More news from OC GR7 Det at Al Jaber Air Base
Family and friends back home, greetings from a slightly cooler but still dusty secret location somewhere near Iraq. Job almost done, Iraq pretty much liberated, and Phase 4, getting the country up and running again with aim of establishing a representative Iraqi government one step closer. The talk of the base here is obviously the going home plot, as it is back there I would assume. Well, I still have no definite dates but I am hopeful that it will be sooner rather than later. Our flight tasking has gone down markedly, which firstly gave us the opportunity of a well deserved day off and secondly means that the working day is rather more relaxed than previously. Our tac recce capability is producing excellent results and is allowing us still to contribute to the effort on the ground in a positive manner. It is also satisfying to bring a product back from our sorties in the way of photographs to show others rather than delivering items the other way! In the very near future, it is clear that the extremely successful 1(F) Sqn partnership with IV(AC) Sqn out here will be broken up. The reduced activity rate will mean that it is right and proper for the 1(F) Sqn pilots and ground crew to be able to rejoin the rest of their team, who have supported us so fantastically in terms of aircraft generation, back home, as the first step in downsizing the detachment. It has been a real pleasure working with the 1(F) Sqn people in such a historic task, many thanks for making this such a good joint detachment – I never knew how good a Balloon Sqn could be! (You see it doesn’t take long for the banter to start).
We will have to wait a few more days to find out the grand plot for the rest of the detachment. I am almost certain that we are no longer looking at being here for the full 6 months, indeed I am pretty confident that we will at least see the back end of May back in the UK, and possibly even before. How long our recce task and close air support capability is needed for is still under consideration – the problem of being too useful! Even if the decision is made to withdraw the GR7s (don’t shoot me if I am wrong please), you will appreciate that it is no simple feat getting us back, given the huge logistic problem of moving such a large proportion of the UK Forces home from the Middle East. The risk of problems with air transport, broken jets, diplomatic overflight clearances, even bus problems from Brize Norton etc are exacerbated by the enormous scale of the task. Some patience will therefore be needed, however, it will serve to make the moment of return all the more sweet. Think of the poor US Marine Sqns which will be leaving here by Ship – it takes one and half months sailing time to get home to the West Coast!
We are all looking forward to being back home with the green fields of Blighty, the sound of lawn mowers rather than reheat, a nice cold beer or 2, some good home cooking and more besides! Until then our best wishes to you all from the desert.
A Happy 4 Pilot’s View of Events – Part 2
Bon Giorno! Welcome to another weekly reminder that the IV (AC) and 1(F) Squadron pilots are still here with our chiselled chins ‘up’, and our steely knuckles ‘down’! So, hasn’t the past week or so produced some remarkable revelations to the rest of the world? Those who initially doubted the impact of Saddam Hussein’s pretty nasty regime are probably now beginning to realise what an awful dictatorship he held. The British Army have been the first military unit to secure an Iraqi town, Basrah, and they continue to do the country proud with their policing of what can only be described as carnage.
This conflict has been quick, and the large part of the fighting now seems to have stopped. We have felt this as well, with large numbers of our sorties returning without being tasked at all, our bombs and missiles still on the jets. This can only signify a gradual reduction in our need here, and I think we’ll all be on our way home shortly. The call of ‘The Periwig’ pub in Stamford is growing louder and louder by the day, or maybe it’s a hearing problem caused by the tirade of jet noise day and night… who knows?
So, what have we been up to?
The last two weeks have seen the bulk of sorties supporting the troops around the Baghdad and Tikrit area, towards the north of Iraq. Long, long sorties* have been the flavour, with some lasting up to 6 hours at a time. The boys At Det A say ‘that?s nothing, get some time in!’ – literally! Having said that, there is a great feeling when you fly for hundreds of miles over the sandy waste of southern Iraq to meet up with a British VC10 or Tristar tanker. Those boys are pretty brave if you ask me. Flying in an airborne gas tank over enemy territory would get most of us twitched, especially if any bullets started flying around! Hats off though, they’ve all been extremely professional and a true credit to the AT wing at Brize Norton. Invariably they have a little chat or joke with us as we take fuel, and always turn up where they say they will – on time! Our shark’s teeth nose-art seems to be going down really well with them, and the American tanker crews too. They’ve taken photos from their cockpits, and the odd (and I mean odd!) character has even waved at us in what could only be described as a large blond afro wig! Some people have too much time on their hands, but the amusement is a good feeling to have during some stressful times.
To allay any fears, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are still in one piece and look fairly good from the air. That can’t be said for the Republican Guard units though who, rather than laying down arms, continued to put up a struggle. There is a word in the fighter-pilot community when a bomb strikes the target… schwack! The remains of tanks and armour, artillery and anti-aircraft guns, are now strewn throughout the region. The pieces are mostly deserted before the attacks take place, but they serve as a reminder to those who don’t that hell can rain down from above, and there’s no place to hide. It must work, because the US Army have met little resistance on their march to the north. Smash, one of our pilots, has been on the ground in Iraq since the start of the war and hopefully will bring back a few stories to tell in the bar. Rumour has it that he’s even spent a night in one of Saddam’s lavish palaces in downtown Baghdad… I bet the room service isn’t up to much; there probably aren’t many rooms to chose from any more either!
