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Old 12-22-2014, 09:52 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Location: Auberry, CA
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First Kill



Nellis AFB, NV: 4 September, 1985, 0730 Hours PDT


It had been a chaotic first day of war. The war everyone had thought would happen in Europe, was now being fought on American soil, and to make matters worse, New York, Washington, D.C.; Omaha, and Kansas City, along with the Minuteman Launch Control Centers in the Dakotas, had been nuked. Soviet forces had landed in Alaska, while Soviet, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and other Soviet-Bloc forces had crossed into the U.S. all along the Mexican border. While the invasion in California and Arizona was being repulsed, the news was bad from New Mexico and Texas. Word was going around that they might lose all of Texas and nearby states if things kept going this bad. That was something those who were from those states, or had family there, didn't want to think about.

The various Air Force, Navy, and Marine squadrons who had arrived for Red Flag 9-85 had instead found themselves going to a real war on what should've been the first day of Red Flag. Instead, they had gone down to either Arizona or Southern California to blast invading Soviet, Cuban, and Mexican troops, or to shoot MiGs and transports out of the sky. Now, with the Air Force starting to get its act together, the Tenth Air Force-the Air Force Reserve command for the Western U.S., had been directed to take charge of the air war in the Southwest and West Coast, and Red Flag's planners were now busy drafting strike and combat air patrol operations over the entire Southwest, from the Pacific Ocean to the Rio Grande and up as far as Colorado.

For Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, it meant his squadron, the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, would not be rejoining its parent wing, the famous “4th but First” Tactical Fighter Wing, anytime soon. Once a forward base had been identified, he was told, his unit would fly there and was likely going to be under Marine Operational Control, something he didn't like, but there it was. And now, his squadron was sending out two- and four-ship flights to the border, either for ground attack or to fly cover for the A-7s from Tuscon and the A-10s from Davis-Monthan that were in the process of turning Interstate 19 into a junkyard of Cuban and Mexican armor. Then a frag order had come in, for a strike on the Nogales Airport, just across the border from Mexico. A four-ship of Phantoms, plus a pair of Weasel F-4Gs to kill any SAMs, would have to do the job. Shrugging his shoulders, he went off to brief his flight.

His wingman was six months in the squadron, and though he had come out of OTS instead of the AF Academy or AFROTC, the guy had done well on the first day, and though the man was a history major instead of someone with a math or engineering background, such things didn't mean much in combat. The fact that he was a history major led his squadron mates to give him the call sign “Guru” and it had stuck.

1st Lt. Matt Wiser and the rest of the flight were sitting in the briefing room that they would've used for their Red Flag hops, but now were planning real combat missions. In between the four missions he'd flown the previous day, he'd managed to call his family in Central California, and they were okay for now. Satisfied with that, he threw himself full bore into doing the job he'd signed up to do: fly fighters.
Guru noticed the CO coming in and he was the first to call “CO on the deck!” and everyone stood to attention.

Colonel Johnson waved everyone to sit. “As you were, guys. The shooting's started, so we can cut out a lot of this standing up and down business.” Then he motioned everyone to join him around a planning table. “Here's our frag order: Nogales Airport. We get four Weasels, a Navy Prowler, and two Vipers from the 474th for TARCAP. That's it.”

Everyone looked at each other. Then Capt. Dale Reese, who was #3, said, “I guess we're lucky to get that, Sir?”

“You've got that right: too many missions and not enough assets. Everyone who can is screaming for tac air, even if they can't get it right away. Before I came here, I heard somebody say that they were going to put MER bomb racks on some F-15s; they need anything and everything that can carry bombs.” Colonel Johnson told his men.

Guru spoke up; “Colonel, it's that bad?”

“Yeah, Lieutenant, it's that bad.” He went on, “Now, here's the target. Nogales Municipal Airport. The Cubans and Mexicans seem to be using it for a supply base, at least that's what an SR-71 pass showed yesterday afternoon. There might be MiGs there by now: anyone remember seeing the MiG-21s yesterday?”

Everyone nodded. No one had been able to get a shot off, but Johnson had seen two MiGs fall to F-16s, and one that had tried to shoot an A-10 had overshot, and been hosed by the Warthog's 30-mm cannon....not much left of Mr. MiG, he thought. “The frag order's simple: wreck the airport best we can, and kill any MiGs on the ground. Any questions?”

1st Lt. Bryan Shaw, who flew #4, asked, “Can we cross the border, Sir, or is that a no-go?”

