25th Anniversary of Desert Storm: Grissom Airmen share their story

  • Published
  • By Douglas Hays
  • 434th ARW Public Affairs
Today marks the 25th Anniversary of Desert Storm and Airmen from Grissom were there to fuel the fight.

Operating out of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, members of the 434th Air Refueling Wing joined coalition forces to launch a crippling air campaign against Iraqi forces who invaded Kuwait.

In all, nearly one out of every seven Air Force Reservists was on active duty during that time according to Air Force Reserve officials.

At Grissom, personnel assigned to the 72nd Air Refueling Squadron, 434th Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 434th Headquarters Squadron, 434th Security Forces flight, 434th Clinic members and others.

"When the air campaign kicked off literally everything on the ground launched, and that was sustained for about three weeks straight," said Chief Master Sgt. Tony Hoffman, 434th Maintenance Group superintendent, and a staff sergeant crew chief at the time.

"We literally had planes in line, with engines running, waiting to come into parking spots for fuel and maintenance," he said. "As fast as you could turn the aircraft you had aircrew ready to take off and go back up.  I'll never forget that continuous sustained surge. It took a while to get used to the tempo, eventually it became a daily 12-hour routine."

"The amount of sorties flown by the tankers and the B-52s," is what Senior Master Sgt. Tim O'Brien, 434th Logistics Readiness Squadron superintendent of plans and integration said he remembers most."I had been on some very busy Air Force bases prior [to that], but never saw that many aircraft flying that many sorties in one location."

As a staff sergeant at the time and an aircraft ground equipment mechanic O'Brien said he recalls the heat and humidity.

"I had never been to a place that was that hot and humid," O'Brien said. "As soon as the cargo door opened, I instantly started sweating. We actually had to wear gloves to touch the AGE equipment because it was so hot."

Senior Master Sgt. Darin Schenher, 434th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent, was a crew chief and a technical sergeant at the time. He was also deployed to Jeddah during the initial invasion.

One of Schenher's most vivid memories was a Grissom KC-135E aircraft 58-0013 that lost two engines, and the aircrew was still able to land with no loss of life.

Shortly after takeoff crew encountered jet wash, a kind of turbulence that builds behind large aircraft. The unexpected jet wash pitched them so violently from side-to-side, that somewhere in the process, both engines on the left side of the tanker were torn free, leaving the fully loaded tanker with very serious control problems.

Then staff sergeants, Rich Miller and Rusty Owens both recovered 58-0013 from an earlier mission and pumped on fuel before crew members came out to taxi for launch.

"When I got back to the compound I took the phone call that two engines had departed the aircraft," said Miller who is now a senior master sergeant with the 434th AMXS.

The entire crew was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their skill in safely landing the aircraft.

"They tried to duplicate the feat in the simulator and crashed every time," Schenher said of the flight.

Dawn Everett was a navigator and first lieutenant at the time.

"I was the only female crewmember from Grissom to deploy to the theater for Desert Storm," she said.

"I remember the briefing we received the day before the "war" kicked off and the huge unknown, it was a bit scary," she said. "After the first combat mission was under our belt, it was business as usual!"

At the beginning of the gulf crisis, the 434th AREFW provided volunteer aircrews and maintenance personnel who deployed to forward operating locations in New England and Europe within 12 hours of the first phone call from Air Force Reserve Headquarters.

The wing, along with other units, served as a 'transatlantic air bridge" to provide inflight refueling to fighter and transport aircraft travelling to the Middle East. After the massive movement of aircraft was completed the unit switched its operations to Saudi Arabia.

The 434th AREFW banded with other reserve, active and Air National Guard refueling units to form one of the world's largest tanker task forces.

The 434th and its partners flew more than 7,000 refueling missions with over 30,000 hours of flight time offloading nearly seven million pounds of fuel to more than 25,000 receivers!

"To this day I have not seen that capability repeated with all the activations and deployments since," Hoffman said.

In addition to having members in Saudi Arabia, the 434th AREFW had security forces members deployed to Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, and medics deployed to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

"Desert Storm would be the first of many deployments and operations the wing would participate in," said Col. Doug Schwartz, 434th ARW commander. "The 434th has served with distinction in every campaign since then."

Gen. Merrill McPeak, Air Force chief of staff at the time, recognized the unit as well, saying "your strength in peace and your courage in battle have earned you the respect of the free world."

The 434th ARW is the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command. Airmen and aircraft from the 434th ARW routinely deploy around the world in support of the Air Force mission and U.S. strategic objectives.

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