Fairford airmen take pride in taking fight to the Iraqis
July 13, 2003
RAF FAIRFORD, England — The distance from Baghdad to RAF Fairford is greater than the distance from New York to San Francisco.
But during Operation Iraqi Freedom, servicemembers stationed at the base felt like they were a mere subway ride from the war.
“We’re as close to the war as you can get without being on the front line,” said Tech. Sgt. Blake Meyer, superintendent of quality assurance at the base.
“We fought the war every day here,” said Lt. Col. Max Rothman, commander of the 424th Air Base Squadron. “We did not go home at night and forget there was a war. We slept in our offices. We ate MREs.”
The base is a “limited use” base, meaning it is used only for contingencies. During the down time, members of the 424th ABS are to make sure the base is ready when it is needed.
It was the only place in northern Europe used to directly take the fight to Iraq. B-52 Stratofortress bombers from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., were stationed at the base for nearly two months, flying more than 122 combat sorties in that time, dropping 3.2 million pounds of bombs and 9 million leaflets.
For members of the 424th ABS, those figures are a direct result of their efforts, both before the war and during it.
“Like they say, ‘No comm, no bomb,’ ” said Staff Sgt. Sandra Parris, a communications operator. “You see them take off and you know the reason they have a flight plan is because you gave them the secure communications. We do our job so they can do their job.”
Nearly every member of the base squadron carries lanyards, the pins in bombs that release when the bomb is dropped, arming the weapon.
“I’m very proud of mine,” said Larry Caswell, financial manager of the base. “It means something to me. I really felt that everything I did was a direct feed to that war.”
Caswell, 66, a Vietnam veteran, was involved in the purchase of everything from vehicles to Bibles. He said the base spent five times its annual budget in two months.
“I realized that if I didn’t do my job, no one else’s job was going to get done,” he said. “The buck literally stopped here.”
The base population multiplied by 10 in just a few days as the war’s start approached. Helping to prepare for the infusion of people and machines was the job of Staff Sgt. Xzabriel Lee, a logistics planner.
“We’re not right there on the front line,” he said, “but I feel we were a major contributor to it.”
Capt. Graham Little, logistic flight commander, said there is no doubt the base felt a part of the war effort. The bombs dropped by the B-52s flying from the base made sure of that.
“The mission of the Air Force can be summed in a few words — warheads on foreheads,” he said. “We were part of the ‘shock and awe.’”