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Old 01-03-2015, 11:51 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Location: Auberry, CA
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Another One, and getting a squadron the hard way:

Taking Command

Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, TX: 26 October 1987



It had been two months since Sheppard had been recaptured, and there had been a race to get there, with III Corps' 23rd Infantry Division beating out VI Corps' 7th Armored Division. Now, it was a busy place, as Marine Air Group 11, along with Air Force and Army helicopters, and AF transports, were going in and out, supporting the ongoing fight for the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Fort Worth had fallen, as had several of the cities in between Dallas and Fort Worth, but Dallas was still a slugfest. At Sheppard, AF “Red Horse” Engineers and Navy Seabees had cleaned up the worst of the damage to the base, cleared away both the bodies and the unexploded ordnance, and gotten the runways operational. Revetments had been built to handle fighters and helicopters, and both tents and trailers had been brought in to house personnel and for the various squadrons to conduct their ground business. Now, the base was seeing more air activity in a day than it had in its prewar guise as an Air Training Command base. Marine and Air Force aircraft, from fighters to transports, as well as Army helicopters, came in and out, not to mention the occasional tanker, and it all added up to organized bedlam.

Capt. Matt Wiser, call sign Guru, of the Air Force's 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron had just finished briefing his flight on a mission that was put together way too fast for his liking, but with too many missions and not enough assets, he took it like he should. The mission had come down from Marine Air Group 11, to which his squadron had been attached since the early days of the war, and called for a strike on the Seagoville Municipal Airport. Cuban helicopters and even some Su-25s were using the place, and the Army wanted it taken out. It would be a low-level ride past Fort Worth to the west, then a turn east, flying south of the metro area, before turning to strike. One pass from the flight, and forty-eight Mark-82 bombs from the four aircraft should be enough to put the airport out of commission for a while. And as for getting out, he wanted to bypass the mayhem that was Dallas, so he planned on a turn north, find Lake Ray Hubbard east of Mesquite, and fly up the lake. Only then would the flight climb back to altitude to return to Sheppard. Then, he thought, an hour or so to turn around, and back in the saddle again. Only this time, he knew, as did everyone in the unit, we're going to win.

He looked at his crews one more time. They were all sitting outside their squadron office. “Any more questions?” There were none, so he told them, “All right, wheels up in fifteen mikes. Saddle up and get ready to go.”

As they broke up to head to their aircraft, Lt. Col. Dean Rivers came over. He was the CO of the 335th, and wanted to talk with the Exec.

“Guru. Just a minute. We need to talk.”

What's up, Boss?” The Exec asked.

“I've got a bad feeling about today. I can't pin it down, but it's there,” Rivers said.

“You've had these before, and nothing happened, Boss,” Guru reminded his CO. “What's so special about today?”

“Don't know, Guru. But I can't shake it,” said Rivers. “Anyway, I left a letter on your desk. Sergeant Ross has orders not to let anyone into your office unless it's you or me,” Rivers told his Exec.

Master Sergeant Michael Ross was the squadron's senior NCO. In thirty years of service, he'd seen it all. Or thought he had until the war began. He was a father figure to the enlisted airmen, and he was old enough to be the father of nearly all the aircrew as well. There wasn't anyone more trusted in the squadron than Ross.

“Including Major Carson?” Guru asked.

“Especially him, Guru. I'd rather have you take over the squadron than him.” the CO said. Then the object of their conversation came towards them. “Speak of the Devil, Guru. Major,”

“Sir,” Major Carson said as he saluted. He looked at Guru, who didn't salute him. And Colonel Rivers didn't return the salute.

Carson ignored it: he knew full well that expecting these two officers to respect him was a waste of time. “Colonel, I have some write-ups of enlisted airmen for being out of uniform on the flight line, failing to salute, and...”

“Save it, Major. I'll take those.” Colonel Rivers responded, taking the write ups. “As for what I'll do with these....Watch, Major.” And then Colonel Rivers tore up the papers and threw them in a nearby garbage can.

Carson was appalled. “Sir!”

“Major, in case you haven't noticed, there's a war on. We've been fighting for our national survival, and we can't be so spit-and-polish we lose the war!” Rivers yelled at Carson.

“Sir, there's Air Force Rules, and Regulations! Not to mention rank!” Carson said, glaring at the Exec.

Guru quipped, “I can't help it, Phil, if I'm not as rank as you.”

Carson's face turned red. “Colonel!”

“Face it, Major. He's got more combat experience than you, not to mention overall stick time. And he's somebody that everyone in the squadron looks up to after that E&E. I'd rather have an Exec ready to take over who's combat-experienced and tries to bring everyone home alive. You're not, Major.” Rivers said, looking at Guru, who was trying to stifle a laugh.

“Sir, General Tanner will hear about this!” Carson fumed.