“No limits, gentlemen. This is all-out: not like it was in Southeast Asia. If you have to cross the border to evade a SAM or MiG, you can. And for sure, the Weasels will shoot at any SAM site across the border,” Johnson said.

“Colonel, anything on defenses?” Guru asked. His WSO, 1st Lt. Tony Carpenter, had been about to ask the same question.

“Good question, Guru,” Johnson replied. “One SA-6 battery that we know of on the photos, and probably some ZU-23s. And you can bet anyone who can is probably going to shoot SA-7s. No idea if the MiGs are actually there, but assume that they are.”

Tony Carpenter raised his hand, “What's our ordnance load, Sir?”

“I was just coming to that. Two wing tanks, two TERs with a slant-two load of Mark-82s, a full MER on centerline with Mark-82s, two AIM-9Js, two AIM-7s, plus an ALQ-101 in the left front Sparrow well. And a full load of 20-mm,” Johnson said. “Good enough?”

Heads nodded all around. Then Bryan Shaw asked, “Colonel, what if we're hit?”

“Last item, guys: if you're hit, try and stay with the plane and get to either Davis-Monthan or Tuscon International. If you have to bail out, get as far east or west of I-19 as you can: the Cubans and Mexicans are sticking to the roads, and they're not going very far from them. That good enough?”

Heads nodded. “Okay, get your gear, and see you on the ramp. Wheels up in fifteen mikes, so let's get to it!”

One Hour later; near Nogales, AZ:

The four-ship was in combat spread, heading into the target. The two TARCAP F-16As were just above and behind the Phantoms, while the two Weasel Phantoms were running a minute ahead, with the Navy Prowler right behind them. Everything seemed to be running well. The weather was clear, and from 14,000 feet, one could make out I-19 down below, and the smoke coming up from vehicles that had been bombed on the freeway. Johnson's backseater, Major Joe Simmons, checked his map and watch. It was time. “One minute, Colonel.”

“Roger that. Chevy Flight, this is lead. One minute. Switches on, and time to go to work.”

“Two copies.” Guru.

“Three copies.” Reese.

“Four copies.” Shaw.

Then the Weasels broke in. They used college teams for call signs, and this flight had a Washington State connection: “Husky One, SA-6 up. Magnum!” That signaled a HARM or Shrike missile launch.

Then Colonel Johnson picked out the target. “Chevy Flight, target in sight. Lead in hot!” Then Johnson's F-4 rolled in on his bomb run from 14,000 feet, and he dropped at 9,000. His bombs rained down on Nogales Municipal, and cratered the runway. As he pulled up at 5,000 feet, he called, “Lead off target.”

Then it was Guru's turn. “Two in hot.” And with that, Guru rolled his Phantom on his bomb run. He picked out the ramp area, and it looked like there were a couple of MiGs there, but he wasn't entirely sure, but he dropped his bombs and plastered the ramp area. “Two off target.” And then it happened.

As Guru pulled up, he saw a camouflaged MiG-21PF with Cuban markings, come in from above. There had been no warning either from the AWACS, call sign Warlock, or the two TARCAP F-16s. Someone, he thought, was not on the ball. “Lead, this is two. MiG-21 at your five o'clock! BREAK RIGHT!”

Colonel Johnson heard the call and he cranked his head around. He couldn't see the MiG, so he rolled right and then broke. As he did so, he picked up the MiG-21. “Got it. He's yours, Two.”

Guru quickly switched from BOMB to MISSILE on his weapons-control panel. “Can you get him, Tony?”

“Can't lock him up for some reason. Go heat, buddy.” Carpenter replied.

“Copy. Going heat.” With that call, Guru switched from RADAR to HEAT on the control panel. His AIM-9J missiles were now armed. And the seeker began to growl in his headset. Then it growled very loud, signaling a lock! “Fox Two!”

That call meant a heat-seeking missile had been launched. Guru and Carpenter watched as the Sidewinder left the port rail, shot ahead, then went ninety degrees to the left, before coming back in and exploding just behind the MiG.

“What the...” Carpenter yelled.

“No way, Fidel.” Guru said, putting the pipper on the MiG's tail. Again, the Sidewinder growled loud in his headset, signaling good tone. “Fox Two!” He yelled as he launched the missile.

This time, the starboard Sidewinder left the rail, and it corkscrewed twice, before flying up the MiG-21's tailpipe.

