The Desert: Part Two

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. (Ret) Bill Gilliland
  • 190th Historian
More than 600 people attended the first Family Support Group meeting at Forbes Field on the evening of Aug. 13, 1990. Their actions over the next few weeks became the model for most other Family Support Groups across the nation to follow. Because of this, the 190th Air Refueling Wing Family Support Group would later win national recognition.

Things were not exactly slowing down as the magnitude of the problem, supplying operations at the forward operating location, was beginning to dawn on the Coyotes working feverishly in the hangars and offices on base.

And even with all the planning for supplies and parts, and all the other things that would be needed, it soon became apparent that there were numerous other items and people that would be necessary to perform the job at hand. And by now, it also became official that there would be no support from Military Airlift Command to finish moving all the needed items.

It was about this time that it was decided the unit would provide its own airlift, using the units' own tankers as transport. While no authority was ever granted for this decision, it was never challenged by National Guard Bureau or Strategic Air Command.
But while all of this was evolving, the immediate problem was that three more jets with 54 Coyotes and another 20 short tons of cargo were yet to go. Jet engines (that were originally intended for heavy airlifters) would be part of the cargo on these aircraft, which provided special problems.

The 190th asked the 139th Tactical Airlift Group at St. Joseph, Mo. to provide a K-loader. When they found they couldn't load it on a flat bed truck, they disassembled it, loaded it on one of their C-130s and flew it to Forbes. The 384th Bomb Wing at McConnell AFB provided a 9-ton scissor truck, and a driver and load crew from the 184th brought it to Forbes. On the morning of Aug. 13, these jets would also depart for Jeddah.

On Aug. 14, the National Guard Bureau released its tanker units from training requirements, thereby freeing them for support of the effort. By Aug. 16, Forbes was receiving a steady stream of requests for equipment and supplies and the Air National Guard began to plan for resupply of rotation flights.

Since the 190th had the most experience with organizaing rotations, it received the responsibility of managing the task. "Desert Shield Central" was established at Forbes to manage the flow of jets, people, and material. It would become routine for a KC-135 tanker to be launched from Forbes or one of the other Air National Guard bases bound for Jeddah, only to be followed by another inbound from Jeddah.

The Saudi' only allowed so many aircraft in the country at a time, so the rotations were timed so that as one tanker left the country, another would enter. They would pass each other, one eastbound, the other westbound. Each one carrying personnel and equipment on their way to or returning from serving in Operation Desert Shield.

In fact, the formal plan called for seven or eight tankers from different Guard units and about 180 personnel weekly to be rotated to the Gulf. It would be early September before any supplies for Jeddah would move by anything other than Air National Guard tankers.

Maintenance troops all over the Guard did an outstanding job of keeping unit tankers in the air and performing their missions. The rest of the unit also performed in an outstanding manner whenever they were asked to help out. The effort by the Air National Guard to support Operation Desert Shield was supposed to be on a volunteer basis, with most people rotating every 15 to 30 day, and the AGR force was to provide long-term stability for the operation. All 13 ANG tanker units would participate.

Also on this date, the Tanker Task Force that was thought to be required was dissolved; this relieved the unit one of the problems tying it down. This freed up all the tankers that would have supported the effort, and made them available for the growing flow of personnel and supplies that was beginning to be sent on to the Forward Operating Location (FOL).

However, Strategic Air Command (SAC) had not granted the 190th's request to be released from the requirement of keeping two tankers on alert at all times. Other ANG units were asked to backfill the requirement. For the next eight months or so, other units assigned and crewed the jets on alert at Forbes. On Aug. 16, the first KC-135E tanker used as a rotator returned to Forbes. It would be the first of many ANG KC-135 tankers to make multiple trips to Jeddah and back to the U.S.

By Aug. 28, Col. Charles "Mick" Baier and the Kansas Coyotes had become firmly entrenched in Jeddah, and the NGB made it official. The 190th ARW was made the lead unit with the Jeddah Tanker Task Force. Just a few days later, General Norman Schwarzkopf issued General Order number two, establishing the 1701st Strategic Air Refueling Wing (Provisional), with Col. Baier as commander.

With him were several key members of the 190th as senior staff members. Lt. Colonels Steve Thomas, Larry Dillon, "Buck" Lyle, and Rolley Anderson all assisted in operations; Lt. Col. William Hodge in Logistics, Lt. Col. Rufus Forrest as safety officer, and Maj. Joe Rose in maintenance. Other 190th members filled key slots, both enlisted and officer, throughout the new Air Refueling Wing. In fact, 190th Chief Master Sgt. Roger Wilson served as the senior enlisted advisor for the wing, and a little later, 190th Master Sgt. Danny Roush was named as first sergeant for the wing.

After all the excitement, things back at Forbes began to settle into a routine for the group. That is if you consider hosting President George H. Bush during September, having an open house in conjunction with the annual air show, the 190th pistol team winning the state championship, and of course the usual Guard activities like UTA. After all, only a part the unit was in Southwest Asia. Everyone else who was not directly involved with Desert Shield still had to train for their every day missions.

Before it was over though, almost everyone in the unit participated in one form or another. Other members of the unit were called up, not for duty in the FOL, but assigned to backfill others who had been dispatched to other locations.

On Oct. 23, eight 190th Security policemen were sent to Moron Air Base in Spain, and later, another 13 policemen were sent to Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. But it was the 30 Security policemen sent to Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota - in February, that got the worst of the assignments.

Firefighters were also called up and sent to various locations, including Wichita, which suffered a severe tornado that destroyed large parts of the base. Services had nine people called up and sent to K.I. Sawyer AFB, Mich. The 190th clinic had only two activated and sent to Jeddah, but in February, learned that 14 more would be called and sent to several locations around the country.

October and November would continue to see the rotation of Air National Guard tankers and personnel to the FOL, with local TV reporters sometimes traveling along to shoot stories for the local news.

One of the interesting details of this time was that most of the aircrew, maintenance, and support troops only traveled by bus between their duty stations and the compounds, as this was deemed to be the safest method of transportation. It was quite a sight, pilots and cooks, staff officers, two-stripe Airmen, maintenance chiefs and clerks, all waiting in line at the bus stops to go to work. Each bus also had a Saudi security guard armed with a submachine gun.

All of this would remain in place until December. The entire effort would be voluntary until that time. This would become the first large-scale test of the Air National Guard's use of volunteers to fill individual or small scale taskings through the use of unit tasking codes.
During this time, the 1709th had grown to 1,585 people, from 199 different military units and six major commands. Pretty impressive, considering only a few short months earlier most didn't even know that Prince Abdullah Air Base even existed. By now, an intermediate level maintenance base had been established at Moron AB in Spain. Parts and supplies were flowing somewhat normally, and it was beginning to look as if fighting a war might be possible after all.