Operation Resolute Fury: a Jane's F/A-18 Story

As @EinsteinEP is pestering us all for AAR’s for his new Christmas thread, I thought I’d dig up an old series I started many, many years ago back on That Other Site and transpose it over here before my Photobucket account disappears and the screenshots are lost forever. I know this is probably out of the bounds of the spirit of the contest, but hey, at least it’s some more new (relatively speaking) reading, right? So, without further ado…

May 26, 2009. Naval Air Station Lemoore, California.

I shifted awkwardly in my ejection seat as my plane captain, Aviation Structural Mechanic 3rd Class (AM3) Ryan Moore, helped me strap myself in to the jet.
“So how strange do you think it’s going to feel, sir- going back to your old ship after all this time?”
“Good question,” I replied, pulling the last of the firing pins from the seat and handing them to my young assistant. “It was just about five years ago I left her to go back to school, and I was almost exactly the same age as you are now. Keep that in mind when you go up for your next career development board; the Skipper and the CMC love the idea of any of our hot runners putting in a STA-21 package.”

The plane captain finished helping me strap in, handed me my helmet, and with a hearty thumbs up and a toothy smile, clambered back down the boarding ladder and put on his Cranial for the start; the squadron would be flying down to San Diego later in the afternoon to meet us at the ship while we brought the planes down to North Island for the night. The USS Ronald Reagan was due to depart Naval Station North Island in a couple of days for a three- month RIMPAC. As the newest arrival to VFA-115, I knew that most everybody in the air wing would have their eyes on me. Even though I’d already accumulated the required day and night carrier landings on the Nimitz during our monthly requal just a couple of weeks ago, the Air Wing 14 CAG was going to want to see me in action, not to mention my own CO, XO, and Ops Officer. Petty Officer Moore was right, though; I’d been looking forward to returning to the Reagan since the detailer had first informed me I’d be reporting to the Eagles of Strike Fighter Squadron 115 (VFA-115).

I thought back to when I had submitted my own STA-21 (Seaman to Admiral) package; I’d been a cocky, smart-mouthed nuke EM1 (Electrician’s Mate 1st Class) who was used to getting my own way and ignoring 90% of the khaki’s (officers and senior enlisted personnel) on the ship. It was my Reactor Officer, Captain Ken Harvey, and one of the few officers I would never question, who’d suggested to me that I should think about aviation.

“Spence, I heard you started your package for the STA-21 program a few days ago,” he started between puffs on his Cuban cigar. We were overseas in Rio de Janiero at that time, and with the ship’s commanding officer, Captain Symonds in Washington, DC for President Reagan’s funeral, Captain Harvey had taken full advantage of being acting CO. He’d led a raucous group consisting of most of the Reactor Department to a rowdy bar in Copacabana.
“You’ve got my highest recommendation, and I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ll be picked up. And as much of a cocky know-it-all as you are, if I don’t see you back in the Nuclear world, you’d better have a pair of wings strapped to your chest.”

I smiled to myself as I went through the pre-flight dance with Moore, bringing the electrical systems online, kicking in the APU, and started one engine after the other. My plane captain signaled that everything looked fine from his vantage point outside of the cockpit as he sent me off with a sharp salute before moving towards the squadron hangar, and I finished my checklist and requested permission to taxi. Within minutes I was airborne and heading south for San Diego and my first full deployment with the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan.

May 28, 2009. Off the coast of San Clemente Island, Southern California Operating Area.

“Talon one seven five, correct for lineup!” The LSO called a heartbeat after I turned off the base leg and settled into the groove just astern of the landing area.

A few moments later,I crossed the fantail and snagged the target three wire. I automatically ran the throttles up to the firewall before I felt the reassuring tug of the harness straps as the arresting wire hauled my jet to a stop.

Following the directions of the yellow- shirted flight director in front of me, I picked up the hook, folded the wings, and taxied to my assigned parking spot on the bow. I shut down the engines and popped the canopy just in time to hear two bell tones over the 5MC announcing circuit on the flight deck.

“Lieutenant Junior Grade Spencer, Plankowner, arriving.” I looked over the canopy rail to see AM3 Moore below me barely holding back a laugh, and looked over and across to my just-landed roommate, LTjg Zach “Morris” Joseph not even trying to suppress his laughter. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to live that one down, but at least now my old friends and colleagues aboard knew I was here.

