"Big Shots" in the Desert
I spent the first Gulf War helping to keep a wing of Air Force C-130 cargo planes in fully mission capable condition. If you had to be in that war, being at Abu Dhabi was THE place to be as far as I could see. Yet, we managed to be plenty miserable just the same. One of the cool things about that 7-month experience was getting to meet bigwigs and celebrities. Some of these guys are in the history books now, and I saw them up close! I kept a journal starting from day 1, all the way through my return to "The World." What follows are excerpts from that journal. See if you can tell which celebrity I liked the most.9 Sep 90, Sunday. General Norman Schwarzkopf
General Schwarzkopf showed up this afternoon. He made a fashionably late appearance as we all “breathlessly” waited for him in one of the new chow hall tents. “Mr. Sincerity,” Chief Fuson, the Little Rock AFB Senior Enlisted Adviser, was in a flight suit, a real fashion statement for him. I’ve never seen him in one before. He was “hypering out” as he delivered a seemingly endless diatribe. I think he THOUGHT he was prepping us, but instead all he actually managed to do was to browbeat us into "spiritless" submission. He and the other authorities around here were really worried we were going to screw up.
About two or three hundred of us sat on the plywood flooring of that long tunnel of a tent. Finally the “Bear” stomped in wearing desert cammies and brand new desert boots growling, “I came here to make sure you people are being properly cared for, which you OBVIOUSLY are.” We all read through the implied “you sissy Air Force pukes!”
He went on to tell us how proud of us he is, that our countrymen are proud of us that our parents and family are proud of us, and we should all be proud of ourselves. I think I left out a few other very proud people, also very proud of us. We’ve been having a lot of fun with that part of his “canned” speech. It was obvious he had given it a few times already. After the “proud” speech, he turned around and marched out.
No time for questions, although Fuson harped at us continually to be careful of what we asked to make sure we didn’t sound like we were complaining. After Fuson’s invective, I doubt if anyone would have asked any questions, even if the general HAD solicited us for some.
Of course Schwarzkopf was so disgusted with “our comforts,” and the sissy silence we kept during all the times in his speech that we were supposed to go “Huah!” that he didn’t give us the chance anyway. He acted like he couldn’t wait to get away from us, pathetically silent sadsacks that we were, thanks to Chief Fuson!
Man, are we ever led by a bunch of Mary’s! I didn’t take any pictures because Watson, our senior enlisted adviser here at Bateen Air Base, said I’d have to do it outside. Mustn’t cause discomfort to the general—that wouldn’t be prudent! And we mustn’t make a bad impression--mustn’t even breathe! "Aaarghh!"
20 Aug 90, Mon. Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney
The Secretary of Defense, Richard Cheney, and I had a conversation today. I still find it hard to believe. The bigwigs were very worried about the impression we were going to make. Careers have been destroyed and rarely enhanced during these kinds of visits, so the idea is NOT to screw up. That means no surprises and at all costs, NO embarrassments.
The first reaction to this high level visit was to make a list of all the “malcontents” among us, and then hide these possible problem-makers from view. Those folks considered acceptable were handpicked for display. We chose Tim Jones and Rodney Haynes for the CTK (tool issue area) and the maintenance hangar. Finkbeiner, Freeman, and Dress were assigned to the “specialist dispatch” tent behind the job control hooch. I ended up at the job control canopy along with Tony Ocampo.
We were all given MREs to eat or pretend to eat. All of us were required to wear web belts and canteens to give us the "GI Joe look." The normally ubiquitous plastic bottles of water were prohibited—they didn’t contribute to the desired military motif.
When Cheney’s entourage arrived in a cloud of dust, it created quite an impressive show. Three huge Mercedes sped into view and pulled up with a great mashing of brakes. A dozen security guards jumped out and scrambled into perimeter positions around the immediate area. Based on their “flowing” headgear, most of the menacing looking fellows seemed to be Arabs from the UAE, but several were Americans—the Secretary’s own secret service types. The Americans wore tan civvies topped with tan ammo vests. All of them were armed with threatening looking automatic weapons.
As soon as this flurry of activity reached it’s conclusion, one of the guards opened the door to the Secretary of States’ limo. Dick Cheney climbed out and seemed totally out of place in the dusty wartime surroundings—almost like a mirage. He wore an expensive three-piece suit, button down shirt and smelled of aromatic, high-priced cologne. We all snapped to attention as he approached.
“At ease men. Mind if I sit down and talk with you fellas for awhile?” he asked us. He sat down on a bench and asked us to gather around. In a friendly personable manner, he asked some of the guys their names and generally tried to put us at ease. He told us how important our presence and mission is here. He talked about the situation-taking place up in Kuwait and how we were going to deal with Saddam Hussein. He wanted to know what base we were from and we responded in one voice, “Little Rock, Arkansas sir.”
