The phone finally rang. I grabbed it and heard the code word I had been waiting for hours to hear. We had secure telephones but I hadn’t wanted to wait for the keying process so a code word had been established to clear us to launch. “Blow Job.” Timing was critical so I told the small staff around me, “We have a go,” and jumped into my car and headed for the flight line. Crews were already at the helos ready to go but had not started engines because fuel was so critical. I first went to the Air Force guys because their engine start-up process was longer. “We have a go!” I yelled over the roar of the auxiliary power units. Their commander said, “Holy shit, we are really going to do it.” Next I told the Army guys, “We have clearance to launch.” Their commander smiled and headed for his waiting Apache crews. Finally, after all those months of waiting we were going to kick Saddam Hussein’s ass. Within that same hour I sat at the end of the runway and listened as our birds and crews flew overhead. They were completely blacked out and with no moon they were completely invisible. I couldn’t help but worry for their safety but at the same time I was so proud that Special Operations had been selected to fire the first shots to start the Gulf War. As the last sounds of freedom disappeared in the distance I started the car up and headed back to the Saudi Arabian jail we called headquarters and did one of the hardest things a commander ever does. Wait for some word about how things are going.
DESERT STORM had come quickly on the heels of Operation JUST CAUSE and was a real test to our command. Not only did the 1st Special Operations Wing deploy nearly all of our assets and people to the far corner of the earth, we went to a completely bare base in deplorable conditions. I was in awe of the guts and determination I saw at every level. Maintainers worked in conditions so hot that they had to use gloves to hold the hot wrenches. Tents were erected at night to help negate the effects of the heat but night brought new challenges including spiders, scorpions, and mountains of debris that had to be cleared before a tent could be erected. Still our people prevailed and even made a competition out of it, seeing which team could assemble the most tents in one night.
Dust, stifling heat, and darkness unlike anything we had ever seen were the norm. Despite those conditions our crews flew incredibly demanding missions and excelled. Unfortunately, combat sometimes results in loss of life. The loss of Spirit 03 hit us all hard and will be with us always. They died as heroes doing what they were trained to do but we will never forget them and wish with all our being that they were with us today.
I have always been proud to be an American but during Operation DESERT STORM it was so obvious what made us a great nation. The perseverance, ingenuity, and the SOF ethos from initial deployment through final execution was simply phenomenal. Our nation could have asked for nothing more from the “Great American Air Commandos” deployed in Operation DESERT STORM. Please enjoy this edition of Air Commando Journal that highlights some of their incredible teamwork and accomplishments.
-- Ben Orrell, Col, USAF (Ret)
Air Force Cross Recipient
1st SOW Director of Operations / DESERT STORM
Former 39th SOW Commander