This piece was submitted to a veteran-oriented writing publication in 2018. It didn’t place.
Friends and coworkers who went to Saudi Arabia before me always said, it’s not quite hell but you could see it from there. I was of the opinion that if this wasn’t hell, it was a pretty good substitute. I had to double up gloves just to be able to touch the dark green painted steel surfaces of the LOX (liquid oxygen) cart I was working on because of the heat of the Saudi spring.
A loud scream filled my ears as a fighter closed in over where the concrete maintenance pad was. The smell of burning jet fuel filled my nose. The smell and sound causing me to look up towards the north.
I looked up to see a standard air force grey F-16 flying in from the north with all of its mounted weapons and fuel tanks missing. Every fighter that took off every day from Prince Sultan Air Base (PSAB) was loaded for bear with weapons and loaded for a bear hunt with external tanks. Sometimes they came back missing a few weapons, but this was the first time I’d seen one come back with the racks completely empty.
As the small grey jet flew over my location, the thrust of it’s engines kicked up the loose sand still mobile from the sand storm that sandblasted the base yesterday. Nothing like the taste of desert sand mixed with jet fuel and parts of scorpions and camel spiders.
I ran over to where my radio was sitting on the control panel of a nearby LIN (liquid nitrogen) cart on the opposite end of the maintenance pad and picked it up just in time to hear the IFE (in flight emergency) call on the maintenance channel and the distant sirens of the fire trucks and ambulance headed towards the flightline.
Questions flew through my head, did Saddam finally decide to give us a fight? Did we have enemy jets inbound? What scared the pilot enough for him to drop or jettison everything on his weapon racks?
After the plane landed and the maintenance channel cleared the IFE, I had my initial answer. The next immediate call was for fuel and ammo technicians to report to debrief. After that, word got around the maintenance areas quickly.
Somewhere in the desert between the Saudi and Iraq border were quite a few missiles and a fuel tank, lost after being jettisoned by a pilot who was way too new and panicked when he experienced his first SAM (surface-to-air missile) radar-lock.
Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.