A word from Wg Cdr Suddards OC GR7 Det at Al Jaber Air Base
[More pictures from the Sqn activities in Iraq are in the Gallery)
First let me share with you some computer rage – the RAF CIS server here on the DOB went completely kaput last night so all our saved data, including the newsletter that I had been writing over the past 3 days, is lost somewhere in the ether. So here goes once more with some new writing before tonight’s deadline!
Things are both hotting up and cooling down here. Temperatures are soaring during the day to the low 40s causing people to search for the odd air-conditioned tent or at least the shade. The afternoon wave of flying and generating the jets for it has become the least popular slot, and as the sun goes down we all start to breath a sigh of relief and wish there was a cool beer or gin and tonic to hand, and a swimming pool to go to! The Sqn shift patterns have changed to allow both teams the benefit of cool hours to sleep in.
The pace of life however is cooling down, but just a little! On the flying side, there is a feeling that the most difficult part of the battle is over, with the important bit of the war almost won. We too have witnessed the extraordinary scenes on the TV of the Coalition tanks and APCs entering Baghdad. Today the Iraqi Information Minister seems to have given up his comedy act to save his own skin and the media formerly under Iraqi supervision have finally met the liberating troops in the City centre. It has all been quite amazing how quickly events have taken place. Remarkably, it is only 23 day ago that the war started. Ground ops crossed the border, quickly advanced 2/3 of the way to Baghdad, paused to regroup on the ground logistically and allow air power to ‘shape’ (euphemistic for destroy by bombing) the Republican Guard Forces around the City, then they went for the main thrust to kill off the regime. So events here have slowed down and the sense of victory is not far away. However, there is still a lot of fighting going on with many pockets of significant resistance all over the country, not just in Baghdad. Our flying rate here has reduced, however, we are still being tasked around the clock. A whole new capability for the Harrier GR7 has also been introduced today, flying with recce pods (loaned from the Jaguar Force) on the aircraft to hunt out where the dispersed pockets of resisting enemy are hiding. So the job is by no means done here, but maybe the worst of it is over.
This is where we are now – let me give you a flavour of the last 3 weeks. In less than a month since the aircraft arrived from Cottesmore, we moved from settling in to our new location flying local sorties in Kuwait, to flying Op SOUTHERN WATCH missions monitoring the Southern No Fly Zone, then onto full combat sorties in all out war round the clock at intensive rates. Our job has been to support the ground troops with every ounce of firepower available. These guys on the ground with the rough, dirty, dangerous end of the deal as they move up through country, outnumbered heavily by Iraqi forces, have needed support from attack aircraft to deliver that weighty punch, ideally to defeat the enemy or at least damage them as much as possible, before they meet our land forces in direct contact battles, where lives have been lost. There has been a fantastic effort and amazing hard work by the team here to generate aircraft, and fly sorties, knowing that we really are key in the help given to our ground troops. In 23 days, we have done the amount of flying that we would normally do in 2 and a quarter full months back home. We have dropped a plentiful supply of laser-guided, GPS-guided, freefall and (literally just a few) cluster bombs and fired Maverick missiles. We have hit tanks, surface to surface missiles, armoured personnel carriers, storage, artillery pieces, surface to air missiles, Ba’ath Party HQs and even sunk a couple of ships. The team of ground crew have been unfailing in the hard graft needed to keep up the hectic pace and the pilots have learned how to deal with being shot at on a fairly regular basis, whilst continuing to deliver their weapons with great professionalism and accuracy.
The team from both 1(F) and IV(AC) Sqns has gelled extremely well together, still proud of our own Sqns but also happy to be part of such a great team. As ever, we have witnessed some memorable moments and some true personalities have come out. From most people being suspicious of the media before we started, our ’embed’ media chaps (‘inbreds’ as they call themselves) have become a part of the detachment. Visits by CNN, Radio 5 Live, Breakfast News etc have almost become routine. It has also been difficult getting Mr Murton and others away from their clutches! Scott ‘Mox’ Williams seems to have become the media favourite on the pilot side, earning himself a free pair if intake blanks (lucky him!). Adie Bland’s artwork on the jets has also rated highly.
Our Eng Site and Sqn HQ, which modesty permits me to say are both fantastic set ups, have been the subject of regular visits by the top brass and distinguished visitors alike. Probably the most memorable was the sight of the gleaming black 4x4s with blacked out windows, gold chrome trim of the (rather portly) Kuwaiti Defence Minister who literally breezed through both sites in his traditional Arab dress, accompanied by dozens of his generals. The Mobile Catering Unit food hall is the envy of the Americans who come to eat in it regularly. You will also be pleased to hear that the Eng site now boast a football pitch, in addition to the oft-used volleyball court.
