Carl Vinson commander aims to stay a step ahead

Admiral relaxed, ready after sleepless first night

War On Terrorism : The World

October 11, 2001|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

ABOARD THE USS CARL VINSON - Rear Adm. Thomas E. Zelibor, commander of the Carl Vinson carrier group, went without sleep on the opening night of the war. He was gripped with anticipation while his aircraft waged combat from the Arabian Sea.

"You play a `what if' game," Zelibor said yesterday. "`If this happens, what will I do next?' You have to do that to try and stay one step ahead. That occupied a lot of my zero hours of sleep that night."

Sitting at a conference table in his ward room, Zelibor appeared relaxed even as planes took off and landed at a rapid pace on the deck above.

"Everything is progressing well," he said. "Things are going great."

One thing is certain: The United States has quickly established supremacy over the skies in Afghanistan.

"As a military leader, you want to take the fight to the adversary, and having air superiority is an important part of that, because the president said we're going to take on the mission of going after terrorists and people who harbor them," the admiral said. "Well, in order to do that, you have to have air superiority."

The United States may have promised a new kind of war against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network and the Taliban regime that harbors it, but terrorists can still offer military targets.

"When you look at it from a military or aviation perspective ... it is a military target, especially based on the guidance we've received from the president that we want to diminish terrorist capabilities," Zelibor said. "Buildings, headquarters, it's just another form of military target we're going after."

But there are limits to what modern warplanes and cruise missiles can do. "It doesn't make sense to use high-tech, very expensive weapons against things like Toyota Land cruisers," he said. "That just doesn't make military sense. So you would focus more on the major things that support terrorist organizations."

As part of training, pilots in the carrier's air wing have prepared for combat in a mountainous setting. "It's part of normal routine for us to train in many and different environments for aviators," he said.

"They're exposed to mountainous terrains, deserts, good old flat beaches in Virginia, snow-covered terrain. We do that all the time," he said. "That helps you be kind of used to pretty much anything and be ready for every scenario.

"Do we practice over mountains as large as these? No. But they're similar."

What is next?

"We are ready for whatever mission we get, and right now I'm not aware of anything other than what we're doing, and I know there obviously has to be planning at the higher levels," he said. "We'll respond to whatever we're given."

But a long road lies ahead.

"I couldn't tell you if I'm in the middle right now or the end," he said. "It's a continuing mission."

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