The ship plowed through the clear waters off Southern California as the rest of the air wing came aboard for the start of our 2009 surge deployment to the western Pacific. Nothing like spending a summer out to sea, bouncing around the Pacific rim and partying in a dozen foreign countries. Was there any easier way to make a paycheck as a pilot?


June 5, 2009. Honolulu Hawaii, 2130 HADT

Senior Chief Machinist’s Mate (MMCS) Mitchell Hewlett smiled as the limo dropped him and his friends off at the front entrance to Level 4, the largest, most exclusive club in Waikiki Beach. The tall, swarthy Nuclear Machinist’s Mate was there with a dozen of his buddies from the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard (PHNSY) for his bachelor party. The results of the E-8 and E-9 selection boards had just been released a couple of week before, and the thirty year old Hewlett had been on the promotion list for advancement to E-8 after just over ten years in the Navy, almost unheard of outside of the Navy’s nuclear field, and even then still extremely uncommon. Granted, his current tour as a Radcon supervisor helped- the long hours his fiancée endured and endless mountains of paperwork required were a small price to pay for living in paradise, he thought to himself as he and his entourage navigated the VIP line and waited to enter the giant club, with plans to keep the celebration going until dawn. Looking around at the faces of his friends and hearing the pumping music floating out the door of the club, he knew that life was very, very good, and was only going to get better.

2330 HADT. 150 miles north of Hawaiian Islands.

It was a typical Friday night out to sea; we’d been out for a week now, and were just north of the Hawaiian Islands on our way to Hong Kong and our first port call of the cruise. Flight operations had wound down for the day a few hours earlier, and we were waiting to get the nightly movie started in the ready room. In the background the Engineering Officer of the Watch came on the 1MC ship-wide announcing circuit.
“All hands, central control. This is a drill, this is a drill. Fire, fire, fire, class Charlie fire in number four ship’s service turbine generator. Reactor Department casualty assistance team, lay to number two main machinery room.” I glanced at my watch and kept an eye on the overhead lights for any flickering, old instincts kicking in as I started running through immediate actions and emergency procedures in my head while I waited to see if the lights went out, indicating the drill was going badly.

After three minutes with the lights still on, I realized what I was doing, and looked around, suddenly self-conscious. My friends sitting on either side of me directed good-natured smiles of amusement in my direction.

“I can tell you were enjoying your trip down memory lane, but personally, I don’t know how anybody could do it,” LTjg Lido Flores, another one of the first- cruisers said with a shake of his head. “I was up at 3 in the morning for night intercept practice a couple days ago, and Reactor was up running drills then too! Those guys never seem to stop working!”

I chuckled to myself. “ You’re definitely not wrong, and the military and civilian worlds both know it. The only way the Navy holds on to them is with ridiculously fast advancement and huge re-enlistment bonuses; case in point: an old friend of mine just made Senior Chief last month- after only ten years in the Navy. “ We turned back to our paperwork as we waited for the Movie Officer, Bryan “Half-Squat” Short to come up from the ship’s Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) Office with the movie for the night- the media studio was showing “Sex and the City” on one of the movie channels, and “The Hottie and the Nottie” on the other, so we were willing to take our chances with what DVD’s were available for rent at the moment.

“All stations, this is the TAO in CDC. Now set River City condition one,” a voice suddenly announced over the ship’s 1MC announcing circuit.

“It’s probably just the IT folks running drills,” I suggested to Zach Joseph, who had pricked up an eyebrow coriously. They may not have known it, but according to the ship’s Comms Manual (which I’d helped write) “River City” was the call to cut all open communications off the ship; there hadn’t been any calls of medical emergencies or any other kinds of casualties, so it had to be drills. Not more than two minutes later, the 1MC once again barked to life:

“All stations, central control. Secure from drills.” At that, I pricked an eyebrow at Zach and Lido, who both had annoyed looks on their faces from the constant interruptions- when the 1MC starts making noise, you stop EVERYTHING and listen. Everything. As I was turned to face Zack I noticed the XO, Commander Karen Freeman, come striding into the ready room, and make a a beeline for the Skipper’s chair near the front. She whispered something into his ear, and they both quickly left through the back door to the room.

“Hmm, looks like something’s up,” I whispered to Zach and Lido with a conspiratorial air.

“What are you talking about?” Zach asked, a confused look in his eyes. “They’re just running drills.”

