B-52 crew answered tense call for air support
April 15, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — It’s the stuff war stories are made of: a desperate cry for help, a defender swoops in, a life is saved.
And it’s the story five B-52 crewmembers from the Air Force’s 457th Air Expeditionary Group will share with families when they return from their forward operating base somewhere the Middle East.
The crew, who spoke with reporters Monday via telephone conference, don’t remember the exact date — but roughly two weeks ago, a stern yet surprisingly calm voice cracked through their radio traffic. The call for help came from a U.S. servicemember on the ground, taking on heavy enemy fire he was unable to suppress.
“We were able to roll up and put our bombs exactly where he needed it,” said Capt. Joe, the bomber’s co-pilot. Of the five members who spoke with reporters, four did not want their last names used.
That particular mission “started when the guy was saying ‘I’m being shot at,’ and didn’t stop until he said ‘I’m not being shot at,’” said Maj. Ed, the B-52’s electronic warfare officer.
The mission “was on the order of 45 minutes or an hour — but we’re only guessing at that. The guy on the ground remained remarkably calm; he didn’t sound nervous at all,” said Capt. Raymond Partlow, the radar navigator. But tension saturated the man’s voice in his call for help, recalled Partlow, 30.
It’s a feeling of euphoria “to be in the air and then you get the call to make life somewhat easier for the guys on the ground, and then come home safe,” said Partlow.
The crew received their targeting coordinates, got into position, and dropped one precision-guided cluster munition. That’s all it took, they said.
Details of that mission remain vague, even for the bomber crew, they said. They don’t know, for example, if there was only one U.S. servicemember on the ground or several troops (though when describing it, they used the singular pronoun).
“That was very satisfying,” said Capt. John, 29, the aircraft commander. “To be the only one in the area [of Northern Iraq] and to have the ability and to achieve that affect on the ground and to save an American life.”
Crews of the B-52 Stratofortress, who typically fly 12- to 15-hour missions, received the majority of their targets in midflight, from missions to bomb Iraqi military buildings to calls for close-air support to take out enemy soldiers attacking coalition forces.
The all-weather, long-range heavy bomber, which can carry 40 weapons at any given time, used a combination of precision-guided “smart” bombs and an arsenal of conventional “dumb bombs” in Iraq, though the crew said they could not talk about what percentage of each was used.
And though the fighting in Iraq seems to be drawing to close as coalition forces gain more and more control, the crew said they have not seen a shift in their missions, and don’t expect one anytime soon.
“We haven’t seen any drop-off,” Joe said.
— A fact sheet on the bomber is at: www.af.mil/news/factsheets/B_52_Stratofortress.html