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50th TFW flies, fights, wins in Desert Storm
Capt. Bill Andrews reunites with his son, Sean, after returning from Iraq in 1991. Captain Andrews, an F-16 pilot with the 10th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was held as a prisoner of war for eight days. Sean is currently a cadet first class at the Air Force Academy. (courtesy photo)
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From 'Master of the Sky' to Master of Space: 50th TFW flies, fights, wins in Desert Storm

Posted 5/3/2007   Updated 5/3/2007 Email story   Print story


by Randy Saunders
50th Space Wing Historian

5/3/2007 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Editor's note: As the Air Force prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2007, a look back at the 50th Space Wing's journey is appropriate. Throughout the following months, the Satellite Flyer will publish articles describing the wing's distinguished past. This is the eighth article in the series.

Col. Roger Taylor relinquished command of the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing at Hahn Air Base, Germany, to Col. George Norwood Feb. 27, 1990. Few, if any, knew then that Colonel Norwood would be the wing's last commander in Germany. 

Throughout the spring and summer, the 50th TFW continued its aggressive training schedule. Meanwhile, American military and government officials debated the new role and structure of the armed forces in light of perceptions of a diminished threat to Western Europe. The changes brought about by events in the Soviet Union and in light of increasing public and governmental concern over the United State's increasing budget deficit. For many, the possibility of any combat activity seemed unlikely, but that perception changed almost in the blink of an eye during the autumn of 1990. 

While the wing's aircrews continued their normal operations in Germany and Turkey, Iraqi president Saddam Hussein resumed a war of rhetoric against Kuwait. As the summer heat in Southwest Asia intensified, so did Hussein's war of words. Iraqi forces crossed the border into Kuwait Aug. 2, forcing the Kuwaiti royal family and existing government to seek refuge in neighboring countries. The United Nations condemned the invasion, calling for immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait. 

Within days of the Kuwait invasion, the United Nations authorized formation and deployment of a coalition force, consisting of air, ground, and naval units from many countries. Eventually, the coalition's strength would reach nearly 500,000. The 50th TFW contributed its share to this force, deploying two dozen aircraft, crews, maintenance specialists and a variety of support personnel, including security police combat teams, to various units. The 10th TFS contributed the bulk of the wing's aircrew contingent, deploying as a unit to serve with units of the 363rd TFW. 

Returning to Hahn AB following an October 1990 training deployment to Zaragoza AB, Spain, 10th TFS commander Lt. Col. Ed Houle received notice to prepare his unit for possible deployment. Originally scheduled for a Thanksgiving Day movement, plans changed and called for the deployment of the 10th within 72 hours of the outbreak of hostilities, should that happen. 

Pilots scheduled to separate or return to the United States before June 1991 transferred to the 496th TFS, while pilots from the 496th filled the resulting vacancies in the 10th. The squadron selected its best 26 aircraft and 35 crews for the deployment. Special arrangements allowed pilots who had not flown as part of the 10th TFS to conduct training with the unit to familiarize themselves with squadron flight operations. It appeared the 10th TFS, after 45 years of peacetime service, would again take to the air to stop an aggressor. 

As the final days of autumn passed and winter began, plans again changed. Word came that the 10th TFS would deploy on January 15, 1991, to fill out the combat strength of the fighter wing at Al Dhafra, United Arab Emirates. United States Central Command readjusted this date twice, finally establishing a deployment date of January 1, 1991. Meanwhile, crews continued to train and make other preparations. The 313th TFS selected six F-16Cs and eight pilots as potential replacements for lost jets and crews. 

Thirty F-16Cs left Hahn AB, for Zaragoza AB Dec. 29, 1990. Six served as airborne spares to replace any of the original 24 that might not complete the trip to Al Dhafra.  While hundreds of personnel at Zaragoza AB celebrated and welcomed the new year, thirty pilots of the 50th TFW fired their afterburners, drowning the sounds of celebration, and lifted into the darkness bound for the Middle East and the near certainty of combat. 

When they arrived, aircrews learned they would not employ the low-level procedures they had practiced for use in Central Europe. Instead of low-level ingress and 10- to 30-degree dive angles, they would deliver their payloads from nearly 20,000 feet with ingress angles near 60 degrees. As training progressed, crews from the 10th TFS began sitting alert with crews of the 17th and 33d TFSs, hoping that they might be the first to strike if war erupted. 