“No, they WERE running drills. They secured from running drills just after Combat Systems called for River City. That means they’re probably planning on coming up to a flank bell soon and need to get the plants in a stable lineup.” Just then, I felt the vibration under my seat change slightly in pitch, and the sway of the ship changed to a more steady lean to port. “If you sit really still, you can feel that we’ve just started picking up speed, and we’re turning to starboard. Not to mention the Skipper and XO just left in a mighty big hurry.”

The two of them shared a shrug.

“Best to listen to the old guy on this. He probably knows what he’s talking about,” Lido replied with a grin before ducking to avoid the popcorn I aimed in his direction.

With the CO and XO both out of the ready room, and Half-Squat delaying starting the movie until they were back, we all traded speculations on what was going on before when the 1MC once again interrupted:

“All hands, this is the Captain,” a new voice boomed over the box. “May I have your attention please.” The ready room quickly went silent as Captain Norton’s voice repeated again.

“As I’m sure you’ve noticed by now, we’re in a communications blackout with the outside at the moment. We have just received word that Honolulu was hit by a massive explosion a little over two hours ago. Details are still sketchy at the moment, but CentCom has ordered us to bypass Hawaii and expedite our transit across the Pacific to the 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility as soon as possible That’s all the information we have right now. In the meantime, all we can do is pray for the victims and their families.”

I stopped listening as the chaplain followed the CO on the circuit, leading the crew in a prayer for the victims, the ship, and everybody else he could think of. We all sat in stunned disbelief, too shocked to say anything. I wasn’t sure if it was fifteen minutes or an hour, when the skipper, Commander Vincent Nemeth, and the XO re-entered the ready room.

“I’ve just spent the last hour with the other squadron skippers in Flag Planning. As I’m sure you can already guess, when the dust settles and we figure out whose responsible, we’re going to be at the tip of the spear to deliver the payback blow. As far as finding out exactly what’s going on, I don’t know much more than the rest of you. CAG has already informed me that we will conduct air operations as much as the ship is able to support, but our main goal is completing the transit as quickly as possible. The Ike and Washington will be staying on station in their areas of responsibility as well, but it wouldn’t surprise me if we find ourselves heading straight to the Gulf. So take the time to get some rest, work out, and get ahead on your paperwork- it might be a while before we get the chance again.”

To be continued…


June 23, 2009. Arabian Sea.

“Hey Spence, you’ve got a call here.” I poked my head up from the paperwork I was reviewing as the squadron Ready Room Duty Officer, Ltjg Gina Parks called me over to her desk. It had been almost three weeks since the Honolulu bombing, and word was starting to get out with more details. A small terrorist group called Crimson Jihad had claimed responsibility for the attack, and as investigators continued to comb through the rubble of most of two city blocks in Waikiki, the death toll had risen to over five hundred, mostly American and Japanese tourists. Names had just started being released as next of kin and families of the victims were contacted and flown to Honolulu. Meanwhile, the Reagan had finished her sprint across the Pacific; the old unofficial motto of “Drive it like you stole it” obviously still held true, but we had to wait for the rest of the battlegroup to catch up; the shorter legs of the cruisers and destroyers meant they had to lag behind with our tanker. However, Fifth Fleet had decided that they needed the assets afforded by the Reagan’s air wing in the Gulf as soon as possible; more and more evidence about the attack and the terrorist group responsible was pointing to our old friends the Saudis being involved, and tensions were starting to run high between them and the U.S. The Superhornets of VFA-115 and VFA-22 would be flying to Ahmed Al Jaber in Kuwait in the morning, while the Prowlers of VAQ-139 would be heading to Bahrain.

“Lieutenant Spencer,” I spoke slowly into the phone, wondering who it was on the other end.

“Sir, it’s Jimmy V, can you come down to the Reactor office?” It was Senior Chief Electrician’s Mate (EMCS) Jim Vetterman, my old Leading Petty Officer (LPO) from back in the pre-com days, and now the Reactor Electrical division’s Leading Chief Petty Officer. He’d just come back aboard the ship a few months ago, one of maybe a dozen nukes with whom I’d previously served who were also back on the Reagan now.

“Amazing how some things never change,” I mused to myself as I strolled down four flights of ladders and the starboard side passageway to the Reactor Department block of offices.

