The Desert - 20 years ago

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt (Ret) Bill Gilliland
  • 190th Historian
On the second day of August, 1990, forces of Iraq under Saddam Hussein overran the country of Kuwait ... things were about to get really interesting for the Kansas Coyotes at Forbes Field. On Aug. 3, Col. Charles "Mick" Baier received a call from Strategic Air Command (via the National Guard Bureau). They inquired about how many aircraft and aircrews he might be able to supply should the need arise. It can be said now that the unit's long established reputation for excellence had resulted in the 190th's position as being the first to call. It can also be said that Col Baier was not the sort of a man to let an opportunity like this pass.

Drill weekend was Aug. 4-5, and in spite of high expectations, there was no further news about what might be required of the unit. By the following Monday, Col Baier received the call to begin planning for a tanker task force to refuel aircraft headed east. Sometime around midnight, the call went out to maintenanceand fuels troops to report to Forbes. The recall was on.

At approxinmatley 3 a.m., an aircraft was launched to Offutt Air Force Base, and pick up an Air Force satellite communications team and transport them to Milwaukee Wis. This was to be the first Desert Shield, Desert Storm sortie to be launched by any ANG unit. At 4 a.m. the 190th's battle staff was activated. Early on Tuesday, Aug. 6, the 190th received a verbal tasking to deploy to the United Arab Emirates, and be in place by Aug. 12. This was a far different tasking than operating a tanker task force.

Baier and the rest of the Kansas Coyotes now had three problems. First, Stratigic Air Command had refused to release the unit from its alert commitment; second, the tanker task force to refuel aircraft headed east; and third, deploying aircraft, supplies, and personnel to locations to be announced later. (It would simply become known as the FOL, or Forward Operating Location.) This meant that someone would have to improvise. Guidance from the Guard Bureau and SAC was not clear, so Coyotes started to step forward.

Captain Steve Rexer and Capt. Terry Fritz would prove to be invaluable during this time, as would Master Sgt. Nancy Stout. Many other Kansas Coyotes would also step forward and perform near miracles. Unfortunately, not all can be recognized here by name. They know who they are and they can take great pride in their efforts and results.

One of the problems facing the unit was solved when two tankers from the 141st AREFW, Washington ANG, landed at Forbes to help backfill theneed for the tanker task force. Also somewhere in this time period, it was learned that the 190th would not be alone at the FOL, but would have support from Air Force Reserve units at Mather AFB (940th AREFG) and March AFB (452nd ARW).

By the morning of Aug. 8, it was decided that 154 maintenance personnel, standard aircrew ratio, and six jets would be the initial package. Calls went out for deploying troops to be identified, for aircraft to be prepared, and supplies to be gathered and readied for the trip. Aircrews were briefed that losses of KC-135 type aircraft might be as high as 25 percent. This really added to the already nervous attitude that prevailed. The situation was fluid, and about to become even more so. Later that day a new call came with the news that the deployment location had changed. And the departure date was now Aug.10.

Supplies and equipment were starting to pile up in the hangar, and calls went out to the major commands for assistance in transporting the needed supplies. What wasn't known at this time, was that both SAC and MAC were being overwhelmed with other requests, and that eventually, the 190th would be on its own in moving the essential equipment. Load plans were nonexistent. This would become a growing problem in the hours to come.

By the morning of Aug. 9, (which started a 1 a.m. lima and the official history called the longest day in the history of the unit), UTCs (Unit Tasking Codes) were being identified, and AFSC's were used to fill the needed slots. 190th personnel were eager to be included on the lists to deploy. In fact, people were turned down.

Planning and loading of equipment began immediately. It wouldn't be until evening that the news came that there will be no airlift support, and pallets built for heavy airlift will have to be rebuilt for transport on the 190th's own tankers. Once this was known, the entire package of equipment and personnel had to be rethought.

The legal office had landslide business,that day, as did the chaplains' office. Disasterpreparedness was also overwhelmed, conducting refresher training for almost 600 190th people and another 150 others from outside the unit. Services was called to open the dinning facility because of preparations extending into and through the night.

At that same time, KC-135Es from other Guard units were landing and being recovered at Forbes. By dawn of Aug. 10, there were 17 tankers on the ramp. They would fulfill the alert commitment and the tanker task force requirements once the 190th tankers were on their way to the FOL.

Just after 6 a.m. on Aug. 10, the first 190th tanker (#631) with Baier aboard, was launched, bound for the FOL, followed in 30 minute intervals by five more 190th jets.

Unit members by this time knew that the actual destination was Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (This was one of the worst kept of secrets, as the local news was reporting as early as Aug. 9, that the destination was reportedly Jeddah.)

For all of the lack of guidance from higher headquarters, confusion, misunderstandings, false reports, missing supplies, unfulfilled requirements, not to mention that the alert requirement still was to be fulfilled, and the tanker task force was still to be based at Forbes, it was a remarkable feat accomplished by the 190th. Six KC-135E tankers, (which by all accounts were loaded to the gills,) 200 personnel, and 33 short tons of cargo, are launched and on their way to a destination half way around the world - with a three day notice. What a tribute to the Kansas Coyotes. Their dedication and resourcefulness is proven without a doubt. Old fashioned knowhow and elbow grease, mixed with a little stubbornness, a lot of trial and error, and a willingness to "do whatever it takes" were the driving forces behind the successful completion of the mission.

After some delay at Goose Bay for clearance to overfly Egypt, the first jets finally made it to Jeddah by mid morning. Baier was first off the jet, and the first few moments were a little tense, probably because of the Saudi guards and their submachine guns. The heat "hit you in the face like a door," according to one coyote.

Prince Mansour of the Saudi Royal Family and commander of the Prince Abdul-Azuz Air Base at Jeddah met the coyotes at the jet, he and Baier seemed to hit it off almost immediately. Things quickly loosened up, and the Kansas Coyotes were officially welcomed to Saudi Arabia.

Crew chiefs began to recover the aircraft and to prepare them for their next mission, whatever that might be. But first the tankers had to be unloaded and refueled for possible missions later that same day. Half of the group began to unload the tankers and half began to process through the Saudi receiving line. Once they were finished, the two groups traded places. By 2 p.m., the first of the 190th's jet was ready for its next mission.

The Saudi's had some warning of the pending arrival of the unit, and had arranged for the initial billeting. The first several nights were spent at the Jeddah Sheraton in down town Jeddah. By this time it was beginning to dawn on everyone that this operation was going to grow to a much larger size that just a few Kansas Coyotes flying a few jets around the Middle East.

Amazing is the word that comes to mind after the Coyotes had arrived on the scene in Jeddah in such short notice. In fact, it would be three days before active duty Air Force units were in place and able to provide air refueling support. But it was about to get even more incredible when, just hours after arriving, the Kansas Coyotes were back in the skys of the Middle East, refueling U.S. Navy and Air Force fighters. Once active duty tankers did arrive at Jeddah, Baier and the Kansas Coyotes were firmly entrenched, and they weren't about to give up their position. In fact, over the next several months, there would be several individuals who would be disappointed by that fact. Baier's close working relationship with Prince Mansour would prove to be too strong for that.

This story continues in next month's issue of The Coyote Log