“So what? I've got news for you, Major. Tanner knows. And he's OK with it. Unlike you, the General knows what parts of the book to keep once the shooting started and what parts to throw away. This isn't the Academy, Major, and these men and women aren't brand-new Doolies,” Rivers shot back.

“This is unheard of!” Carson wailed.

“Peacetime rules don't apply two years into a war, Major. And in case you've got any ideas, I've already talked to the General. If anything happens to me, Guru takes command of the squadron. Whether you like it or not. And if you give him any trouble, he'll be on the phone to Tanner in a hot minute.” Rivers paused to look at Guru, who was still trying to stifle a laugh, but managed to nod, yes. “Got that?”

Carson stared at the both of them. Clearly, neither one of them understood his reasons or motives, and the fact that Guru came out of OTS galled him. If he'd been an Academy grad, Guru might deserve the squadron. But Rivers, who had graduated from the Academy, had come down on Guru's side. And was way, way, too chummy with these...ROTC or OTS people. Even so far as to not wear his class ring. He was obviously “one of the boys.”

“Well, Major?” Rivers asked.

“Yes, Sir.” Carson responded, his tone betraying how he really felt, and realizing there wasn't much right now he could do about it. He stalked off in a fit of the sulks.

“That is not a happy person, Boss.” Guru observed.

“I've been looking for a reason to transfer him, and his last Officer Efficiency Report might be a good reason. If he gives you any trouble, look it up. Then call Tanner and explain the transfer. He'll back you up,” Rivers said.

“Only if you don't come back, Boss,” Guru said. “Time for me to go. See you in a while.”

“Take care, Guru. And bring everyone back safe,” Rivers said.

“I'll do that.” With that, Guru walked over to his F-4E, tail number 512, where he found the other members of his flight gathered. His WSO, Capt. Lisa Eichhorn, call sign Goalie, asked, “What was that all about?”

“Rivers has a bad feeling about today, and he wrote a letter for me, just in case he doesn't come back,” Guru told her.

“What was our Frank Burns wannabe doing there?” Capt. Kara Thrace, or Starbuck as she was known on the radio, asked.

“The usual BS. And he's pissed that Rivers told him that if anything happens to Rivers, I get the squadron and he doesn't.” Guru replied.

1st Lt. Valerie Blanchard, call sign Sweaty, said, “We'd be glad to call you Boss, instead of that SOB, Guru.”

“Let's just get through what's on our plate right now. And cross that bridge if it comes to it. Anything else?” Guru told the flight. Everyone nodded no. “Then let's go.”


45 minutes later, over North-Central Texas


Camaro Flight was heading east, just south of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. They had flown south to Mineral Wells, and then headed east. No radars, no SAMs, no MiGs. They were too low, and too fast. Normally, they'd have a pair of Wild Weasel SAM-killing Phantoms, or a pair of Marine F/A-18s with HARM or Shrike antiradar missiles, and a Marine EA-6B Prowler to jam enemy radars, but this mission had been laid on too fast, and those assets were busy elsewhere. Speed and surprise were what counted on this occasion, and coming in at 450 feet and 500-plus knots certainly helped.

In the rear seat of 512, Goalie looked at a chart and checked her watch. “Two minutes to IP, Guru.”

“Copy,” he replied. Guru got on the radio. “Camaro Flight, this is Lead. Two minutes.”

With that call, the four Phantoms popped up from 450 feet to 2,000 feet. They would have just enough time to identify the target and line up for bomb release. But it would put them in danger from antiaircraft guns and any missiles the Cubans had.

“Thirty Seconds, Guru.” Goalie called.

“Got it. Target in sight. Camaro Flight, Lead. Target in sight. Lead in hot.” With that, Guru rolled in onto the target, and he picked out the edge of the runway and the parking apron as his aiming point. He pressed the pickle button, and twelve Mark-82 500-pound bombs came off his plane. He walked his bombs across the runway and the apron, not only putting holes in the runway, but blasting a couple of Mi-8 Hip helicopters in the process. “Lead's off target,” he called.

The first sign that the Cuban defenders had that they were under attack was Guru's first bomb exploding short of the runway. And the rest of his bombs exploding in turn. Antiaircraft gunners ran for their ZU-23 AA guns, while Cuban soldiers grabbed SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles. But it was already too late, as Starbuck came in.

“Two's in hot!” She called as she laid down her dozen Mark-82s onto several Su-25s, blasting four of the Frogfoots apart. An added bonus for her was that two of her bombs wrecked a hangar, and another blasted the small control tower. Starbuck called in, “Two off target.”

“Three's in hot!” Sweaty called. She led her element in perpendicular to the first, coming in from due south. She laid down her bombs directly on the runway, adding to the bombs that Guru and Starbuck had dropped. And with that, Seagoville Municipal was out of business for a while. There was some flak coming up, and even an SA-7 or two, but Sweaty called in, “Three off target.”

