Green Ink

by Steve on April 5, 2007

Taco’s exploits on the wrong side of the line reminded me of a personal TINS (This Is No Sh#t…) tale that took place not long after his tanking incident. It was a bit later in 1991, Desert Storm was over and the Forrestal, after spending a few months on the hook as the next carrier to go east should she be needed, was in the corner of the Med. The call had come down two weeks after it was all over: CV-59 would make a final operational deployment to the Mediterranean before she was sent into retirement as CVT-59 to catch student Naval Aviators. We loaded aboard the boat for the third or forth time in about as many months and headed east. Past the rock, past the boot, past Cypress until there wasn’t any friendly salt water remaining to the east.

The mighty FID and her air wing (CVW-6) had been sent to the corner of the eastern Med between Cypress to the south, Turkey to the north, and Syria to the east – we called it “the box.” We stayed in the box for two months flying missions in support of Operation Provide Comfort. Saddam may have been officially beaten earlier in the year but he was far from done:

Following Desert Storm, the entire Kurdish population of Iraq attempted to flee the country to the north out of fear that Saddam Hussein would attempt to exterminate their entire population. Because of political concerns, Turkish officials refused to allow these desperate people permission to cross the border into Turkey. The result was that hundreds of thousands of Kurds were essentially trapped on barren and rocky hillsides, vulnerable to not only Hussein’s forces, but to the harsh elements as well. Without basic necessities, to include access to water, food and medical supplies, hundreds of Kurds were dying each week.

CV-59 and embarked CVW-6 were tasked with various missions in support of Combined Task Force Provide Comfort based out of Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Most of the Navy tasking centered around night recon missions using IR to locate troop movements and truck convoys moving through the mountains and daytime electronic surveillance missions. A-6 Intruders primarily handled the night recon but S-3 Vikings were called on as well since we had IR capability. The Viking’s primary tasking was daylight missions centered around using its ESM system to monitor signals from Iraqi bases and installations. We would launch from Forrestal, fly along the Turkish/Syrian border always careful to stay to the north of that line, and then drop down into northern Iraq flying a max conserve profile along an east-west track “listening.” By studying the emitters being generated by the Iraqis we could get a feel for their rebuilding efforts, or at least that was the theory. The novelty of being “in country” quickly wore off as the hours of monotonous monitoring accumulated. The Viking was a perfect platform for the monitoring mission but lacked any air-to-air capability. We did have chaff and flares for defense but that was it – the Viking was never designed to take out a target that had air cover. Torpedoes on subs or Harpoon missiles on ships, yes – hard targets on land with fighter cover, definitely not. If we got jumped, our survival depended entirely on defensive air combat maneuvering. Punch chaff and flares, dive for the deck, and turn, and turn, and turn some more until our opponent either impacted the earth/water or ran low on fuel. With that in mind, we were usually met by a section of Hornets or Tomcats prior to crossing into Iraq. They were our offense should the need arise.

I’ve already mentioned how bored we were in the Viking, imagine how bored the fighter crews were babysitting us. As the missions continued without any resistance we all became numb to the dangers lurking in the mountains. On the day in question our Tomcat escorts had detached to drop down and fly a low-level. There was an Air Force tanker on station about halfway back to the beach and an AWACS to our north monitoring all air traffic for hundreds of miles. Not much activity. I was flying in the back of the S-3B that day as mission commander with primary responsibility for the ESM system. We were on the east-bound leg of our track when I had an emitter pop up on my scope down a bearing line almost directly off our nose. Rather unexpected from that particular direction so I clicked on it to bring up amplifying data. It was an air-to-air search radar but our system was not designed to detect and classify air targets which made it nearly impossible to determine just who might be to the east of us. It was a forth generation fighter but it could have been an F-15, 16, 14, or 18… or a MiG. Keep in mind this was a CTF effort with several countries, including the Air Force, involved ;). Curious, but not yet concerned, I called the AWACS to inquire about any “friendlies” working in the area. “Negative, send me your bearing.” The controller was also watching the unknown pop-up. Meanwhile, we put in a turn back to the west. I watched the bearing continue to update but it wasn’t shifting much and the relative lack of excitement coming from the AWACS indicated that whoever was on the other end of that line on my scope was a ways off. Still it seemed like a good time to call our fighter buds who were otherwise occupied somewhere well below us. I got on the back radio and suggested they might want to come up and play. The response was something along the lines of “Stop jerking my chain” but about that time they caught a transmission from the AWACS on the primary frequency that changed their tone rather quickly.

By this time the contact had been classified as “unknown, assumed hostile” and the pucker factor was quickly increasing. The Tomcats were converging on us and brought their radars out of stand-by. As soon as their radars popped up on my scope, the unknown that had been tracking us disappeared. The AWACS confirmed that the contact was now headed back east at a very high rate of speed. We never did confirm who the fighter belonged to but it did cross over into Iran without getting shot down. Rumor has it he was looking for Taco and the free gas!


Another entry into my log book with green ink signifying combat flight time (or more accurately, flight over hostile territory). Until that hop, the whole argument behind CVW-6 qualifying for combat time seemed rather silly – not so much after that.

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