Air Forces "Pumped Up" at Kuwait's Al Jabr Air Base
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
AL JABR AIR BASE, Kuwait, Feb. 13, 1998 The United States plans military action if diplomacy fails to end the standoff with Iraq, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told service members here Feb. 10.
The pilots, crews and support troops of the U.S. Air Force 4406th Operations Group (Provisional) told the secretary they are ready to take on Saddam Hussein if necessary.
"We want to say what a tremendous job you are doing," Cohen told several hundred service members assembled on the tarmac near their F-117 stealth fighter-bombers and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, nicknamed the Warthogs. "We want to say how much we appreciate your dedication, your sacrifice and your patriotism, and the courage you are displaying day in and day out."
Cohen said every effort is being made to resolve the standoff with Iraq peacefully. "No one is in favor of using force, unless it is absolutely necessary. Only when diplomacy fails, do we resort to military action."
Sen. John Warner of Virginia and Sen. Carl M. Levin of Michigan joined Cohen at the podium. The two members of the Senate Armed Services Committee accompanied Cohen on his trip to six gulf states Feb. 8-11.
The best way to deter war is to always be prepared to fight it, Warner said. The United States is prepared to fight and U.S. service members in the gulf are the front line of any effort mounted against Saddam Hussein.
"Right now, quite properly the United States and allies are working in the diplomatic arena," Warner said. "But no diplomat would have a seat at the table if you were not standing behind him ready to receive the orders.
"Let's hope those orders are not issued," he continued. "And if they're not, it will largely be as a consequence of what you have done, are doing, and could do."
Warner pointed out he, too, once wore a U.S. uniform, having served in the Navy and the Marine Corps. "You might get a chuckle," he said. "I'm the only member of Congress who had to go to boot camp twice."
Warner noted he attributes his career as a senator to the teaching, the training and opportunities he received in the military. "And I wish you the same good fortune," he concluded.
Levin told the audience the American people support and appreciate their efforts. "Your strength, your commitment and your will, hopefully, will make it possible for there to be a settlement which is in full compliance with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. ... If that doesn't happen, we know you're going to be there when we need you and you will have our blessings."
The three visitors then mingled with the troops, many of whom told the secretary, senators, reporters and other guests, they are "pumped up" and ready to go.
Col. James Konning of the Ohio Air National Guard called morale at the base is fantastic. "If they'd just turn us loose, it would be even greater," the logistics group commander said. "That's what our job is. That's why we're here, and we want to be a part of it."
The 57-year-old guardsman said this is his final military tour; he's retiring after 37 years. "What a fantastic way to end a career," he said.
Maj. Bret Klassen, maintenance officer with the 74th Fighter Squadron -- the Flying Tigers, echoed Konning's view: "The guys are really pumped up. They're ready to do whatever they need to do right now."
Klassen, from Fargo, N.D., said his mechanics fix the A-10 Warthogs, which earned their nickname because they "are such ugly little beasties." The A-10s are set to do combat search and rescue missions. "In case we have a downed pilot someplace, the A-10s carry enough stuff to keep the bad guys away until we can effect a rescue."
Air Force Lt. Col. Dave Francis from Cumberland, Md., is director of operations at Al Jabr. He said U.S. forces are "at the peak of readiness."
"We've been here since the middle of December practicing for the mission that we'll be called on to do if there is a military strike," Francis said. Heightened tensions between the United Nations and Iraq have made service members realize "they aren't there just to fill space, but because they have a very important mission," he said.
"When you give a military member an important mission," Francis said, "my gosh, their chests swell up, they're full of pride, and they say, 'I'm going to do it for you.'"