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Old 01-13-2015, 11:13 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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The 335th's strangest mission of the war:

Part I:


Target: Madeline


Williams AFB, AZ; 1300 Hours Mountain War Time, 12 May, 1987:



It had been a busy morning for the crews of the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, as well as Marine Air Group 11, to which the squadron had been attached to since the beginning of the war. The usual Close-Air-Support and Battlefield Air Interdiction missions had been going on all morning, and when crews returned and finished their debriefs, the talk was of the Battle of Wichita. Pundits on the news were comparing it to Kursk in 1943, and to many, it looked like the first signs of light at the end of the tunnel.

For Captain Matt “Guru” Wiser, the Executive Officer of the 335th, it had been a busy morning for him and his flight. They had flown three missions that morning, and finally, they were able to take a break, get something to eat, and just breathe easy. With the occasional glance at the news, since during Wichita and after, the networks had been covering the battle non-stop. He'd been watching in the Exec's office with the members of his flight, and having lunch at the same time. “About damned time we stop these bastards before they get too far.”

His WSO, 1st Lieutenant Lisa “Goalie” Eichhorn, nodded. “Schwartzkopf laid a trap for 'em, and they fell for it.” She looked at her pilot and squadron exec. “Wish we were there?”

“No way,” Guru said. “The surface-to-air threat would be murder.”

“Even with the Army helping out?” Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, Guru's wingmate, asked.

“Even with that,” Guru replied. “From MANPADS to SA-11, it would've been there.”

“Not arguing with that,” First Lieutenant Valerie Blanchard, call sign Sweaty, said. “Now we push those SOBs back south.”

“Yeah,” several voices said at once.

Then Guru looked at Sweaty's wingman, First Lieutenant Nathan “Hoser” West and his backseater, Second Lieutenant Kathy “KT” Thornton. “You two fitting in?” Both were recent replacements to the 335th, and when Sweaty graduated to flight lead, they had become her wingmates.

“They told us there'd be days like this,” Hoser replied. “How many today?”

“Don't know,” Guru said. “Normally it's two before lunch, then two after. Something's going on, that's for sure.” He looked at KT. “And you?”

“It could be worse,” KT said. “Not like the early days, I'm told.”

“Be glad none of you were here,” Guru said. “Five, sometimes six missions a day, and we were losing people. Two weeks in, we lost the CO. A month later, the XO bought it, and then another month later, the new CO went in. Then Colonel Rivers came and took over.”

“Not long after that, you went camping with the Resistance,” Goalie said. “Not fun, you said.”

Guru nodded. “No fun at all. Running, hiding, and fighting. Spent about as much time hunting for deer or elk as we did killing Russians or Cubans. And the stories about atrocities behind the lines? They're true. Saw enough of that, and Lori Sheppard, our guerrilla leader, lost her family, home, everything. Some bastard talked, told the KGB that her family was sheltering downed pilots, so some KGB and ALA came to her family's ranch. Made her mom and dad watch as they raped her sister, killed her brother, then they did her mom, then shot her dad. Took all the livestock, and burned the place down.”

“Those bastards need to pay-KGB and ALA both,” Kara said.

“Yeah,” Guru nodded. “Half of those with that guerrilla group has a similar story: family killed, home destroyed, so they went into the hills. Then there's a good number of people who ran to the hills when it started, and a few who were on camping or hiking trips in the back country on Invasion Day.”

“They get out?” Sweaty asked. “You said when the pilots hiked out, the Army was going to evac the noncombatants.”

“That's what Lori said, and they were going to get some SF going in with them.” He raised a bottle of water. “Here's to the guerrillas. May they entertain Ivan and Fidel as long as they can.”

“Hear, hear,” Kara said.

Then talk turned to what they were having for lunch: sandwiches and nachos from the Marines' mess tent. “May the Lord have mercy on whatever it is in these sandwiches,” Second Lieutenant Bryan Simmonds, Sweaty's WSO, said. He'd been studying for the priesthood when the war began, and he'd dropped that and joined the Air Force. His classmates in navigator training found that out, and they gave him the call sign “Preacher.”

