On the day that Congress gave the go-ahead to attack Iraq if needed, three Hill Air Force Base officers reported from the Middle East that their fighter wing is well-prepared, fully supplied, keyed-up and "ready to execute the missions."
The officers were Col. Michael Navarro, commander of the 388th Tactical Fighter Wing; Col. William R. Huddle, deputy commander for operations; and Col. Robert H. Petersen, deputy commander for maintenance.Stationed in some country they could not name, they reported to Utah Saturday by means of a telephone linkup. They used commercial phone lines and a speaker phone system at Hill's Building 891, the communications center, technically called the Logistics Systems Operations Center.
Present in the center were reporters from Salt Lake City and Ogden news media, as well as military personnel.
As the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or face the consequences draws near, Navarro said, morale is high.
"This is the real thing. It's not an exercise. People are very focused. I think that they have a strong sense of accomplishment."
The wing commander said that since the day the 388th arrived - they left Utah in late August - there has been steady improvement in conditions and flight operations. "I think there's one word that really captures the mood here - that's `pride.' I think that our people are proud of who they are and what they do and how they do it. I might add that the tremendous support that we've gotten from the people back home has had a very positive impact."
Petersen said about supplies, "Everything is adequate. We've had an excellent supply line. As a matter of fact, parts have been really coming much quicker than we planned or expected."
Asked by the Deseret News to describe the locale, Huddle painted a vivid picture with his words. Although the conversation took place Saturday morning in Utah, it was night in the Mideast.
"The flight operation's in progress because we are flying tonight," Huddle said. "When the sun comes up on the east end of the base in the morning, you would see looking around to the right, sand dunes with vegetation stabilizing the sand.
"We're not in an area with classic sand dunes like you see in the movies, that are all white with sand blowing off the top. There are some sand dunes out there in the surrounding countryside. But . . . the dunes are pretty well stabilized by the wild, naturally growing native vegetation.
"Generally, the terrain is flat in the sense that there are no high mountains around it like there are in Utah, or at least not within the visual range of the base. Just small hills, sand dunes and that sort of thing."
The base is humming with activity, "with a lot of people moving around in a purposeful manner . . . they have a lot of things to do," he said.
Navarro said that because of all the training missions the F-16 fighter pilots flew over the Utah Test and Training Range, located in the western desert, "we were able to adjust very quickly to this environment. We're flying the same type of sorties that we trained to fly on a daily basis back home."
They are working seven days a week, around the clock, Navarro said. He thinks that might be a good thing because it doesn't give time to "sit and commiserate.
"Obviously as the deadline approaches, anxieties are a little bit higher. Hence people have a little more focus, a little more sense of seriousness now that we're approaching deadlines, and of course everybody is kind of fine-tuning our procedures and making that extra effort to make sure everything's in order."
Navarro spoke with one of the squadrons Saturday, and he experienced mixed feelings about a potential conflict. They don't want hostilities to break out, but if they do, he knows they're prepared to do their job.
Huddle said support has been excellent in supplying spare parts, and the aircraft in commission may even average more than at home. In addition, he said, the host nation's citizens have been remarkably supportive.
"They shared all of their facilities with us - that enabled us to get up to speed very quickly and to get our flying operations, so that the pilots never had any extended down time at all."
The Deseret News asked whether the two fighter squadrons from Hill remained together once they reached the Middle East.
"We're all in one location," Navarro replied. "If I could add a little bit, basically we just brought over our flying squadrons and maintenance squadrons, the supporting staff.
"This is multinational effort, but there is no language barrier because English happens to be the international language used by many countries concerning aircraft.
"We are flying with the French, Canadians, Brits, Saudis, of course the Navy - they're not foreign nationals to a lot of people, but they are to us sometimes," Navarro joked.
Reading, weight lifting, watching TV, joggingand playing soccer, softbaal and basketball are some of the activities that help pass the time for soldiers. Huddle said the country where they are stationed built a special jogging trail the length of the base. The base's population is in better condition now than ever before because of working out with weights and jogging.
A joint U.S.-host country soccer team sometimes competes with other local teams. Softball teams for men and women played against local teams, too, he said, and "put away most of the competition.
"We've got volleyball nets up - the quality of the volleyball play is truly remarkable out here," Huddle added. He said basketball - using hoops sent from Utah - is available, too.