For the next two days, Horner expected to hear from General Schwarzkopf, his Unified Command boss, yet so far he had not heard a word either from him or from CENTCOM headquarters at MacDill AFB in Tampa. Since the Iraqi army had poured across the border to Kuwait, there had been a truly eerie silence. So he had just kept to his schedule for the week as planned. On Friday, he flew off toward Langley.
The radio broke Horner's thoughts. Grr was calling for a "G" warm-up exercise, a necessary precombat discipline in the very hot and quick F-16s. Pilots needed to know that their G suits and other protective systems were working, and that they themselves were ready for the rapid onset of G forces. Otherwise there was the danger of a blackout and an unpleasant encounter with the ground. He put himself through a ninety-degree turn to the left at 4 Gs, then 4.5 Gs, as he pulled back harder on the stick grip in his right hand. He ran through a mental checklist: G suit inflating properly; breathing not too fast, not too slow; as he strained to force the blood up into his brain. No dimness in vision-the small vessels in the eyes were the first warning signs that the brain cells were being denied oxygen-rich blood. All was going well. He rolled out, then lowered the nose, and throttled at full military power as his left hand pushed the power lever forward as far as it would go. He quickly rolled into a ninety-degree turn back to the left. Six Gs this time, again running through the checklist, pleased that his fifty-three year-old body could handle the pain and strain of the heavy G forces. Meanwhile, even as it squeezed his thighs and calves-forcing blood into his upper body-the rock-hard, inflated G suit felt as if it were trying to pinch him in two. Once again everything was in order. He rolled out, checked for Grr on the left. Their formation was still good. Now they needed only to cruise out to the east end of the ACM practice area and wait for the 1st TFW Eagles to show up.
As they crossed the Atlantic coast, Horner's jet almost imperceptibly shuddered, as single-engine jets always seemed to do when a pilot got beyond sight of land. He instinctively checked the gauges . . . all of them were in the green.
Then the radio came alive.
"Teak One, this is Sea Lion. Your F-15s have canceled and Washington Center asks that you contact them immediately."
Sea Lion was the Navy radar station at Norfolk, Virginia, that kept track of military training airspace out over that part of the Atlantic. In an instant, Horner knew what was up - a recall to Shaw. Grr called them over to 272.7 MHz, the proper UHF channel to contact the center controller, checked Horner in, and gave Washington Center a call.
"Washington Center, Teak One. Understand you have words for us."
"Teak One, this is Washington Center. We have a request that you return to Shaw AFB immediately. Do you need direct routing?"
"Roger, Washington. We'd like to go present position direct Florence direct Shaw FL 320," that is to say, flight level - altitude - 32,000 feet.
"Roger Teak, cleared as requested. Squawk 3203." Grr then dialed a setting into his onboard radar transponder, the transponder transmitted a code that was used to cue the ground controllers, and "3203" was displayed over their return blip on the Center's radar screen.
My God, Horner thought, stunned, as he and Grr turned back toward Shaw. It's on. This has to be about the Iraqi invasion. A million questions roared through his mind: Have the Iraqis entered Saudi Arabia? How much force will we deploy? How fast can we get our Ninth Air Force squadrons in the air to rendezvous with the SAC tankers? How much heavy airlift is available to get our spares and maintenance people deployed to the Middle East? How do we get our pre-positioned tents, munitions, fuel, and medical equipment from their warehouses in Oman and Bahrain, and from the ships at anchor in the lagoon at Diego Garcia? And inevitably, How many young men and women will die?
Reprinted from EVERY MAN A TIGER by Tom Clancy with General Chuck Horner (RET.) by permission of G. P. Putnam & Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright May 1999 by C. P. Commanders, Inc
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