He asked us about our flight. That was my moment to shine—I piped out, “Sir, we spent almost 30 hours in the air over a three day period.” He asked about the route, so I described the five legs and the destination of each. I told him it felt as if I had spent my entire life aboard that plane. That seemed to amuse him.
He asked if we had everything we needed and so on. None of us said anything negative, but Tony Ocampo, a Filipino American from San Diego, jokingly asked for a swimming pool. Cheney chuckled at that. One man asked if there was any danger of Iran joining forces with Iraq, an understandable concern because Iran is just across the Persian Gulf from us. He said Iran and Iraq weren’t the best of friends after their last war.
(Later I found out from Bob Taylor that Iran had accepted their prisoners and the captured territory back from Iraq and then reneged on their end of the treaty designed by Iraq to free up all those Iraqi divisions on the Iran-Iraq border.)
He got up to leave and thanked us again for our sacrifice and said he hoped we could get things wrapped up real soon, but it looked like we would be here for a long time to come. As he departed, I said, “thank you sir, we’ll do our best!” and meant it.
19 Oct 90, Saturday. Secretary of the Air Force, Donald B. Rice
Another bigwig Secretary came to visit us today. This time it was the Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Mr. Rice. He arrived at just past sun down. This guy wasn’t nearly as impressive or as polished as Cheney. He even brought his attractive, blonde-haired wife along—now SHE was impressive! She looked sexy and slinky in her tight-fitting, narrow‑waisted dress. Her dress wasn’t exactly appropriate for wear in a conservative Arab country such as the UAE, although it would have been even more risky in Saudi Arabia.
We were formed up by organization in front of a lighted speaker’s platform with podium. The maintenance troops from Little Rock looked the most impressive; we all wore green cammies with no hats. Rice isn’t the greatest speaker; he drones on in a monotone, plus he said all the things all the other heavies have already said. Ho hum. Mentally we shut him off after his first couple of remarks.
The base definitely put on a show for him. Behind us, facing him was a Davis-Monthan EC-130—one of our “slick” 130s faced him to his right—and an army C-12 utility aircraft was behind us directly to his front. His stage consisted of green sandbags topped by an aluminum pallet, which formed the platform. More sand bags along the pallet’s edges gave it a “bunker” motif. Behind him were two large conexes with a camo-net stretched over the sides—the net wasn’t camouflaging anything but it added atmosphere. Three American flags hung down behind the podium from the conexes. Two menacing cops were stationed at the Secretary’s flanks—these “guards” brandished M-16s with attached grenade launchers—they looked like bookend toy soldiers.
As the Secretary tediously droned on into the evening, UAE videographers and cameramen with flash cameras wandered in front of him—they aimed their videocams at us, snapped pictures and turned their spot light on and off. It wasn’t exactly an inspiring display, but it broke up the monotony.
2 Nov 90, Friday. General Charles Horner, the “Air Boss”
Yesterday, General "Chuck" Horner, the man in charge of the allied air forces in the Gulf, came to our base. He spoke to us in the new theater tent and was he ever inspiring! By far, he was much more impressive than Cheney, Rice, and even Schwarzkopf. The man acts and speaks like a real GI’s GI. He’s the kind of man that makes you willing to put up with this crap. No canned speeches from this man; he doesn't try to present an "image," he's just a down-to-earth, REAL airman. If I was going to go into battle, I'd follow him, feeling fully condident that he would make all the right decisions.
His first remarks were directed at the guys in the back, “Come on up to the front and sit with the ass-holes.” That broke the ice. We all laughed uproariously at his self-disparaging remark.
He gave us the straight scoop—combat and combat support units will rotate at six months—that’s us. Of course, if war breaks out, we’ll be here till it’s over—that could be April or May he suspects. He thinks there will be war, and I believe him, especially when you consider that the Army is asking for 100,000 more troops and Cheney is willing to provide them.
5 Nov 90, Monday. Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns
Tommy Hearns, the champion boxer, visited us this morning. He and his entourage were on the base almost half the day. I saw him around 1030 as he pulled up to the maintenance area next to the flight line. It started a little slow, but we all warmed up to him.
Soon he was surrounded; we took lots of pictures while he signed autographs for us. Jim Zynda took a Polaroid of him signing his autograph for me as I stood next to him.
Hearns is a quietly imposing fellow—tall and lean. After signing autographs, he BS’d and joked around with us. My observation is that he seemed more comfortable talking to the blacks, BUT he made an effort to include the whites too. Some people complained he was racially biased, but I think he was just more at ease with the “brothers.”
I shook his hand and said, “Thanks for coming out to see us Tommy.” He answered, “It’s my pleasure,” and I think he meant it.
Anyway, he made the effort to come out here and see us—I respect him for that, and I’ll never forget it. I’m a fan for life—to hell with Sugar Ray Leonard!