The door opened with a knock, and I saw Jim in there along with several others I’d served with before. All their heads were down, and they were slumped in chairs, along the deck, and against the bulkheads.

“I just got this email from Angie Baxter a little while ago,” Jim said, handing me a printed piece of paper. “I know you’re due to fly off with your squadron in the morning, but I thought you’d want to see it before you leave.”

I recognized the name immediately, and my stomach dropped. Angie had been one of our bartenders and sort of adopted us as surrogate children at her Hampton bar back in our shipyard days in Newport News. One of our buddies had gotten engaged to her, and when he took orders to the shipyard at Pearl she’d gone with him, starting her Doctorate in Oceanography at the University of Hawaii. MItch had asked us all to be groomsmen in his wedding that fall.
I stared reading the email, but already knew what it was going to say. Sure enough, about halfway in, one line jumped out of the page at me, and I felt as if I’d taken a sledgehammer blow to the chest.

“They killed Mitch.”

The shock took a few moments to settle in. I glanced around the room at my old friends and comrades in arms, seeing the same looks on their faces I knew they saw on mine. And I knew that if there was any kind of justice or revenge to be handed out, I was going to be one of the ones to help with delivering it. Feeling vulnerable and a bit out of place, I mumbled a thanks to Jim for letting me know what was going on, and saying I had to go.
By the time I got back up to Ready Four, word had already gotten back to Nemeth and Freeman.

“Spencer, come with me,” Lieutenant Commander Errol “Flynn” Roberts, the squadron Operations Officer called over to me as soon as I walked in the door.

Without a word, I followed him down the passageway to the CAG spaces, where the Skipper, XO, Captain Wade Eckerson, the ship’s Reactor Officer, and Captain Tom Lalor, the CAG, were already waiting for me.

Capt. Lalor spoke first. “Lieutenant Spencer, I’m sorry to hear about your friend. Captain Eckerson came up here and told us what was going on before you got that call from Senior Chief Vetterman. What I want to know is whether or not you still think you’re going to be able to fly, and if necessary, to fight with the knowledge that one of your friends and comrades is dead because of what these animals did to our country. Will you be able to continue to perform with a clear and objective mindset?”

It was a good question, and I wasn’t really surprised that they’d asked. I took a deep breath and looked the CAG straight in the eye before I answered.

“Yes sir, I do. As much as I hate to say it, seeing friends die isn’t something that’s new to me. I understand we have a job to do, and I will continue to do it to the very best of my ability.”

CAG looked me over from head to toe, then nodded and turned to my CO. “Good enough for me. Unless you have any problems, Vince, Lieutenant Spencer flies off with us in the morning.”

June 24, 2009. Gulf of Oman.

By 0700 we were manned up and ready to start launching, waiting for the Reagan to finish her turn into the wind before the ship officially began flight operations for the morning.

I found myself set on catapult four, all the way outboard on the waist, as I’d be flying number four in the Skipper’s section this morning for the flight to Kuwait.

The three other catapults fired in sequence ahead of me, and then it was finally my turn. The yellow shirt gave me the signal for full power, and I ran the throttles up to the firewall and placed my head back against the ejection seat’s headrest. I snapped off a salute to the Shooter, then watched his sweeping motion as he brought his arm over his head and down to the deck. I tensed, and the catapult fired, sending me hurtling down the deck.

“Talon one- one- five, airborne,” I called to the departure controller as I felt the deck drop away from beneath my plane and watched my instruments register a positive climb rate.

Pulling up my landing gear and flaps, I continued on the outbound leg, looking ahead towards the rest of my section before sliding in to formation alongside my element lead, LCDR Greg “Wrench” Harris. Since we would be flying among the civilian air traffic that filled the typically crowded skies over the Persian Gulf, we carried only our squadron’s external fuel tanks.

Up ahead was an Air Force KC-135 out of Al Udeid, but if we could make it on our own gas, all the better; that would put us back on the ground quicker.

Once I was settled into the formation with the autopilot engaged, I was able take a look around as we flew north. Off to my left, I could see the quartet of EA-6B Prowlers heading to their destination, Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain. One of my buddies from the JO Bunkroom, LTjg “Tank” Abrams, was flying the #4:

After a very short, very quiet flight over first the Gulf and then the endless deserts of the Middle East, the TACAN indicated that we were nearing our destination. Chopping throttle and lowering the nose, I took spacing from the rest of my squadron mates and waited for clearance to land at Ahmed Al Jaber.

