Printer Friendly

FIRST WARTIME RUN A SCARY TEST FOR PILOTS WHEN TRAINING KICKS IN, THE ENEMY WILL BE THE ONE WHO HAS TO WORRY.

Byline: Robert K. Wilcox Local View

WHEN Navy Cmdr. Joe Aucoin, CO of the VF-41 Black Aces fighter squadron, gathered his aviators the night before the Kosovo War, there was little of the usual laughter and banter.

His men listened attentively as the Gulf War veteran described the fear and trepidation they would feel.

It was natural, he said. But if any of them were too afraid, he invited a private visit. He'd remove them from the flight schedule, no questions asked.

Better now than in the heat of battle when it could jeopardize the safety of others.

Many American fighter pilots and crews have already been in the air as the Iraqi war has begun. It's a good bet the Black Aces have been among them.

What's it like for American fighter pilots and crews flying in this war?

Only time will tell the full extent. But it's a good bet that the preparations they made will be much like what the Black Aces went through in those fateful hours before launch in 1999.

Flying to war is always stressful.

Although the pilots and crew have trained endlessly for it, the fact that this time is for real can be monstrously unsettling.

They all have their assignments and know what to do. But unlike in training, now they'll be shot at. Someone will be trying to kill them.

Such a thought is unsettling even for veterans. For many, it will - or already has been - the first time in real combat. It is a crucible that they've both sought and dreaded.

It will be a time when they find out who they really are.

I was on a carrier during the Kosovo War to write a book about fighter pilots, and I got an inside look.

Some of the aviators were raring to go. You could see it in their eyes.

Others were overwhelmed by the enormity of what they were about to do. Only one aviator had that talk with Aucoin.

Most just glued on the skipper's words.

Many then went back to their small staterooms and wrote the letter that most in their situation always do. It's a letter they hope is never delivered.

Lt. Cmdr. Steve Carroll wrote his wife, Donna: ``If you have opened this letter, things have not gone the way I planned ... Now know you have someone watching over you ...''

Lt. Brian Fleisher wrote his wife, Laura: ``Some minutes I am really excited and think this will be one of the most exciting things that I will ever do. At others I am really scared. I might not make it back.''

Lt. Clay Williams told his wife, Lisa, that if anything happened, resist talking to the media. The enemy would surely use whatever facts they learned in torturing him. He closed with, ``Be strong.''

Still, for some, what they will be required to do (indeed, some have already done) won't fully register until just hours before launch. That's when the pre-bombing briefings start and the squadron's strongbox is opened and they are handed a pistol, live ammunition, encrypted codes for cockpit communications and a ``blood chit'' for use as a last-ditch bargaining chip if they are shot down and lucky enough to survive.

The chit is, in effect, a check for large amounts of gold or cash, whichever is wanted, if the bearer will help the aviator. Written in the enemy's language as well as others, it is redeemable at any American installation, military or diplomatic.

Pre-launch is largely a solemn time. Nothing can stop the thoughts of what might happen. Some get sick to their stomachs. Others pray. It's not uncommon to see a quick genuflection and sign of the cross before starting up on deck.

Once at their jet, they'll make a careful circular check. The tiniest thing wrong could kill them - a lose nut, a hidden hanging wire.

The butterflies will be like a kicking fetus in their stomachs as they strap into the cockpit and perhaps exchange final thoughts with their plane captain.

One pilot told me he was so scared he worried he suddenly couldn't function. Then the burly noncom helping him shook his hand and said, ``I'll be waiting for you when you come back.'' Somehow those words reassured him and he knew he was going to be all right.

Not everyone is so lucky.

But once the big jet's engine is spewing fire and they roar down the deck to launch, most will go into automatic.

There will be rendezvous with the others, tanking in often turbulent and/or night skies, dangerous even in peacetime, and then rendezvous again before the target, a last chance to get everyone together and on the same clock.

With ``push'' will come the actual launch into combat. It's like the kickoff in a football game, the first punch in a fight.

Fears and apprehensions should dissipate and they'll become the highly- trained, very talented and skilled operators of rocket planes that relentless practice and America has produced.

The fear might still be there, but it will be compartmentalized, tucked away somewhere for the most part, so they can concentrate on their jobs.

From that point on, the fear and trepidation undoubtedly will transfer to the unlucky Iraqi defenders who will, by then, know they are coming.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Viewpoint
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 23, 2003
Words:885
Previous Article:WHAT ABOUT OUR FORGOTTEN SOLDIERS? MARINE UNIT MAY BE IN ASIA FOR 18 MONTHS BEFORE RETURNING HOME.
Next Article:CITY'S MARATHON SUPPORT SHOULD HAVE NO FINISH LINE.


Related Articles
AIR MORA CANYON RUNNER ADVANCES HIS FLYING EXPERTISE.
TESTING THEIR WINGS STUDENTS TO FLY B-17 AS TRAINING.
UNMANNED CRAFT REVEALED.
Bad idea gets worse.
Always faithful.
A Marine Aviator's view of the Korean conflict.
'YOU DO YOUR DUTY' YEAGER TALKS MOTIVATION AT EDWARDS.
SQUADRON SPEEDS TESTING.
Air warriors: (revamped flag exercises reflect new missions).

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters