Here comes Part II of Brigadier-General Welsh's speech to the cadets, explaining what Desert Storm felt like. He is the new Commandant of Cadets at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA):
Next morning we got up at about 1:30 in the morning because we had a 2:15 briefing. This is the base we were staying at, it's called Al-Minhad. It's in the United Arab Emirates, it's about 2 miles long and about a mile wide, the whole thing. You could see the main runway, a parallel taxiway and on that side of the picture there's a road that ran the whole length of the base. In the upper left corner is where the tents were for the officers and the hootches and then about halfway down the field is where the tent city was.
That next morning at 1:30 we got up, all my guys met in the chow hall, we had breakfast, we jumped in cars to drive down for our mass briefing which was down here at the lower left-hand corner of this slide. And as we drove down that parallel road, two things happened. The first was the folks from Col Tom Rackley's 421st fighter squadron lit their afterburners as part of the first launch of the gulf war. The night fighters in the 421st. And at 20 second intervals as we traveled down that road, they lifted off going this way one at a time. They accelerated about 400 miles an hour and pulled the nose up and went straight up to avoid SAMs at the end of the runway, pulled that afterburner, and disappeared.
And I suddenly realized that was the first time I'd ever seen airplanes take off with no lights on. Cause obviously we were darked out for combat. It was pretty sobering.
And we're halfway down this road and one of the guys in the car with me says, "boss look at this" and he points out the right side of the car.
Next slide, Fred.
This is the tent city that was off the side of that road, that road this is the bottom and we were traveling down going this way. And on the right side of that road as we came to tent city I looked over and thousands of people, the population of this tent city who wasn't working that night, had come out of their tents when that first afterburner lit and they were standing along this road. They were in uniforms, they had just gotten off work, they were wearing jeans, they were wearing cutoffs, they were wearing underwear, pajamas, everything. And not one of them is talking. They're just watching these airplanes take off. Because they knew what was going on.
And the other thing that I noticed immediately was that all of them were somehow in contact with the person next to them. Every single one of them. They were holding hands or holding their arm or had their arm around shoulders or on the back or they were just leaning on each other. These are people that don't even know each other. But they're all Americans. They're all warriors. And they're all part of the cause. And as we rode down that road I will never ever forget their faces coming into those headlights and fading out. It's burned in here.
Next slide Fred.
Later that morning after our initial briefing for the first mission of the war, we went to the life support trailer where all the flying gear was for my squadron. All 24 airplanes were flying, so 24 of my guys were going and I was lucky enough to be the mission commander for this first one. Now anybody who's been in a fighter or any kind of flying squadron knows that in life support, as you're getting ready to go, this is a pretty raucous place. You're getting people grief, you're arguing at who's better at whatever... something's going on all the time... it's fun.
This morning, there wasn't a sound. Not a whisper. That's Col Andy Perona right there on the right. USAFA class of 73. Guy next to him's major JD Collins USAFA class of 75. I got dressed listening to nothing but the whisper of zippers as people pulled on flight gear. I walked out of the trailer down to the bottom of the steps, left the door open so the light from the inside shined out just in a little pool outside these steps outside the trailer because the rest of the base was blacked out and we were under the camouflaged netting and you couldn't see anything outside this trailer.
And as my guys came down the steps I took each one of them's hands and just nodded at them. Nobody said anything. And I watched as one by one they turned and disappeared into the black. As each one left I wondered if he'd be coming back that afternoon. Cause we didn't know. And then when the last one had gone, Master Sergeant Ray Uris who ran my life support shop and had been standing in the doorway watching this walked to the bottom of the steps, shook my hand, and watched me disappear. I'll never forget watching their backs disappear in the dark.
Next slide, Fred.
In the background is an airplane that was flown by my squadron weapons officer. His first name is Scott and I won't give you his last...he's USAFA 78. About the 2nd week of the war we flew a mission against the nuclear power plant south of Baghdad. I believe Col Rackley may have been the mission commander for this, I don't remember. Col Rackley, by the way, is also USAFA...class of 71, I think. Scott was a leader for 12 airplanes on this mission, and this mission was scary. Easily the scariest thing we saw in the war. Cause the Iraqis defended the area south of Baghdad and they really defended the nuclear power plant. From about 25 miles to the target till we got to the power plant, I bet I saw 100 SAMs in the air. And I remember screaming and cussing to myself all the way to the target until it came time to roll in and drop the bombs at which point your training takes over and you kinda go quiet. Until you drop your bombs, and then you start screaming and cussing again. (Laughter).
This was scary. Scott's wingman got hit as we came off target...an SA3 blew up, we don't know how close, right underneath his airplane and blew off his fuel tanks, put about a 113 holes in the airplane...73 of them through the engine bay and engine compartment, which isn't good in a single engine F-16. And for the next 2 1/2 hours Scott escorted him as they tried to find an emergency base to land at because the weather had rolled in and they went to 5 different places and they couldn't get him on the ground. And Scott worked emergency tanker diverts, he was having tankers come to them to get gas...he was phenomenal. He saved this guy's life.
So he landed about 3 hours after the rest of us did. I heard he was on the ground, I was in a debrief, I came out and I walked out to see how things had gone with his wingman, and it was dark by this time, and I walked out toward that life support trailer, I came around the corner under this darkened out camouflage netting and I ran into something. And then realized that it was Scott. And Scott was standing leaning against a bunch of sandbags, just holding on to them, and shaking like a leaf. He couldn't walk, he couldn't talk, he couldn't move anything. All he could do was stand there and shake. Guy had nothing left. All his adrenaline was gone. He gave everything he had that he could do that day.
And as I'm trying to figure out what the heck do I do with Scott, the door to this life support trailer opens and a young life support technician named Shawn, who was a farmkeep from Minnesota -- 19 years old -- walks out, looks at what's going on, walks down, and says, "boss, I know you got stuff to do. I'll take care of it." And I said, "well let me help you get him inside." And he says, "boss, you got stuff to do, I'll take care of it." So I left.
And I saw Shawn helping Scott up the steps in the life support trailer as I went around the corner. About 5 hours later, about 2 in the morning, I left the mission planning cell and I went to see how Scott was doing back in his tent.
And when I got up to the tent, I kinda came around the corner... and this is January in the desert, folks, it's cold outside...and there's Shawn sitting in the sand in front of the tent shaking like a leaf cause he's still wearing bdu pants and the t-shirt he had on in life support. And he's got a pistol in his hand. And this was in the first week of the war...we were worried about the terrorist threats, and you know, guys coming and helping out the Iraqi cause. And Shawn had taken that to heart. And I said, "Shawn, what are you doing here?" He said, "Sir, I was afraid the major would wake up, he'd finally gotten to sleep, and if he wakes up I wanna make sure I let him know everything's okay." You'll meet lots of Shawn's in the air force. And I'll never forget this one.
(Tomorrow: Part III of "Next slide, Fred!"
Back to Table of Contents of the Nov. 1999 ZGrams