After touchdown and taxi to the transient flight line assigned to our squadron, I shut down the engines and popped the canopy. The hot, dry heat blast of June in Kuwait billowed into the cockpit and immediately I could feel the sweat starting to form on my brow. I hopped out of the plane and made my way to the shade of the hangar, where the rest of the pilots were gathered around the skipper.

“Welcome to Kuwait,” he shouted above the noise of aircraft and ground vehicles all around us. “The Air Force boys should be along with the beer soon, and the rest of our squadron personnel will be flying over on the COD later this afternoon. In the meantime, relax, get checked in to your BOQ rooms, and get some rest; we’ve got P-3’s flying recon flights that we’re going to be escorting starting tomorrow. Errol Flynn will have the flight schedule and the air plan in everybody’s rooms before dinner. Dismissed!”

Zach and I had just gotten settled into our tiny BOQ room when there was a knock at the door. Errol Flynn was standing there, flight schedule in hand.

“Spencer!” he barked at me. “Make sure you get some sleep. We’ve got the first escort flight in the morning. Brief at 0800, wheels up at 1045.”


June 25, 2009. Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait.

After a nearly-sleepless night in the base BOQ, I barely had time to grab something to eat and a cup of coffee before heading for my mission briefing.

Errol Flynn was already in the briefing room by the time I and Lt. Doug Richardson, the backup pilot for this flight, walked in at a quarter til eight. The desert was already starting to warm up on the walk to our borrowed squadron spaces, which weren’t much cooler.

“Oh good, you guys are here early. Let’s go ahead and get started with the brief; should be pretty straightforward, so we’ll be able to get through this quickly.” He quickly pulled up the Intel briefing screen on the monitor at the front of the room.

“As you can see, tensions are a lot higher here than we were led to believe while we were on the boat. Forces here in the Gulf are already stretched thin as it is; the Pentagon has diverted forces to deal with our old friends acting up in North Korea again and the potentially unbalancing force created by the continued unrest over the election results in Iran mean we’ve got our work cut out for us. The evidence that the NSA and FBI have been collecting has consistently pointed back to Saudi Arabia as the source of our latest troubles, and CENTCOM needs every asset they can get. That’s why we flew off early.”

He pointed to the map. “Right now, we need to know what’s going on with our Saudi friends, in case things start to heat up somewhere down the road. The only planes available to conduct the long- range reconnaissance mission in theater are the P-3C Orions of VP-19 here at Al Jaber, which is where we come in- even though we’re going to be VERY careful to stay in the international airspace over the Persian Gulf, we have to err on the side of caution. Now, to the brief.”

The next slides came up on the screen. “We’re escorting a single P-3 Orion on a two hundred mile track south of Kuwait along the Saudi coast. The important thing is making sure that we don’t stray into their airspace, for obvious reasons. Remember, the Royal Saudi Air Force uses modern hardware, including F-15’s we sold to the king back in the 80’s, and Tornadoes that our European allies sold them a few years later. Our rules of engagement for this hop are weapons hold: tensions are high, so it’s likely any airborne Saudi pilots will try to play some Radar chicken with us to see if we flinch- do not, and I’ll repeat this, DO NOT, fire unless you’re first fired upon. The Intel guys have said that’s most likely all it will come to, so no big needs to worry there. Should be a relatively quiet flight, and we’ll be back in time for a late lunch.”

The rest of the briefing went on, and finally, when all the questions were answered we suited up in our flight gear and walked outside to our waiting planes and ground crew.

Within a half hour, Errol and I were airborne and heading to our rendezvous with the patrol plane. Once we had checked in with AWACS and Papa 31, our quarry for the mission, we settled into an easy echelon formation above and slightly behind the P-3 for the trip down the Gulf.

“Hey kid, how ya doin’ back there?”

Flynn called to me over the squadron’s tactical frequency as we approached the P-3’s mission area. The flight down had been mostly uneventful, aside from a pair of Saudi F-15’s to our west consistently painting us from just inside their airspace, almost as if they were daring us to engage.

“I’m OK over here, just looking forward-“

"Raven One- One, intercepting bandits!”

The call interrupted me mid-sentence over the strike frequency. That was the AWACS escort flight over the Gulf, circling high over our heads. Immediately, I stepped up my scan, double- checked the position of my Master Arm switch, and nervously glanced over my left wing at my flight leader’s plane.