“Whatever this is, it's been dead for a while, and can only improve with age,” Kara nodded. “It said Pork Tri-Tip, but it's more like something brown that just sits there.”

“At least the turkey tastes like turkey,” Guru said, and there were some laughs. A knock on the office door followed, and Guru said, “Show yourself and come on in.”

Capt. Mark Ellis, the Squadron's Operations Officer, came in. “Guys.”

“What's up, Mark?”

“Colonel Rivers wants you guys, all of you, in the main briefing room. Fifteen minutes.”

“What?” Main briefing room?” Kara said. “You did say that, right?”

“I did,” Ellis replied.

“What's going on, Mark?” Guru asked. “That's pretty unusual.”

“Colonel Rivers was asked to get the four best crews in the squadron for a mission. Half the squadron's out right now, so he picked you guys,” the ops officer said. “Be there in fifteen. Oh, he says, 'that's an order.'”

Heads turned at that. “We'll be there,” Guru said.

“Oh, one other thing. There's some brass here, and before you ask, no, it's not General Tanner. Something's going on, and it's related to this. I don't know, Rivers doesn't, and neither does Colonel Brady.” Marine Colonel Allen Brady was the CO of MAG-11, which the 335th was operating under.

Goalie quipped, “Let me guess: the mission orders say 'Burn before reading?””

Ellis looked at her. “You're not that far off. See you at the brief.”


A few minutes later, the four crews came into the Main Briefing Room, which was normally used for all-officer meetings in the squadron. Ellis was there, along with Second Lieutenant Darren Licon, the Squadron's Intelligence Officer, and one of Ellis' NCOs. . They nodded as the crews came in and sat down. Then the NCO shouted. “General on the deck!”

Everyone in the room sprang to attention as a one-star AF general came into the room, followed by Colonels Brady and Rivers, and behind them came several civilians. They weren't ordinary civilians, for they wore suits and Ray-Bans, and that told everyone right away who these people were.

“Be seated,” the one-star said. “Everyone, I'm Brigadier General Donnelly, General Tanner's Intelligence Officer.” He looked the crews over. “Colonel Rivers says you four are the best in the 335th. Now you get to prove it.” General Donnelly nodded at one of the civilians, who was obviously an “OGA” type. The lights dimmed, and a projector showed an aerial photo. “This is your target.”

“Looks like a ranch house,” Guru said.

“It is, Captain,” General Donnelly replied. “It's called the Madeline Ranch. All you need to know is that it's being used by the KGB.”

Kara asked, “Where's the target?”

General Donnelly nodded, and a detailed map of part of Eastern New Mexico was the next slide. “Here, about five miles southeast of the small community of Elida, on U.S. 70. All you need to know is that this target has to be taken out, and your aircraft are being prepared with the appropriate ordnance loads. Lights.”

The lights came back on, and the crews were looking at each other, and they noticed the OGA types were still in the room. “Sir, what about defenses?” Guru asked.

“Coming to that now, Captain,” Donnelly noted. “You're at the outer edge of the Portales SA-2 site, and the same goes for the Roswell North SA-2 site. You'll be getting Weasels and a Spark Vark to make things easier for you, in case Ivan has any additional surprises in the area.”

Guru looked at his flight, and heads were shaking. He knew what they were thinking, and that this would be a good way to get someone killed. “How many?”

“Four, Captain,” Donnelly replied. And an RF-4C will follow you in, to get BDA imagery of the target. I need to know, though: how many of you are Pave Tack qualified?”

Guru and Kara's hands rose, along with those of their back-seaters.

“Very well, then. Captains, you two will actually hit the target. You will both have a Pave Tack pod, and two GBU-10s to destroy the target. No one comes back with unused ordnance. All four bombs go on the target. Do I make myself clear, Captains?”

Guru and Starbuck looked at each other again. “You do, Sir,” they said almost at once.