Lately we’ve had another day away from the fighting, and it was spent doing absolutely nothing! Just what was required. A little laundry, a few movies and a game of 6-a-side footie went down a treat, as well as a huge group photograph with the entire detachment out in the sun (45C too, ouch!) However, that seemed to last only 5 minutes and it?s now back to work until further notice (how many Sir?!)
A new role has emerged in the form of Tactical Reconnaissance, as our Harriers now sport the latest ‘strap-on’ – the Joint Recce Pod (JRP). Initial pictures are encouraging, and are providing useful intelligence to the UK and US forces before they move. We are also looking at the aftermath of the bombing campaign, and trying to ascertain the combat effectiveness of the destroyed units on the ground.
So, this will be our role until we get the order to withdraw (which hopefully will be sometime soon). Then we can all come home and learn how to hover the jet again! There’ll be some real comedy VSTOL in the Cottesmore circuit, I can assure you.
Until next week, ‘Happy Four’ and 1(F) wish you the best?
- Yes, we do have little bags for those long, long missions. Yes, they’re impossible to use at 25000 feet!
A Happy 4 Pilot’s View of Events – Part 3
Hello from the desert, and ‘WOW’ is it really starting to get hot just about everywhere! Another week has passed since our last update and as usual, I will endeavour to keep you suitably ‘abreast’ on what’s been going on around Jaber.
Last week I closed by telling you all a little bit about the new and rather spangly Joint Reconnaissance Pod. We’ve now been using it for just over 2 weeks, and our role has been expanded to accommodate this task. So then, what exactly does it entail? Basically, the pod is fixed under the belly of the Harrier and has a few cameras housed within; all of which serve slightly different purposes in the air. Our reconnaissance (recce) mission begins by receiving the task, or ‘deck’, from the Recce Intelligence Cell (RIC). This document has all the coordinates written down for the areas that require imaging. After these points of interest are entered into the computer, a route is drawn for the pilots to fly. The images can be photographed from anywhere between directly on top, looking down, to various side-on shots. Originally designed and optimised for the Jaguar aircraft, the integration into the Harrier has been successful with some very good quality imagery being delivered on a regular basis. That won’t stop the Jag boys sulking though, but at least they get to have a beer to cry into!
The main bulk of our imaging has been our own targets, which were hit during the heavy period of 24-hour bombing missions. Not only do these images help confirm what the targets are/were, they also become invaluable for the dreaded Qualified Weapons Instructors (QWIs) who analyse the patterns and fine-tune our techniques for delivering ordnance. A long and statistically full journey for them all!! Also, you can literally ‘find’ things such as equipment and military armour using a lot of patience and a careful eye. This is a job that the RIC personnel are highly trained at, and do exceptionally well. Some of our more impressive photos include the Ruins of Babylon, the grand mosques of An Najaf and Karbala, Saddam’s numerous ex-palaces, and the famous crossed Swords of Freedom.
The press have also finally left, which is a good clue that the more interesting events have already happened. Either that, or their staying power is ludicrously weak! Talking of weakness, the Squadron has finally been reunited with Steve ‘Raz’ Berry (extremely weak and worthless!) and Nick ‘Paddy’ Ireland, both of whom were seconded to the ‘other secret squadron’s effort somewhere, but I can’t really say where…’ Everyone knew… no one cared. Good to see them back with us, and sporting particularly jaunty and impressive handlebar moustaches too. A tennis racquet and a head band would just see off their 70s look completely!
Also, Dave ‘Smash’ Ashley has returned from his escapades on the ground in central Iraq. He has confirmed that he did indeed sleep in one of Saddam’s palaces, but there wasn’t much left of it in actual fact. Since then he’s kept us all amused with the stories of ‘life with the grunts’, and even brought back a few trophies to put on display back home. One of them is particularly special, but a possible ceremonial unveiling may be on the cards so I won’t spoil the surprise.
We’ve also had our first Harrier GR7s land in Iraq, as we sent two pilots to a Forward Air Refuelling Point (FARP) at an airfield over the border. This whole concept was exactly what the original designers of the Harrier had in mind and, for the few of us who had the opportunity to try, it proved to be successful. ‘Just like it says on the tin’ springs to mind!
That’s about it on the work side of things. Socially, there’s been more shenanigans at the volleyball pit and more BBQs than you could stomach. The beef burgers are now slowly becoming about as appealing as the brown stuff in an overly ripe banana! The Mobile Catering and Support Unit (MCSU), which serves food at the flight line for our hardworking engineers, continues to excel and produces lavish feasts such as fillet steak and duck! Hard to believe, but nevertheless true. They are the envy of ALL the other military units here, and do a thoroughly smashing job?. nice one! The thought of returning home is sometimes all that’s needed to raise a smile, but exactly when? Just a guess but hopefully it will be a short time after you all read this!
Some of the pilots have already returned though. Sqn Ldr Lewis has been posted to his new job at RAF Wyton, Sqn Ldr Bradshaw has returned to see his new baby girl, and Pete ‘PK’ returned to be with Tamzin, who was expecting their second child. Since then, Tamzin has given birth to a baby boy, Daniel, so we all wish them well until we can obviously congratulate them on our return.
So, that’s about all for this time, but remember a few of these for the next time YOU are stuck in the middle of nowhere in a sand storm!
Never eat anything bigger than your own head! Why are there no grapes in grapefruit, and no cheese in cheesecake?! And finally
Knowledge is understanding that a tomato is a fruit… Intelligence is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad! ‘Til next time, it’s farewell from us all on the happiest Squadron in the Queen’s air force… Happy IV.