“Four in hot!” 1st Lt. Nathan West, or Hoser as he went on the radio, called. He brought his F-4 right behind Sweaty, but he didn't aim for the runway. Hoser picked out the Cubans' fuel dump, and planted his bombs right on that, and several that missed the dump fell in the Cuban motor pool. As he banked away, he could see oily black smoke and balls of fire rising into the sky. “Four off target.”

“OK, let's get out of here. Camaro Flight, form on me.” Guru called, and the four Phantoms joined up and headed back down on the deck. “And Music on,” he ordered. That meant their ALQ-101 jammer pods, carried in the left forward Sparrow missile well, came on. The four Phantoms then found Lake Ray Hubbard, and came in over the lake, throwing up spray behind them. It took another two minutes before they reached the north shore of the lake, before they could climb up and turn west. And hope the Army air-defense pukes down below didn't decide they were enemy and take a shot at them.

Nothing of the sort happened, and the flight came into Sheppard's traffic pattern and requested landing instructions. After they landed and got themselves parked, the aircrews were still pumped. Apart from the flak at the target, they'd had a free ride. It wasn't that often that happened. They were still pumped when Guru opened the door to the squadron office, a former office for a flying training squadron, and found a very different scene.

Everyone was somber, going about their jobs, but they were in a daze. People were still being briefed, and were going out, but one could tell that something bad had happened. Guru led his people into the main briefing room, and noticed the other crews, and they looked like they were in shock. Then he noticed Capt. Mark Ellis, the Operations Officer. He waved Guru over.

“What happened, Mark? You'd think the President just died.” Guru told him.

“Not that. Colonel Rivers got shot down near Corsicana. He didn't get out,” Ellis said. “The squadron's yours now, Guru.”

Wiser looked at Ellis like he'd just grown two heads. Then he felt like he'd just taken a punch to the gut. Oh, man. Not like this, he thought.

“I'd better get to my office. Is Ross there?” Guru asked.

“Ever since we found out. And no, Carson hasn't been in there,” Ellis replied.

“Good. Make sure he stays out.” Guru then went to the front of the room and addressed the aircrews. “I know this isn't much, but Colonel Rivers would want us to buckle up, hold it back, and get on with our jobs. I'll get the chaplain so we can have a memorial service later, but right now, the best thing we can do is to keep doing what we're doing: namely, pushing those ComBloc bastards back where they came from. He'd want it that way. Any questions?”

The room was silent, then Ellis stood up. “Okay, people, we all know what to do. Let's get on with winning the war.” With that, people started going back into “game mode.” There was a job to do, and they had to keep going.

Guru then turned to Ellis. “Mark, give me a few minutes in my office. We'll clean out Rivers' stuff later. I'm not ready for that just yet. You're Exec now.”

“I'm not ready for that, Guru.” Ellis said.

“I wasn't ready to be Ops when I got it, and I wasn't ready to be Exec when Rivers handed it to me. And for sure, I'm not ready to be CO, but there's nothing I can do about it. We do the best we can, and that's it,” Guru replied, seeing Ellis nod.

“And who becomes Ops?” Asked Ellis.

“Don Van Loan. Rivers had his eye on him, and we talked it over. He's got enough experience, and he's done good as your backup. Goalie moves to senior WSO, and Kara becomes Don's deputy.” Wiser said.

Overhearing that, Starbuck replied, “Thanks a heap, Boss.”

“We all have to start sometime, Starbuck. Goalie, you comfortable being senior WSO?” Guru asked.


Goalie looked at her pilot and CO. “If I say no, does that change anything?”

“No.”

“Okay, then. I'm comfortable,” she responded.

“Good. I'll be in my office. Mark, get the department heads-supply, maintenance, ordnance, the flight surgeon, you, and Goalie. Have 'em in there in ten minutes,” he told Ellis.

“Right,” Ellis said as he went to notify those requested. Guru left to head to his office. He passed the CO's and he knew it was his now by right, but he just didn't feel like going in just yet. Then he came to his office, where Master Sergeant Ross and two armed CSPs were waiting. “Sergeant.”

“Sir. It's a shame about Colonel Rivers,” Ross said.

“I know. Has Major Carson been by?” Guru asked.

“No, sir. Not yet.”

“Good. See that he stays out. Let the enlisted folks know I'll be around, talking to them, and letting them know what's up. Nothing changes, and unless it's really bad, anyone Carson writes up gets that stuff sent where Colonel Rivers sent it: namely, the trash.” Guru told Ross.

“Yes, Sir!” Ross said, beaming with pride.

“Good. The senior officers will be here in a few minutes. I want you in as well: you're the senior NCO.”

