in the western deserts, that the Iraqis had been using to launch missiles against Israel.
Out weather, as I said, was nice, so it wasn't a big deal to be in and out of our chemical gear during alerts and decon inspections. The SCUD alerts were beginning to become less frequent, not due to the lack of ballistic missiles being fired, but due to the policy of setting off the alerts. Over the first few days of the war whenever a missile was detected, no matter the projected target, the entire theater was alerted, now it was a little more specific. If Riyadh were the target we wouldn't end up in the bunker, but if the direction was towards Dhahran or Bahrain it was time to 'go visit the Canadians'. While we had some pretty nice 'bunkers' that doubled as porches, or 'hootches' in front of each tent, 'at work' most of the shelters were basically low square walls of sandbags, maybe three feet high, that we were supposed to hide behind. On the other hand, the Canadians, with whom we shared our hangar, half buried square cross-sectioned reinforced concrete pipe, overlaid with a thick layer of sandbags, with heavy doors, water, food, and telephone communication to their command post. You can guess where we normally went when the sirens went off. "This is shelter #5, we have four Canadians, and sixteen 'others' inside..."
It was now the 21st of January, the fifth day of the war and things were definitely becoming a routine. Things were picking back up in phase as we were preparing to receive our first 'combat phase' aircraft. Our phase plan had been approved and we were told that it was going to form the basis for F-16 inspections in the theater. Not too bad for something that we basically hashed out on the back of Chinese take-out menus and scrap paper. Our plan wouldn't leave anything out of the typical phase package, but we wouldn't put anything else in either. Instead of depaneling the entire aircraft, we would only take off the access panels that were absolutely necessary for other work to start. Then each panel that was required to remove for inspection would be pulled, inspected, faults corrected, and immediately closed. Our QA inspectors had given us quite a bit of leeway, they told us what they really wanted to see, and the rest we had authorization to close on our own. I still didn't know how the phases would go, or how long they would take (well, we'd been told that we had basically a day, due to flying hours and the fact that we definitely weren't going to be the ones who made an aircraft miss a mission...). A lot would depend on just how the aircraft continued to fly in the demanding desert and wartime environment. As far as that went, to this point the birds were doing great, probably even better than when we were back in Spain.
We were worried that we still hadn't heard anything about either of our guys that went down the day before yesterday. I don't think that anyone really expected to hear much about Mike Roberts, but we really thought that we'd have heard that Jeff Tice had been rescued and was on the way back, but he'd just disappeared.
The war went on, as we did each day we stood out in front of the hangar as the aircraft departed for their morning mission, and were in place out at EOR as they returned, the same in the afternoon. As we prepared to head out to EOR that afternoon the word spread through the hangar, likely from Ops, that an aircraft had gone down. "Damn, not again." It was that same feeling back from two days before, but within minutes we heard the news that the pilot had already been rescued and the low feeling changed to high, just that fast.
Once the pilots came out of debrief we, once again, got out own less formal, debrief in the hangar. The pilots had been attacking a target on the Kuwaiti coastline, under Iraqi SAM and AAA fire, when Jon Ball, the 614th Ops Officer flying 87-0224, had dropped his Mk.84 (a two thousand pound, general purpose 'dumb' bomb). Just after coming off of the wing, the bomb detonated and the ton of explosives and shockwave tore through the aircraft. He was able to guide the crashing aircraft back out over the Gulf and eject. Within a short time a Navy helicopter that hadnít been far away picked him up. The rescue helo had transported him to the carrier for medical attention. Immediately an investigation was started concerning out Mk.84 and their fuses, had the fuse been improperly set by a weapons crew rushed to load bombs during a long shift, or had it been a one in a million accident? The investigation would tell, but fortunately this time we were getting our guy back. Although we didn't know Jon's condition, it was an incredible weight that had been lifted off of us. To celebrate, instead of dinner at the chow hall that night we went over the Hardees/KFC, just outside of the Tent City entrance for chicken. And nothing goes better with chicken, than some of that 'special mouthwash' that the guys back in Spain had sent over in the CARE package...
These are 'unedited' chapters that I'm posting as I write. Some day I'll work them all in together...