AN AIR BASE IN SAUDI ARABIA — EXHILARATION
AN AIR BASE IN SAUDI ARABIA, Jan. 20 -- The elite pilots of the F-117As, or Stealth fighters, say they have never known such exhilaration.
And it is fueling a determination to win this war in the skies, to prevent Iraq from launching even one more missile, to spare Army and Marine troops bloody ground combat.
"We all have friends up north, close to the border, in all the different bases," said the Air Force lieutenant colonel who commands one of the two squadrons of Stealth fighters here.
He requested to be identified only by his first name, Greg, for he fears any terrorist reprisal directed at his family back in the suburbs of Detroit.
"There's a lot of Army guys out there living on the ground, and they're the ones who are going to suck up the Scuds," he said. "They're going to have to face the tanks. They're going to have to face the trenches. And they're going to have to face the chemicals.
"If we can pull off what we've been pulling off so far . . . and we can bring this regime to its knees, those guys won't have to go into battle. They won't have to die.
"I don't know how many lives we can save, but we can save a lot. Every damn time I drop a bomb, that might be saving 10 Army guys, that might be saving 1,000 Army guys."
The Stealths are so named because they are designed to escape detection. The nickname for Greg's squadron is the "Ghost Riders."
"It's the old vampire syndrome," said Col. Klaus J. Klause, 48, a Stealth pilot who was born and raised in Germany. "We sleep during the day, then get up at 3 or 4 in the afternoon to do our mission."
Stealths led the first night of air raids on Baghdad, dropping the first bombs, and continue to be a linchpin of the aerial assault. WITH U.S. FORCES, SAUDI ARABIA -- American GIs complained Sunday that the armed forces radio network has sharply reduced news broadcasts in an apparent effort to avoid alarming front line forces with the day-to-day developments of the war against Iraq.
Troops with an Army airborne engineering unit deployed in the desert and Marines preparing to move north into front-line positions with their towed 155mm howitzers said the change in programming by the Armed Forces Radio and Television has made it difficult to stay abreast of progress in Operation Desert Storm, the U.S.-led campaign to force Iraqi troops out of Kuwait.
The GIs said they had listened keenly to the armed forces radio network's non-stop coverage of Persian Gulf war in the opening hours of hostilities four days ago. But programming has shifted dramatically since then to feature hours of music and sports -- and little news, the GIs said.
Broadcast coverage of the latest Iraqi Scud-B missile attack on Saudi Arabia Sunday night appeared to underscore the GI complaints.
Shield 107 FM, part of the armed forces network station set up in Saudi Arabia to serve U.S. forces, only briefly interrupted its broadcast of the American Football Conference playoff game between the Los Angeles Raiders and the Buffalo Bills to relay short news reports from NBC News and CBS News on an Iraqi attack on Dhahran.
STEWART M. POWELL
and STEPHANIE OLAOO IN CENTRAL SAUDI ARABIA, Jan. 20 -- The Iraqi air force had turned out to be a no-show in the gulf war, and U.S. fighter pilots are waiting impatiently for the air battle they wanted to fight the first day.
"We haven't been able to fire a shot in anger yet because we haven't zzund anybody," said Lt. Col. Jeff Brown, the executive officer of an F-15C fighter squadron. "It's terrible."
While the Iraqis have thrown up some of the most intense anti-aircraft fire that even the Vietnam combat veterans have ever seen, Iraq's nearly 700 combat aircraft have remained almost entirely on the ground.
Almost as frustrated as fighter pilots like Colonel Brown are the bombing specialists flying F-16As whose efforts to knock out Iraqi air defense continues to be hampered by heavily overcast skies.
Even though the top U.S. military brass has shifted the bombing campaign from knocking out Iraqi air defense to hitting Iraq's Republican Guard divisions. Pilots say many of the air defenses remain intact.
"We haven't taken [the air defenses] out yet due to the weather, said Maj. Tim Rush, 38, an F-16A pilot from Columbia, S.C. "I think personally it will take days to weeks."
Col. Henry Hornberg, 45, of Dallas, commander of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing (Provisional), said he believed it would take one or two weeks for the allies to gain air supremacy. "If he'd come up and fight with all his whole air force it would have been much shorter," he said.
Bombing raids were canceled Sunday morning because of fog at the base and heavy clouds over Iraq in the afternoon. F-16As went after the Republican Guard targets, while their F-15C escorts were looking for Iraqi fighters to shoot down.
"It's going a little differently than we all expected it would," said Capt. Mike Miller, 26, an F-15C pilot from Kingsport, Tenn.
"My job is to shoot other airplanes down. We expected MiGs everywhere. I don't know what the reason is, but he is just no putting up aircraft. If he gives us the opportunity, we'll take his air force away from him," Captain Miller said.