Md. servicemen lead air attack, preparations WAR IN THE GULF


January 29, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- From the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf to the desert outposts near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, Maryland fighting men are taking the offensive against Iraq.

One of them, Navy Lt. Chris Eagle, 27, of Wheaton, now has been credited with scoring one of the first allied "kills" of an Iraqi ship.

Lieutenant Eagle, the navigator and bombardier of an A-6 attack jet, told reporters that he destroyed the vessel after its crew opened fire on his plane during a low-level reconnaissance mission.

Meanwhile, Army Lt. Col. Richard J. Fousek, a Baltimore resident who commands the 1st Cavalry Division's support operation, has been spearheading much of the movement of men, tanks and other war material into forward positions to launch a ground assault against Iraqi troops.

"For all intents, we are totally mobile," Colonel Fousek told reporters over the weekend.

That means being able to transport an entire 13,000-member armored division, including Apache helicopters and armored vehicles, quickly to staging areas near the border, typically in truck convoys traveling 300 miles or more on a narrow, two-lane road in the northern Arabian desert.

News of individual military exploits has been slow to arrive from the battlefront, but some reports by media combat pools are beginning to tell the story of Marylanders at war.

Colonel Fousek has been scrambling to get U.S. ground forces equipped and ready for assaults on Iraqi strongholds in Kuwait and southern Iraq. The speed of his effort will help determine how quickly the land battles will begin, military officials said yesterday.

For Lieutenant Eagle, an aviator assigned to the carrier USS Ranger, the war so far has been a deadly game of hide and seek -- with Iraqi forces usually doing the hiding.

On the second day of the war, his plane flew toward an Iraqi utility boat that had been sighted near an oil terminal in the gulf.

His instructions were to get visual confirmation of the ship's identity, meaning his A-6 Intruder would have to swoop down to get a close look.

"As we flew by, the crew started shooting at us," Lieutenant Eagle said. Having drawn fire, his response was quick and lethal. The plane turned and dived at the ship, dropping a 500-pound Rockeye bomb 50 feet off the starboard side.

Before impact, the Rockeye released smaller cluster bombs in a wide rectangular pattern that smothered the ship in shrapnel.

"They quit shooting," Lieutenant Eagle said.

His plane then dropped another 500-pound bomb on the ship's bow, blowing out all the windows on the bridge. After a Navy F/A-18 fighter jet joined in the assault, smoke began to pour from the ship and crewmen tried to escape over the side.

There was no word from the Navy about Iraqi casualties or the fate of the fleeing crew members.

Lieutenant Eagle and others aboard the Ranger said U.S. warplanes are scanning the gulf daily to find and attack Iraqi vessels. Because Iraqi ships sometimes resemble patrol boats of friendly nations, pilots often can't confirm that a boat is Iraqi until it starts shooting at them.

The Navy fliers said they must be wary of Iraqi ships because of the constant threat of Iraq's French-made Exocet anti-ship missiles.

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