Moving Out: To Bragg and Beyond
Pope AFB, NC—Flying to Saudi was an experience no one will forget. To begin with, the C-141’s looked immense from the outside as he troops filed on board. The view, once inside, reminded one of a flying factory. Mechanical parts, hydraulic and electrical lines, and five lined-up vehicles cluttered the insides of the planes, The troops were then crammed in, finding their seats of aluminum racks along the sides of the plane with the vehicles not much more than a knee-length away.
As the troops sat down and buckled up, their one common thought was, “How is this plane going to get off the ground with all this weight?” The answer came without much delay as the huge plane rolled down the runway; revved up its engines to a screaming pitch; charged down the runway; and gently lifted off the ground, levelling off at the appropriate altitude and settling back to the steady drone of the engines, muted by the yellow ear plugs which were given to our grateful troops before the flight.
People had all expected the plane to be cold, and some had even taken the precaution of wearing long underwear and extra sweaters. As it turned out, the plane was both hot and cold, depending on whether one tried stretching out on the floor or on top of one of the vehicles. Eventually, most everyone drifted off to sleep.
Time passed slowled or quickly, depending on how deeply people were able to sleep. When the sound of the engines dropped and the plane began changing altitude, people realized they were approaching the refueling stop. The landing, like the take off, was unexpectedly smooth, and when the door was opened, this contingent of the 432nd was told they were now in Zaragoza, Spain and that there would be a two hour stop over, with a hot meal available.
The two hour layover passed quickly; the troops filed onto the plane; and the 432nd was airborne again. Jokes began circulating about the unit’s deep “immersion” into Spanish culture. The people seemed so warm, and the architecture was so attractive. Some wondered why so much of Spain was covered by concrete. But once again, the unit settled into its next eight hour leg of the journey.
At about 0200 Wednesday moming, February 6, the sound of the C-141’s engines softened one last time. This particular bird was carrying the fifth increment of the 432nd, and the change of engine pitch signaled the plane’s approach to the unit’s final stop, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. The landing once again was unexpectedly smooth, and the plane came to a halt. When the large, rear cargo door of the plane opened up, the troops got their first glimpse of Saudi: it was windy, cold, and the darkness was punctuated with numerous yellow lights. This time the troops filed off the plane, they were faced with a sobering view. The plane had parked near a long line of F-16s, all ominously loaded with two large bombs and two smaller rockets.
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