The next radio call in the open a few minutes later chilled the blood in my veins.

“Raven one-one, mayday mayday, request scramble the Sandy immediately!”

One of those CAP fighters had been shot down.

“Spence, watch yourself. We still have to get these guys back to base.”

Flynn must have sensed my nervousness; I knew he was right, and fought to get my breathing under control and think about the mission at hand. Thankfully, it was only a few minutes later that we got a call from Papa 3-1.

“Striper flight, Papa three- one. We’re finished with our mission, heading for home.”

With a sigh of relief, I watch the P-3 ahead and below me begin a slow, lazy turn northward, hanging back in my position abeam my wingleader. The two Saudi F-15’s were getting closer still, and were continuously painting us with their radars, just as we were doing the same to them. I glanced down at the HSI and saw that we had just over a hundred miles left on our return trip. Just another half hour, and this would all be over with, I thought to myself.

Our P-3 quarry had just completed his course reversal for the return flight when I suddenly heard the low-pitched warble of a radar set locking me up ring in my earphones.

“Striper one, this is striper two. I think those-“

“Son of a-!” Flynn interrupted just as the low pitched lock tone turned into a screaming missile launch warning. “Those guys are firing at us! Music on, decoys out, return fire! I say again, return fire! Striper one-one, Fox three!”

As soon as I had a radar lock on the trailing bandit I pickled off an AMRAAM, saw that it acquired the target immediately, and locked the other Eagle. As I activated my ECM set and deployed a decoy, the shoot indicator flashed in the HUD. I immediately pressed the fire button and another AMRAAM shot off the rail towards the F-15’s rapidly closing the distance with us.

My own RWR started screaming shrilly at me with the warning tone of a missile inbound at me.

“Striper one-two, engaged defensive AMRAAM!” I yelled as I pushed the throttles up to full military thrust, broke hard across the path of the enemy missile coming at me, and dropped chaff like it was going out of style. Not surprising that the Saudi planes had also launched AMRAAM’s as well, really; the irony was so ugly that if I hadn’t been worried about getting killed, or even worse screwing up, I would have been laughing bitterly. Now, I was finding out for myself first-hand why the darn things had such a good kill ratio.

After what seemed like an eternity, my beaming, dive for the deck, and chaff worked to defeat the missile shot, and the RWR fell silent just in time for me to hear Flynn call me over the radio.

“Striper one-two, that’s a confirmed kill for you! Those bandits are history- rejoin formation and let’s get this done!”

Drawing a ragged breath, I started the long climb back towards the rest of the package above and ahead of me. Seemingly as soon as I rejoined the formation, Papa 3-1 called over the strike frequency.

“Papa 3-1, starting our descent into Al Jaber. Thanks for the help, Striper flight.”

I finally loosened the white- knuckle grip I’d held on the throttles and wiggled my fingertips before calling the tower myself to ask for landing clearance. As soon as the P-3 was down, we were cleared to make our own approach. As soon as we were off the runway, we were taxied to a different flight line on the opposite side of the base, away from the rest of the squadrons stationed there.

I shut down, popped the canopy, and started to unstrap myself from the cockpit; it was then I realized just how exhausted I was after the hair-raising flight I’d just experienced; my t-shirt and flight suit were as sweat- soaked as my head and face, and my arms and legs felt like they were made of Jello. With an effort, I was able to climb out of the cockpit and shakily make my way down the boarding ladder to the ground. As soon as I turned around, I realized there was a small crowd waiting for us- CAG, the CO, the XO, and several others in uniform and civilian clothes that I didn’t recognize. We were ushered into the Intelligence offices, where the testimony that Flynn and I gave was compared to data collected from a dozen different sources around the Gulf, and the reports of the crew of the P-3 we’d been escorting; it was quickly made clear that we had safely been in international airspace when the Saudis fired on us; the fact that they had fired at us unprovoked created more questions than it answered; perhaps we were seeing the first signs of another chapter in the Global War on Terror?

Finally, the witnesses were dismissed, and we trudged back to the rigger’s shop to turn in our flight gear. The Skipper followed me in.
“Well done, kid,” Nemeth said, patting me on the back. “You kept your head, brought back your quarry intact, and managed to bag one of those fellows as well. Get some rest, it looks like you’re going to be doing it all over again tomorrow.”