“Good. Lieutenant Blanchard? You and your wingman will be the TARCAP. You'll be loaded air-to-air. There will be four F-15Cs coming with you, and an EF-111 will perform some standoff jamming for your ingress and egress. The briefing packet will have the necessary call signs, and your rendezvous will be at the southern tanker track. AWACS will vector you in, and once you're across the fence, it's in your hands.”

“They'll get the job done, General,” Colonel Rivers said.

“Good. Now, Captain Wiser? You're in command once in the air. This package is yours. How you fly it is up to you.”

“Yes, Sir,” Guru said.

“General, isn't this an A-6 or F-111 mission? At night?” Colonel Brady wanted to know.

“All I can say, Colonel, is that this has to be flown now,” Donnelly replied. “Now, your briefing packet will have call signs and other information. However, when you are finished, you all have to sign a nondisclosure form. You are not to discuss this flight with anyone. Is that understood?”

Heads nodded. “Yes, Sir,” several voices said.

“Your aircraft will be ready by 1400. Be ready to launch after that,” Donelly nodded. “Good luck.”
He then left the room, .and all but one of the OGA types followed him. Colonels Brady and Rivers stayed, though.

Guru went to both Colonels. “Sirs, what's this all about? We're the ones flying this mission, and we don't know diddly squat.”

“Believe me, Guru,” Rivers said. “We tried. Even General Tanner doesn't know all the details. None of us have a 'need to know.' I don't like it any more than you do.”

“Yes, Sir,” grumbled the Exec. It was clear from his voice that Guru wasn't too happy.

“Get your planning done, sign that form, and get ready to fly,” Rivers said.

Guru nodded and went back. “All right, suggestions?”

“Low and fast as usual?” Sweaty offered.

“Sounds good to me,” Guru said. “Kara?”

“I'll go along with that. We'll both have the pods, so we can self-designate,” she pointed out.

“Okay,” Guru nodded agreement. “Sweaty, I want you and Hoser about a mile from the target. When we do the pop up, you two orbit. The F-15s will be further away, so anyone getting past them is yours.”

“Gotcha, “ Sweaty replied.

“Now, Weasels. I'll have them go in a minute ahead of us, and they'll take out the Portales SA-2 and the Roswell North SA-2.,” Guru added. He looked at his flight. “Then they'll stay with us until we hit the target. Just in case.”

Kara nodded. “Good to hear.” She looked around. “Where's this recon driver who's supposed to be coming along?”

“Right behind you,” a female voice called. Heads turned, and Capt. Sharon Valerri-Park and her GIB, 1st. Lieutenant Karl “Helo” Agathon, came into the room. “Nice to see you guys again.”

“You too, Athena.” Guru said. He introduced Kara and Hoser to the photo crew. “So you're behind us?”

“You got it,” Athena said. “All we know is you're hitting this house, and they want photos of the aftermath. And that's all we know.”

“Which is what all we know,” Goalie replied. “Those guys probably have something to do with it,” she pointed to the OGA fellow still in the room.

Heads nodded. “Okay,” Guru said, “Two more things.” He looked at his crews. “First, usual bailout areas. Anyplace away from the roads. Second, unless we're talking with an AWACS or another flight-like the Weasels or the F-15s, we go by call sign, not mission code.” He looked again. “Anything else before we gear up?”

The OGA fellow came over. “Just one thing, Captain.” He opened a Manilla folder. “I need your autographs on these,” he said as he produced the NDA forms.

The crews grumbled, but they signed the forms, then both Colonels Brady and Rivers did so. “Thank you.”

“All right,” Rivers said. “You people gear up, and I'll see you on the ramp.”


The crews got into their G-suits and survival gear, then they walked out to the ramp. When they got to their aircraft shelters, the crews noticed a lot of activity around the aircraft, not to mention armed Combat Security Police guarding the four F-4Es and single RF-4C. And the aircraft were not being tended to by their Air Force ground crews, but by civilian “tech-reps.” Surprised, Guru went over to where his crew chief, Staff Sergeant Mike Crowley, was standing. “Sergeant.”