In the MiG cockpit,the Cuban pilot was turning his head, looking for the F-4 that he had tried to engage. His two R-60 heat-seeking missiles should have been able to track the American, and he was too close for his R-3R radar missiles. Then he heard an explosion behind him, and as the Cuban grabbed his ejection handle, a second explosion blew his MiG apart around him before he could eject.

In 515, Guru and Tony watched as the Sidewinder went up the MiG's tailpipe and exploded. The tail blew off the MiG-21, then the rest of the plane was torn apart in a fireball as the fuel tanks-and presumably the aircraft's ordnance, exploded. “Splash!” They yelled.

“Good kill, Two. Break right, you guys. MiG on your four, coming in,” Colonel Johnson said.

Guru looked to his right. Sure enough, there was another MiG-21 coming in. He turned right, trying to turn into his attacker. As he did so, Colonel Johnson dropped in behind the MiG and fired a Sidewinder. Johnson's missile, like Guru's second, flew up the MiG's tailpipe and the explosion tore the MiG-21 apart. “Lead has a splash!”

While that was going on, Chevy Three and Four had made their bomb runs and pulled off target. As they did so, they saw why the two MiGs had gotten past the two TARCAP F-16s. Both F-16s were fighting MiGs of their own. They saw two MiG-21s fall in flames, then another, and the remaining MiGs headed south of the border. Then the mini-package formed up and headed back north.

After they landed, the Phantoms taxied to their parking spots on the ramp. When Lead and Two parked, the crews held up single fingers, signaling MiG kills, and the 335th's ground crews erupted. First squadron kills in the war.

A few minutes later, after the debrief, Guru sought out Colonel Johnson. “Thanks for getting that MiG off me, Colonel.”

“Anytime, Lieutenant. I ought to thank you. If I hadn't heard your call, the MiG you got would've had me,” The CO reminded his wingman.

“Sir, I know you got a MiG in September, '72. Is it always like this?” Guru asked.

“That queasy feeling in your stomach?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It is. Don't worry, Lieutenant. It's your first, and this is going to be a long war. I don't know how I know that, but I just do. Just put it out of your mind, know you got a MiG kill, and get ready to do it again. Because chances are, you will. Got that?” Said Johnson.

“Yes Sir. I do.” Guru replied.

“Good. Get something to eat. We'll be going out again before too long.”

With that, Guru followed his CO's advice. And sure enough, a couple of hours later, they were headed back out. And the Colonel was right: it would be a long war.



Epilogue: Hill AFB, Utah. 25 July 2009.

Colonel Matt Wiser sat in his office in the 419th Tactical Fighter Wing's HQ. He had flown a low-level navigation flight earlier that morning, and now, he could say that he had all of his Reserve flight time for the month logged. He had just finished the paperwork, and while he was waiting for one of his officers to see him, he thumbed through a copy of Wings of the Phantom. A movie company was about to start filming an adaptation of the book, and he, Kara, and several other vets from the 335th were going to be on Temporary Active Duty to support the filming, fly several F-4s that had been taken out of storage at AMARC so they could be flown in the movie, and act as technical advisors. He just reread the story of that first kill. Was it really that long ago, he wondered. How time flies. That MiG-21 had been the first of twelve kills confirmed during the war, and since the end, he'd had three others confirmed thanks to some detective work at AFHC, and a couple of trips to Colorado and New Mexico to find crash sites.

He thought about Colonel Johnson. Two weeks after that first kill, he had been killed in New Mexico by an SA-6. Neither he nor his backseater got out. Then, three months later had come his own shootdown, and then the E&E with the Resistance. And little did he know that two years after that first kill, he'd be in command of the 335th. So many friends gone, he remembered. Of thirty-six crews in the squadron on Day One, only twelve of the original crews, and ten other individual crew members, had survived the next four years of war. What's the saying? We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers. And Sisters, too, after Spring of '86, he reminded himself. And all for what? Because a few frightened old men in the Kremlin were afraid that if they didn't feed their own people, their own personal power and privilege were gone. Sure, the historians were saying it was more than that, but a saying an old professor had said came back: “Wars are begun by frightened old men.” Well, we did our jobs, and we won. He put the book down and checked over his paperwork. That's all done, he thought. Next time, it's flying for the movie. Then there was a knock at the door. “Come on in and show yourself,” he said.

Major Kelly Ann Ray, his Operations Officer and a former POW in Cuba during the war, came in.....
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