“Yes, sir.”

“All right, Sergeant, that's all. I need a few alone.” Guru said as he went in.

“Sir.” Ross said, closing the door behind his new CO.

Guru went to his desk and found the envelope. After he opened it, he found the letter very short:

Guru, if you're reading this, then I'm either dead, MIA, or eating Kasha behind barbed wire. I just want to tell you that the squadron's yours now. I've cleared it with General Tanner, and FYI you wouldn't be the first in those shoes, bypassing someone senior to get a squadron. You're the one I trust to run things, and not Carson.

Keep doing things the way we've been doing, and remind everyone to take care of the enlisted guys. They keep us in the air, and remind them the enlisted aren't brand-new Doolies, or pieces of machinery. Take care of them, just as they take care of our birds.

As for the Major, don't worry. Like I said, Tanner's OK with you running things, and if Carson gives you any heat, call Tanner. Here's his contact info. And if you decide to kick him out of the squadron, check Carson's OER: I didn't want to kick him out just yet, but if you decide to, everything's there.

Don't worry about Linda and the kids: I've included a letter for you to send them. They're in Minnesota, and for them, the war is rationing and what they see on the evening news. Her dad was an Air Force Colonel, so she knows what can happen.

Just remember what I said, and I'll be watching over you guys. Check six, and finish the job we started.

Dean.


And we will, Boss, Guru thought to himself. There was a knock on the door. It was Ross. “Sir, the senior officers are here.”

Guru took a deep breath. “OK. Send them in, come on in yourself, and close the door behind us. And Carson stays out.”

Ross nodded, and the officers Guru wanted to talk to came in. Sergeant Ross closed the door behind him, and the two CSPs took their position outside.......


Fifteen Minutes later.....

The meeting broke up, and Goalie, Mark Ellis, Starbuck, and Don Van Loan were still there with Guru. General Tanner had called, and informed Guru that he'd be there in two days, and strongly hinted that something else in addition to squadron command was on the agenda. “With responsibilities come rank, Captain,” Tanner had said. That was a sign that good news was coming.

“What do Tanner and Colonel Rivers have in common, Guru?” Starbuck asked.

“Rivers was Tanner's aide, when he was a one-star. Even back then, Tanner never let rank go to his head,” Guru replied, remembering a conversation he and Rivers had had.

“Unlike a certain Major, right?” Goalie observed.

“Right you are, Goalie,” Guru said.

There was a knock at the door. One of the CSPs came in. “Sir, Major Carson's here. He's demanding to be allowed in.”

Everyone inside looked at each other. Then Guru said, “OK, let him in.”

Carson came into the room, a foul look on his face. “So you're CO now, Captain?” He sneered.

“Right you are, Major,” Guru replied. “And General Tanner's OK with that. I just got off the phone with him. I get the squadron, as Rivers asked. Not you.”

“This isn't right. General Tanner will see reason. He has to. And I am your superior officer,” Carson wailed.

“No, Phil. You aren't. Just a higher-ranking one. That's all,” Guru replied.

There was another knock on the door. One of the operations sergeants came in, with a fax in his hand. “Captain, a fax came for you from Tenth Air Force.”

Carson reached for it, but the Sergeant said, “Sir, this is for Captain Wiser.” And he handed it to Guru.

Guru read it. Then he handed it to Ellis. “Read it, Mark.”

Ellis read the fax aloud. “By order of Commanding General, Tenth Air Force, Captain Matt Wiser, USAF, is hereby confirmed in command of the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron effective 1300 Hours this date. The Commanding General will be arriving at Sheppard AFB on 28 October to visit the squadron and other units based there. No formal unit inspection is intended, and the visit will not interfere with ongoing combat operations. Signed, Tanner, CG, Tenth Air Force.”

The smug look on Carson's face disappeared. He sulked out of the office, a solitary figure. After he left, Kara observed, “Never thought I'd say this, but he's worse than Tigh.”

“He's got a sense of entitlement, Starbuck,” Goalie observed. “He thinks he's entitled to the squadron by right. And finding out General Tanner denied him sure deflated his balloon.”

“That it did, Goalie. That it did,” Guru said. “In the meantime, I need some help this evening. If you like, I'd appreciate it if we all helped clean out Colonel Rivers' office. It'd deal with some of the pain.”
He looked at the group, and saw nods in the affirmative. “In the meantime, I believe we've got missions scheduled, Mark?”

“That we all do, Boss.” Ellis replied. “Your flight's up in an hour.”

“All right. Get something to eat, and let's go back to work. And if you're angry, let some Russians or Cubans feel that anger,” Guru said.

“YES, SIR!” They all shouted.

And with that, the 335th went on with the war.
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Treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect, but always have a plan to kill them.

Old USMC Adage
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