Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm

Cruisin' Through the AOR - Herky Style

Life in Tent City : Visit the ALCC : Tour the AOR : Kuwait City : Write Me

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Our primary job throughout the theater was intra-theater airlift - moving people, parts, munitions, food, water, fuel, you name it - from one air base to another. Typically, the "Big MAC" folks would bring in huge amounts of stuff to an aerial port of debarkation via C-141 or C-5, then Aerial Port would transload to the Herks for the last leg of the relay. At the height of the airlift effort, we had 152 C-130s in theater tasked for 102 missions per day, including Alerts. Strat lift was staging in Mildenhall, Ramstein, Rhein Main, and Torrejon Air Bases in Europe, and flying so many missions into CENTCOM that the aiflow through Spain and Germany literally shut down.

Stuff kept coming, whether by plane or boat, and the herks kept lifting it. Nine active duty squadrons and nearly all Reserve and National Guard squadrons were deployed to the theater on open-ended orders. Some Reserve/Guard units had volunteered to do 30-day tours to avoid being activated, and got mobilized in place while serving their volunteer tour. The need for airlift was incredible. Rotations were unheard of, as most airlift personnel were deployed for the duration. The herks were stationed all over the peninsula - Saudi, Oman, UAE - so there was never anywhere you could land without seeing several.

We had C-130s in wings at Al Kharj in Saudi; Bateen, Al Minhad, Al Ain, and Sharjah in the UAE; and Masirah and Thumrait in Oman. Just before the kickoff of Desert Storm, one of the squadrons from Thumrait moved up to King Fahd Int'l in Saudi. Composite wings were the order of the day, and the C-130s found themselves in the same units as KC-135s, F-16s, A-10s, and a variety of Special Ops aircraft. These herks were on the ramp at the composite wing at Masirah - often called "Moon Island".

The key to victory in the ground war was the fabled end-run by the XVIII Airborne Corps around the Republican Guard. The keys to success for the end-run were mass and secrecy. This was accomplished in part by the C-130s and C-141s flying personnel, equipment, and fuel from the coastal areas to a spot in the desert where the XVIIIth was forming up for their role in the counter-offensive. The C-130s were flying into a runway carved out of a two-lane highway called tapline road. The road was only 40 feet wide, and the Army had to pour oil along the shoulders and pack it down to turn the road into a herky landing strip. Dubbed "Log Base Charlie", this small airfield had one C-130 landing or taking off every five minutes for about three weeks. The wind would blowup the fine sand, reducing visibility to almost nothing, there was no weather station to provide altimeter settings, and at least one Allied nation never coordinated their air traffic with the flow coordinator - a problem which resulted in at least two plane-loads RTB to Dhahran. By the time the "Rhafa Flow" (so named because of its proximity to the town of Rhafa) was over, two divisions, vehicle, food, munitions, and fuel for 72 hours had been airlifted several hundred miles with the Iraqi Army none the wiser.

Herk taxiing at Log "C" Portable shelters at Log "C" These guys landed right behind us
The loadmaster's job is the whole reason we fly. This loadmaster has the ramp and door opened on our taxi in at Log Base Charlie in order to expedite the offload of the fuel from the bladders we are carrying. The flow was one takeoff and one landing every ten minutes, with a maximum-on-ground (MOG) of 5. This meant we had about 40 to 45 minutes to drain the bladders and get airborne again without screwing up the traffic pattern. If you've never seen a bladder setup, they are not much to look at... but they work great. We would carry two palletized rubber bags full of jet fuel, along with a pump assembly on the ramp. When we opened up the back end, the Army would hook our pump assembly up to their storage bladders, and pump the fuel from us to them. The same system can be used to directly refuel helicotpers or vehicles. C-130
Airstrip This is what Log Base Charlie looked like right after takeoff. Note that tapline road was the major traffic artery between Dhahran and the extreme northwest corner of the kingdom, and traffic had to be diverted around the landing area. We landed the Herks on a road that was 40 feet wide with packed sand-and-oil shoulders. Whatta Ride! It just proves one more time that the mighty Hercules is the Army's best friend on a forward operating location.
Army Camp These are the guys we were supporting...elements of the 82d Airborne camped out a mere 15 miles from the Iraqi border. Less than 30 days later, these guys were sitting on the Euphrates River wondering where the opposition went.

One of the techniques used by the schedulers to ease the flow of traffic during the buildup was to set up a hub-and-spoke system called scheduled theater airlift routes (STAR). STARs were setup so contract air could bring pax and mail into the main PODs. Then herks would pick up both and transport them to the smaller fields near their final destinations. While STARs handled most pax and mail, a separate H-n-S system called CAMELs handled cargo movement from both aerial and sea PODs.

Because the main PODs were at Riyadh and Dhahran, most of the STARs/CAMELs went through one or both of these. To give a little background for the "rest of the story", when we first showed up in theater, everyone thought Saddam Hussein's army was going to come sweeping down out of Kuwait towards Riyadh at any moment. We had 100% of our people working 12-hour shifts to put together defenses as quickly as possible to protect our forces while the buildup occurred. We did a tremendous amount of work in the first 3 to 5 weeks. Once the systems were in place, and the ATO was excuting, we spent a lot of time sitting around waiting for the war to start. About mid-September, a few of us "line guys" finally convinced our boss to let us have a day off once a week. We also convinced the deputy COMALF, Col Bill Spitzer, to cut us a set of jump orders, basically authorizing us to fly as crewmembers on any airlift aircraft in theater. I immediately put two and two together, and figured out how to take advantage of this situation in order to log time.

