Provide Promise

Captain Chris Miller's experiences in the former Republic of Yugoslavia

The Mission : In and Out of Sarajevo : Back in Germany : Write Me

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Croatian Badge The missions we flew were pretty intense, and generally flown in stages. After taking off out of Rhein Main, we'd fly down to Aviano Air Base in Italy. We'd RON there, then fuel up enough that we could do a Split-to-Sarajevo double shuttle without having to refuel in between. On our return to Aviano, we'd generally be backhauling empty pallets and rigging equipment, dropping it off at Aviano where we'd RON again. Then we'd head back to Rhein-Main. By the time my crew got into theater, the number of sorties per day had fallen off significantly. We had 16 Reserve and Guard crews in Delta Squadron and were only scheduled for 3 FRY missions and a medevac Bravo daily. Consequently, one trip into "the box" during your two week tour was about it. My crew got two trips, thanks to some fancy maneuvering on the part of our aircraft commander, who (I think) offered the scheduler a case of apfelkorn to get us back on the schedule a second time.
Split from the air Split, in the state of Dalmatia, was at one time a very ritzy resort town. The conflict had driven off most of the tourist trade, and some of the outlying areas had been affected directly by munitions. However, the seaside portion of town was still very nice. The airport had been transformed into a forward operating location with a full-up TALCE in place, and barricades surounding what had once been a wide-open ramp. In general, the first sortie out of Aviano went directly into Sarajevo. Then we would go Sarajevo-Split-Sarajevo-Split and back to Aviano. The goal was maximum cargo without refueling. The first time, we succeeded. The second trip we had to gas up before we could get back to Italy.
The airport was right on the edge of town on the seaward side. The approach was straight forward, as we had no real threat there. We were using Jeppesen approach plates, since they were the most up-to-date; however, we still had to be careful of obstructions since the military had erected a number of communications antennae that had not yet been recorded or CHUM'd. The runway and parking area had been designed to handle a large amount of regional and international tourist traffic, so there was plenty of landing room. The TALCE had pretty much blocked off one end of the ramp near the cargo facility and taken over part of the outfield as a marshalling yard. We didn't get much ground time while we were there, but it was enough to catch a short ride up to the passenger terminal and do a little shopping. The inside of the terminal was a little sparse, since tourism had fallen off, but I managed to get a few souvenirs, including a lapel pin with the Croatian coat of arms. Split Airport
A mildly humorous story came out of this trip. I had known a young lieutenant back in CONUS by the name of Gene Essex. Gene was a traditional Reservist out of the 440th at Milwaukee, and he would do just about anything for a man-day. I had just run into him at Pope AFB in North Carolina about two months prior to this deployment. On my first landing at Split, I head over to the MARC van to get an update on weather and Intel, and who should I see hanging on the radio but Gene Essex. In the ensuing conversation, I find out that he had been signing up for every 30-day deployment he could get his hands on, and that this one just happened to put him in Split while I was passing through. TALCE
Sarajevo Airport By contrast, Sarajevo looked like crap from the air. The primary approach to the airport was planned at low-level to take advantage of the mountainous terrain and keep us out of the RADAR SAM envelope. The only trouble was, it put us not only into the heart of the small arms envelope, but in some cases made it possible for people on the side of the hills to actually shoot down at us. The Tactics shop at the 435th had done up an airborne RADAR approach (ARA) for us to use that had a slight dogleg on final, and was a little shaky on the RADAR targets lining up on initial. Once the runway was on the scope, the comfort level went up a bit. It was a very tense feeling when the fog was in or the cloud cover was down low, as the mountaintops were almost always obscured, and the descent to initial approach altitude often had you descending below the terrain while still IMC.
Sarajevo final approach The aircraft we were flying was one equipped with the missile warning system (MWS) and flare dispensers which were still relatively new for Herks. Although we were permitted to keep the MWS turned on during all phases of flight, the rules of engagement (ROE) prohibited us from having the flare dispense switch armed below 5000 feet. MWS hadn't been on C-130s for very long, and there were still glitches resulting in false alarms. More than once the flares went out too close to the ground causing grass fires. Needless to say, this ROE pissed off a lot of aircrew who thought their lives were more important than someone's lawn, and I have to admit - my crew was one that kept the arming switch on until about 1-mile final. In fact, on two of our four approaches into Sarajevo, we got an MWS launch indication, which we dutifully reported to the Rhein-Main Intel shop. Intel assured us that the indications were either due to ground fires or to sun-glint from bombed-out vehicles littering final approach. We took their opinions under advisement considering that none of them were on the plane with us the next trip in.
Once on the ground, we had a predetermined taxi path that lined all the aircraft up in a row on the parallel taxiway with parking room on the ramp for those that required a stay of more than a few minutes. It was a very efficient system for cycling aircraft in and out of the marshalling area, but seemed like a bad plan should the airfield come under attack. One well-placed mortar on the plane closest to the exit throat, and the marshalling area would be shut down, aircraft would be unable to get to the runway, and the attackers could shell the remainder of the planes at their liesure... obviously assuming that our ground troops wouldn't immediately be outside the wire on a hunter-killer trek. Turn time on the ground was fairly quick. We were on the ground less than 30 minutes for three of the trips in. On the other sortie, we ended up stuck behind another "large aircraft" that was having engine trouble. It took some juggling, and a very creative taxi route to resolve the issue, but we eventually got turned around and taken out the way we came in. We then had to back-taxi on the runway to get in position for takeoff. Our ground time on that trip was about 2 hours, and it was the only time we actually shut down while on the ground there. Sarajevo ground ops
Once we got airborne, the next brilliant idea was to gain altitude overhead the field prior to turning out for the return trip up the valley to Split. Fortunately, we were light-weight coming out. We had offloaded everything and just had two stacks of empty 463L pallets to carry back, so we only had to make one turn over the field to get to our departure altitude - a 540-degree turn. All I kept thinking about as we slowly climbed out was the MWS warning we'd had on the way in, and the fact that by circling the field, we were exposing the big "plus sign" of our "maximum square footage" profile to the sides of the ridges around the town. I couldn't think of a more perfect target for any swingin' dick with a 30-caliber. Suffice it to say, we made it back to Italy with no holes in the aircraft. One of the other crews flying into Sarajevo that week couldn't say the same. City of Sarajevo

E-Mail Last updated on 24 May 2006 by Chris Miller Go Top

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