Airmen Describe Experiences Over Afghanistan

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service /bylines

news-article WASHINGTON, Oct. 8, 2001 -- "Like being a football player at the Super Bowl" is how one Air Force bombardier described being part of the initial wave of offensive strikes in America's war on terrorism.

"I was honored to act in the service of my country for defending freedom for all people," said "Vinnie," the B-1 bomber offensive systems officer who participated in Oct. 7 strikes on Afghanistan.

Late Oct. 7, the Air Force arranged for reporters to speak to five Air Force officers who took part in the bombing. Security concerns dictated that the officers only be identified by their call signs and that their location not be disclosed.

Vinnie described troops at the base he took off from lining the tarmac waving flags as the jets took off. "I think everybody, no matter what job they had, came out to support the launch of the jets," he said. "It was very patriotic. We felt very proud."

Pride in America and in a job well done was the overriding theme in the officers' remarks. "The president counted on us to do a job, and the (American) people counted on us to do a job tonight," said "Doc", a radar officer aboard a B- 52 bomber.

"Whether you're from Manhattan or the Washington, D.C. area, it doesn't really matter," he said. "We're all Americans, and we're all in this together."

By these airmen's accounts, the evening's events went as they'd hoped -- their training and experience pulled them safely through.

"It all came together because we train for this," said "Woodstock", a B-52 pilot. "This is what the American citizens expect us to be able to do, and in peacetime we prepare for these eventualities." He said all the moving parts, from their intelligence information to their ground crews, came together like a "finely oiled machine."

Vinnie said he believes successful training also kept nerves from detracting from their missions. "Everybody (feels nervous), but the purpose overrides that, and the mission overrides that," he said. "That's what you're taught every day."

As tanker pilot "Chummer" said: "In peacetime, practice makes perfect."

Just because they returned to base safely doesn't mean the flights were risk-free. The planes did come under anti- aircraft fire over Afghanistan. "My crews didn't encounter any threat that we weren't prepared to deal with," Woodstock said.

Vinnie said the mission wasn't as difficult as the training scenarios they work through.

Doc agreed. "You never want to be unprepared," he said. "That's why you train to the most rigorous standards as possible."

The men said the weather wasn't a factor because it was a clear night and that the mission was devoid of the cockpit and cabin chit-chat and outbursts often portrayed in the movies.

"We keep the cockpit professional and quiet. That's the way we do business," Vinnie said. "We have a lot more other things to worry about than making emotional comments."

Something different about the evening stood out in each man's mind. Woodstock noted that someone had recently painted "NYPD -- We Remember" on the nose of one of the B- 52s used in the bombing run.

"Stinky", a tanker pilot, remembered hearing part of President Bush's address to the nation while out on his mission. "It kind of made chills go up my back," he said. "(It) made me real proud to be an American, proud to be in the military," and very proud to be part of this team.