So what of the future? There is little I can give you all now I am afraid. I do know that much thought is being given right up the HQ chain back to the UK MOD and Ministers as what the RAF fast jet commitment might be after the war has been won. Decisions have not yet been made, and indeed there is still fighting going on, forces we need to defeat and aircraft are still being targeted regularly. The job is by no means finished and, whilst the pace of life will become more manageable, we will carry on with the campaign. We were sent here for 6 months – this is my mindset still, with anything less being a bonus. Everyone here misses our loved ones back home; our thoughts are with you, we all hope you are managing OK and we all look forward to returning to Cottesmore. Given how successful the Coalition has been is defeating the Regime of Saddam Hussein, I am more hopeful now that we may see a small bonus on that 6 month plan, but what I am not sure what. More to follow as soon as I have it, I promise.
A Happy 4 Pilot’s View of Events
So is Saddam Hussein and his merry band of idiots going to do the honourable thing and give in to the might of our western ?big stick? (oo-err)? It would seem not! To be honest I think the mums of all of the servicemen and women who are involved should fight the rest of the war. It would probably become the quickest resolve to any conflict since Dr Evil coined the phrase ?zip-it!? Then we could all come home and enjoy the delights of this coming summer (sitting indoors watching the rain hammer down on the world?s supply of grass!). Even though we mock the Great British climate, what with all of its visible moisture and cold blustery flows, the truth is – we’re now all jealous! It’s true. The ?average? day in Kuwait is now a whopping 37C and rising, with little wind to ease the pain either. Air Conditioning systems are fast becoming as prized as Golden Cows and it’s all just a matter of time before all the aircraft sink into a soup of Bitumen and groundcrew! Not a pleasant thought so let’s move on…
We’ve continued in our daily (and nightly), and daily, then nightly routine of bombing the bad guys until they say ?stop, you win?. Among the numerous missions flown we’ve had great successes in destroying our targets. All of these have been focused at Saddam’s Republican and Special Republican Guard units who are loyal to his vicious circle of power. The Squadron engineers are also pleased to see the jets come back ?sans bombs’, and as they say: ?We put ?em on, they take ?em off!? We like it that way too. The new toy on the block is our ultra, highly accurate, super-duper, GPS-guided munition that we call E-Paveway. E, or Enhanced Paveway, is a modified version of the existing laser guided bomb but works on the principle that it doesn’t need to ride a laser beam, but rather ?knows’ where it is in space. This allows us to bomb with certainty through atrocious weather, even when we cannot see the target visually. The first use by us yielded the desired results and the bombs themselves fell through over 20000′ of thick cloud, impacting their target precisely, which was nice!
As you’ve all probably seen, the Iraqi minister of information is quite probably the most amusing stand-up comedian on TV right now. Apparently the quote British mercenaries unquote, i.e. us, have single handedly destroyed somewhere in the region of 7000 tonnes of ?cooking oil?, 5000 tonnes of milk and 3000 tonnes of sugar. If that’s true (!) all we need to schack now is a 3500 tonnes of flour and they can’t make any more doughnuts! We think he should get his own American chat show along the lines of ‘Jerry Springer’ or maybe he could be the new David Dickinson on Bargain Hunt?!
Socially, the odd moment allows us to take off our t-shirts and bask for a few seconds in the sun. Any more and you begin to resemble a Beefeater’s tunic. Aside from the French completely selling us out (nothing new there then!) we do pay the occasional homage by playing Petanc (the annoying game with oversized ball-bearings), football (in an area the size of a Tesco car-parking space) and the Christmas family favourite, Risk?! We’ve also had a ?maintenance day? where we all had a BBQ and got to play volleyball on a special court that the Americans have built here. Actually, we overran the place as nearly 140 of the finest Brit volleyball champions showed them how it’s done… not! It was a good day for everyone involved and helped break that work sleep work sleep wor… cycle. Note to the Boss: Would like more please!
Finally, it gives us great pleasure to congratulate David, Olivia, and Alexander Bradshaw on their new arrival, Isabelle. Well done!
Until next week, when I’ll be writing from a car park on the outskirts of Baghdad where rumour is abound that the American’s have already built the first McDonalds!