Capt. Evan "Ivan" Thomas explained the feeling. 

"Why, I'm sure you're asking yourself, would anyone want to go fly into combat, especially in the skies of today's battlefields with countless radars, heat-seeking missiles, and good, old-fashioned anti-aircraft guns? It's a hard thing to explain. 

"Think about whatever activity you like most in life ... riding your motorcycle, or maybe just playing baseball. Now imagine that it's your job, with pay and everything. ... You love baseball. You've worked hard to be one of the best players, and you and your family have sacrificed a lot to get you there. You practice every day, but the practice is a little different than usual. Some days you do batting practice, but since real baseballs are expensive, you use whiffle balls to 'simulate' real ones. Other days you work on fielding, only with half the team because the rest are 'simulated'. When you work on base running, you have to 'simulate' the throw to the bag, because a real throw might be dangerous. 

"A few times every year, your whole team gets together and plays full out, real bats and balls, and everything, against a 'simulated' team. But you've never actually played a game, you've never competed for the win. Now you have a chance to play in a big game, a real game, with every man, woman, and child in your country rooting for your team. The only catch is that there are a few people with pistols in the stands. If you make an error, they might take a shot at you, but they're not very good shots--or are they?" 

Jan. 15, 1991, passed with Al Dhafra's crews and much of the coalition forces watching events unfold on cable television news. International news broadcasts, beamed via satellite, told of Iraq's refusal to withdraw and the resulting discussions on how the U.N. coalition would proceed. January 16, 1991 was much the same. 

Then, with a click of the second hand, Desert Shield became Desert Storm. At 4 a.m. local time Jan. 17, the first 40-plane strike package left Al Dhafra for targets in Iraq. The 10th TFS flew its first combat sorties of the war later that afternoon, led by squadron commander Lt. Col. Edward Houle. The assigned target for the eight-ship element of the 10th TFS was Al Taqaddum Airfield, near Baghdad--a round-trip of more than 1,400 miles and an eight-hour mission for crews accustomed to training flights of only one to three hours. 

For nearly six weeks, 10th TFS crews attacked Iraqi airfields, communication centers and military command centers. What few Iraqi fighters did fly were either shot down or chased across the Iraq-Iran border. 

After initial attacks against static targets, the 10th TFS crews received new orders. Iraq had begun using SCUD missiles in retaliation against the coalition's offensive air strikes, targeting both coalition forces and Israeli civilian population centers. In response, U.S. Central Command ordered search-and-destroy missions against Iraqi mobile and fixed SCUD launchers. 

Attacking those targets put 10th TFS pilots at greater risk. A good kill required locating and identifying the SCUD's associated radar once it was activated for launch, and the launchers were heavily defended. The squadron's first SCUD patrol mission began Jan. 19, only three days into Desert Storm. 

The mission changed again Jan. 23. With most of the strategic targets eliminated, the 10th TFS received orders to concentrate on Iraq's Republican Guard units occupying Kuwait and Iraq's southern region. For the Al Dhafra-based crews, this meant bombing any military targets on the road and destroying any pontoon bridges being constructed across the Tigris River. In addition, the wing's crews dropped leaflet bombs over Iraqi positions and civilian centers. For the next month, emphasis centered on counter-SCUD operations and preparing the battlefield for the eventual ground war. 

When the ground war began Feb. 25, crews began flying combat air patrols, protecting and supporting coalition ground forces. This mission, however, lasted only three days. On the morning of Feb. 28, the offensive ceased to allow Iraqi units to withdraw. 

The Gulf War had ended. The 10th TFS lost one aircraft, and one pilot had become a prisoner of war. Capt. Bill "Psycho" Andrews had been shot down and captured on the afternoon of Feb. 27. Iraqi forces provided him with no medical treatment for the broken leg he suffered while ejecting from his aircraft, and he received beatings during interrogations. Fortunately, he remained a POW for only one week, released March 5 to representatives of the International Red Cross in Baghdad. Captain Andrews received the Air Force Cross for heroism May 20. 

After a brief interlude, crews returned to combat air patrols to enforce ceasefire accords that prohibited Iraqi aircraft from operating within defined areas. This provision of the ceasefire sought to protect coalition ground forces, U.N. personnel who would monitor Iraq's compliance with Security Council resolutions and civilian populations.

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