“Captain,” Crowley said. “They got tech-reps going over the birds. Why, I have no idea.”

Guru and the crews noticed the coveralls worn by the technicians. McDonnell-Douglas, Raytheon, Loral-who made the ECM pods, General Electric-who made the J-79 engines, Ford Aerospace-who made the Pave Tack pods, and so on. Everything was being given the proverbial once-over. Not just once, but twice. After what seemed like forever, but was only about fifteen minutes, the tech-reps pronounced the aircraft ready to go, and the crews gathered around for Guru's final instructions.

“Remember, this is a featureless part of New Mexico. The IP is the town, so keep that in mind. No second passes, Kara. If you have hung ordnance, don't come around and do it again. I know, nobody's supposed to come back with unexpended ordnance, but if it hangs up...”

Kara nodded.

“Sweaty, you and Hoser have four Sidewinders and two Sparrows, and full 20-mm. I'll be happy if you guys have nothing to do.”

“So will we, for once,” Sweaty replied.

“Anything else?” Guru asked.

“How soon can we talk about this?” Preacher asked.

Guru smiled. “Probably when we're bouncing our grandkids on our knees. How's that?”

“Yeah, and I bet the mission report is classified as 'Burn before reading,' or words to that effect,” joked Hoser.

Colonel Rivers looked at him, then smiled. “No doubt, Lieutenant.” He checked his watch, and was about to say something when one of the OGA types came up to him and said something. He nodded, and told the crews, “Takeoff delayed by at least thirty minutes.”

“What? Boss, YGTBSM!” Guru said.

“Sorry, but they put a hold on us.”

Word spread, and the tech-reps went back to the aircraft. Even with the delay, the AF ground crew were still not allowed to work on the aircraft. Colonel Brady arrived a few minutes later, and he brought a cooler with cold drinks for the aircrews, because it was hot on the ramp.

“Boss,” Guru said to Rivers. “Tell us at least we can keep the Pave Tack pods when this is over.”

“I'll see about that. I know, we haven't done that much with laser bombs, with only two Pave Spike pods,” Rivers nodded. And he knew what his exec was thinking. Even though the 335th's crews were very good in terms of accuracy with dumb bombs, having additional pods so that they could use the “intellectual ordnance” would make their job a lot easier.

Time dragged on, and several aircrews checked their watches. Thirty minutes became an hour, then the OGA fellow came back to Rivers. He whispered in Rivers' ear, then the Colonel nodded. “The mission's a go, people! Get your birds preflighted and airborne.”
Hearing that, Guru shook hands with the CO and with Colonel Brady. “Back in a while, Boss,” he said to Colonel Rivers.

“Bring everyone back, Guru,” Rivers said.

“Will do, Boss,” Guru replied. “All right, people. Time to hit it.”

The crews went to their aircraft as the tech-reps left, and went through their walk-arounds. At their respective aircraft-512 and 520, Guru and Starbuck found a Pave Tack pod on the centerline, two AIM-7s in the rear fuselage wells, an ALQ-119 ECM pod in the left front well, instead of the usual ALQ-101 pod they had been carrying. Inboard wing stations each had a single GBU-10 Paveway laser-guided bomb, while the outer wing pylons had fuel tanks, as usual. Sweaty and Hoser each had four AIM-9P Sidewinders and two AIM-7E Sparrows, an ALQ-119, and full 20-mm ammunition, along with the fuel tanks. Athena's bird had the fuel tanks, a single ECM pod, and other than that, only had speed as a defense. After the walk-arounds, the crews boarded their aircraft and went through the preflight cockpit checks. Then it was time for engine start. Once the J-79 engines were warmed up, the Phantoms taxied to the end of the runway, where the armorers removed the final weapon safeties. When that was done, the planes taxied onto the runway, one element at a time, and the tower flashed a single green light, signaling clear to takeoff. Then each element rumbled down the runway and into the air. It was 1515.
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