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Tech. Sgt. Clifford Sibley is the historian for the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Sibley returned this spring from Qatar, where he documented the movements of the region’s largest U.S. Air Force expeditionary fighter wing deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Tech. Sgt. Clifford Sibley is the historian for the 35th Fighter Wing at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Sibley returned this spring from Qatar, where he documented the movements of the region’s largest U.S. Air Force expeditionary fighter wing deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Jennifer Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Tech. Sgt. Clifford Sibley, historian for the 35th Fighter Wing here, spent more than five months this year documenting history — as it unfolded.

Sibley was one of two historians assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, before and during the combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“It was just an amazing experience, just to be a part of it and watch it happening all around you,” he said.

Sibley and his counterpart worked a combined 30 hours a day recording movements of the largest U.S. Air Force fighter wing in the region.

“We started out with 17 aircraft and 1,100 people,” he said. “At the high point of the war, we had 150 aircraft and more than 7,000 people.”

Sibley said he interviewed the wing commander every week and had access to countless war files and documents.

He recorded the compelling moments and the minute details.

It was an assignment fraught with adrenaline and emotions, tremendous highs and lows according to Sibley.

“You’d watch something on the news,” like when the Iraqis were mining a harbor, “and an hour later, you were interviewing the pilots that sunk the boats mining the harbor,” Sibley said.

A low? “Waiting for word on a downed crew, whether they’re going to make it out or not,” said Sibley speaking about an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle that went down April 7 in Iraq. “They didn’t make it out. They both died.”

The Air Force is “still trying to decide what happened to them,” Sibley said. “I don’t document the speculation,” he said.

One of Sibley’s goals going into the assignment was to keep such a meticulous record of bombing missions that any accusations of a misfired strike could be either refuted or confirmed, he said.

“If someone said, ‘The Americans did this,’ well, ‘did we or didn’t we?’” Sibley said.

His wing dropped more than 4,500 munitions, and “the histories will tell you where every one of these were dropped.”

Sibley said he was often privy to events before they occurred.

He was there when war planners discussed strategies for the pre-dawn “decapitation” strike on Saddam Hussein in March 2002 and interviewed the air crews within 30 minutes of their return.

“We had the inside story before it became well-known,” he said.

Being present at planning meetings enables a historian to type a memo of record of what he or she witnesses, Sibley said.

“We can see how the planning process shapes the war or gets overtaken by the war,” he said.

Access to staff members, air crews, documents and meetings is at a commander’s discretion, though Air Force guidance says “they’re supposed to give us access to everything,” Sibley said.

Sibley and his colleague produced 11,000 documents, some more than 300 pages, and 1,300 photographs, mostly on CD-ROM. Ninety-five percent remains classified. The files will be studied by commanders.

“There’s always lessons learned,” Sibley said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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