Both the Masirah STAR and the Western STAR passed through Riyadh on my day off. The Western STAR went out to Arar, Tabuk, Jeddah, and back to Riyadh, and was a real butt-kicker since it didn't fit well into my sleep cycle. The Masirah STAR originated on Masirah Island, flew to Seeb, Al Ain, Al Minhad, Sheik Isa, Dhahran, Riyadh, Thumrait, and back to Masirah. It usually passed through Riyadh in late afternoon making it the perfect opportunity for me. I would catch the flight in Riyadh, and convince the crew to let me fly as primary navigator to Thumrait and Masirah. I would then hang out at Masirah until the mission regenerated the next day, and fly as primary nav until my crew duty day burned out... usually around Al Minhad. After that, I would hit the bunk for some shuteye, and get woken up at Riyadh in time to make my shift in the ALCC the next night. Besides being a great "hours generator", it gave me the opportunity to talk to the guys in the airlift units at three bases, and the Airlift Control Element (ALCE) folks at Dhahran about any problems they might be facing.

I enjoyed hanging out on Moon Island. They had an HF radio link up with some Ham operators in Fayetteville, so I could call my wife on the radio and talk to her through a phone patch. The radio operator was so nice, I asked if there was anything I could do for her. She said she would kill for a pizza. Well, there was a Pizza Hut in Riyadh, so right before I went to the airport the following week, I stopped at the Pizza Hut and picked up a couple larges (little did I know that this was an omen for the future - I wound up managing a Pizza Hut in Minneapolis after being RIF'd in 1992). She was ecstatic when I delivered them, even though they had cooled considerably on the 6-hour trip.

When I went down there to attend their holiday celebration, I failed to remember that the lack of alcoholic beverage in Saudi Arabia had significantly lowered my tolerance. After a mere 4 beers, I actually got sick enough to have to give up flying as a primary crewmember the next day, and content myself with riding back to Riyadh on the lower bunk.

Although there was an airlift unit assigned at Al Kharj right there in Riyadh, I didn't fly with them much. I was an E-model nav, and they were an H-model unit. Finally, after several months, I managed to convince Billy Harris, a Dyess nav that worked in the ALCC with me, to drive down to Al Kharj with me and get me checked out on the H. The differences training for navs isn't that difficult - the fuel document and RADAR were the only differences, and the RADAR was the APQ-122, which we had on the AWADS at the time anyway. He checked me out with an hour of ground training and a 30-minute pro flight to an ARA. My one and only mission in the H-model was the round-trip to Kuwait.

One of the hazards of a C-130 unit being assigned to the desert was the lack of training opportunities for tactical procedures. We knew the herks were on the hook for airfield takedown scenarios, but after several months of flying nothing but point-to-point, the low-level and airdrop skills were suffering. The 1610th DOX shop came up with an idea to allow one line per day per wing to launch for training following a period of Bravo alert. By combining the trainers from different wings, we could then practice tactical scenarios on a small scale. Normally, we would have three or four herks from various wings fly up to Dhahran, remarshal on the ground, brief a low-level, then fly up towards KFIA to do a sandbag drop simulating CDS or personnel. Capt Glen Turner even got the A-10s from KFIA to play along, simulating DZ prep for us on several occassions. This wound up being valuable training for two reasons: First, because the Iraqis could see us doing it; and second, because even though the airfield takedowns never happened, the herks were called on to do CDS resupply in the Brigade rear when unseasonable rains made the roads to muddy to use trucks effectively after the ceasefire.

One very important lesson learned that I carried back from the desert involved airdrops. The experience found its way into the 55-series regulations that I authored in 1991-92 and into the lesson plans I worked with at the AATTC between 1996 and 2002; and hopefully have made a difference in the airlift operations in OEF and OIF as a result. When the first call for airdrop came through channels, it was a 3-ship, 48-bundle CDS requirement for MREs and bottled water to a rear echelon that was containing Iraqi POWs. Combat Control was on the ground with the Army, and the threat was minimal. It was a perfect opportunity to show that airdrop still had a vital role in contingency operations. The drop zone was identified as a 100,000-meter grid square, and would be marked with VS-17 panels (also used to mark friendly vehicles to prevent fratricide). The drop was set up as 3 herks in trail with a plan for a reattack if the initial pass failed. Of course, being an old 41st guy, I pushed hard for the 41st to be the squadron to fly this sortie. Unfortunately, the old adage, "Train like you fight, Fight like you train" would prove only too true.

The mission was briefed as a CARP drop, and the drop zone was briefed as tactical (no boundaries). The markings were briefed as VS-17 panels in any configuration, with red smoke/red flare as the "no-drop". Well, the serial launched and headed for the DZ. Looking down, they saw a number of areas with VS-17 panels, since those were also used to ID friendly vehicles. The CCT identified the herks visually and offered to do a VIRS. However, training kicked in, and the lead pilot called for a "no-drop" due to failure to ID the drop zone. They executed the reattack, with the same results, and ended up bringing the loads home. The mission was flown successfully the next day by the 50th TAS out of Bateen, but the lesson was obvious - our peacetime training limitations cost us a contingency three-ship sortie... unacceptable in a forward area.

SA-6
Photo from www.grostenquin.org
The other lesson learned on this sortie was to never trust the Army. When our Airspace guys and Tactics Planners were in the final stages of putting the mission together, we got word from our Intel shop that our IP was directly overhead a known SA-6 battery. The FLOT was well beyond the site, but none of the reports indicated that the site had been shut down... or even seen, for that matter. We scrambled to get info on the site, and eventually ended up getting the Army to task a team to drive there and check it out. They found the site abandoned, but with the missiles still on the rails, and the RADAR antenna actually turning. Talk about over-speeding your information network...


E-Mail Last updated on 28 May 2006 by Chris Miller Go Top

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