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A Pilot Who Patrolled Over the Iraqi No-Fly Zone Interviews with KEYS/KKBA Radio

Presenter: Air Force Major Mike Petrusa
October 02, 2002

(A Pilot Who Patrolled Over the Iraqi No-Fly Zone, Interviews with Eric Von Wade, KEYS/KKBA Radio in Texas.)

Announcer: At this hour, the Eric Von Wade Show is brought to you by Corpus Christi Pistol and Rifle Club. (MUSIC).

Q: It's 7 minutes after 4 o'clock on News Talk 1440B. I think, therefore, I speak. I am Eric Von Wade. Great to have you back with me for hour three. It's Wednesday, October the 2nd, 2002. And as I told you, we've got a very special guest for you, somebody I can't wait to talk to, straight from patrolling the no-fly zones in Iraq. We're proud to have Major Mike Petrusa (phonetic). And Major, did I pronounce your last name correctly?

Petruka: Petruka (phonetic), actually.

Q: All right, Petruka. Great to have you, and thanks for taking some time to talk with us.

Petruka: Sure.

Q: And tell me, how long have you been flying in the -- patrolling the no-fly zones in Iraq?

Petruka: I've got about nine or ten tours, and I've tried to go through my brain and figure out whether it's nine or ten, and I can't tell you; from about 1991 to 1999.

Q: So you've been there for the duration, and ever since the Gulf War, then?

Petruka: Right. I keep going back. It's like my home away from home.

Q: I can understand. So this is a fascinating opportunity, though -- at least, I see it that way -- to talk with somebody who has actually been there and had an experience beyond that of a snippet that we might hear in the news about another attack on our Air Force in patrolling, or another violation of the no-fly zone by the Iraqis. And is this -- I guess -- what would be a regular schedule for you in your patrols?

Petruka: I mean, the regular mission is going to start, and we'll start with a pre-flight briefing, and we'll take a look at the intel reports. We'll see what kind of air defenses have moved around; what our capping is for the day; brief up the flight; go up there, refuel; and then go into the no-fly zone. We'll actually go in and out of the no-fly zone several times based on the need to air refuel. And in the mission, we could be doing any one of a number of things: doing a defensive counter-air, combat air patrol, looking for enemy fighters. We could be looking at targets on the ground. We could be preparing for -- dealing with the air defense, whatever seems appropriate.

Q: Okay. And how many hours are you in the air doing your patrols on the missions?

Petruka: It varies. A nice, short sortie would be three hours from takeoff to landing; longer ones are closer to six.

Q: All right. But that's -- for people that have, I guess, never had any sort of experience with -- personally, or with anyone they knew, six hours flying a patrol, I imagine, can be kind of mentally tiring?

Petruka: It is mentally tiring, and it's physically tiring too, because it is a fairly demanding environment. And I'm sure I don't need to point this out, but I will. There's no flight attendant or bathroom in a fighter cockpit.

Q: I can imagine. So you better go before you leave, just like our parents used to tell us before we go on the trip, huh?

Petruka: That's very much true.

Q: Now, how many times -- and this is the thing. I can -- I couldn't tell you how many times we have heard, because it happens -- it seems to have happened sporadically ever since the end of the Gulf War -- that the Iraqis either fired upon you guys, or they were violating the no-fly zone. How many personal experiences have you had, if any, of this activity?

Petruka: I've been fired at a number of times. I would say only one really serious engagement that I recall. That was the end of 1998. That's where things really started to change in the no-fly zone, and it's been a lot hotter and a lot heavier ever since then. Guys that are flying in the no-fly zones today can expect to see fire every day.

Q: So it is -- what you're telling me is that in recent years, the incidences of being fired upon, or fighter engagements, has been increasing in the no-fly zones in Iraq?

Petruka: Absolutely.

Q: And I mean, what are you -- does it seem to rattle you? I mean, I'm just curious because I would imagine it would, but I don't know to what degree, and how close it comes, I guess, to training and maybe the common experience. Does it bother you to a great degree when you know that you're being fired upon?

Petruka: Well, I wouldn't say it bothers us, but it certainly wakes you up, because that's one of the things you have to be careful about in the no-fly zones is, because the majority of time, nothing is actually happening if you just look at a time scale. But you need to stay awake and alert, so when it does happen, because the enemy always has the initiative. And your first reaction to any kind of encounter that way, where you're being fired at, is basically to run away bravely --

Q: (Inaudible).

Petruka: -- and get yourself out of that situation, and then you can work out what comes next.

Q: So -- and I imagine this is much like anything else. I mean, I was in the Army, but you know, guard duty was never very exciting until all of a sudden, somebody decided to do something. And then, the need to stay awake became quite evident. I --

Petruka: Oh, right. And at that point, you have no difficulty in staying awake.

Q: Let me ask you. Is it -- does it seem clear what the Iraqis are trying to achieve when they fire on you? I'm sure in some instances all you know is that you're being fired upon, but does there seem to be any system to it, or are they just looking for random opportunities to possibly claim a victory in shooting down an American pilot?

Petruka: Well, there's certainly a goal to get an American aircrew. And in fact, there's a 1 million real reward that's been out for a couple of years now, for anyone that brings one in to the Iraqi government. Some of it is harassment fire, and some of it is really -- it looks like an attempt by Iraq, as a matter of national policy to point out that they don't really accept the no-fly zone. They think that's an infringement on their sovereignty.

Q: I'm just again -- it's my understanding that this no-fly zone is part of a U.N. sanction against Iraq. Is this correct?

Petruka: That's correct.

Q: So I mean, basically, this is something that was instrumented and put in place at the end of the Gulf War with the approval of the United Nations. And so, you guys are out there doing a mission that is supposed to be a part of the surrender agreement that Saddam and Iraq agreed to at the end of the Gulf War?

Petruka: And that's correct. The northern no-fly zone, actually came about first, because of the operations that the Iraqis undertook against their Kurdish minority right after the Gulf War. And then in 1992, Southern Watch kicked off. That's a separate set of resolutions, and then it expanded later. So it's an ongoing kind of thing. There's a series of U.N. resolutions. It's not entirely a leftover.

Q: Sure. And this is the thing. Again, I know that there's limitations to what you, as an enlisted member of the military or the Air Force, can talk about. But just as far as the fact -- because these are the sorts of things that are evident to you guys as you're flying your missions. And to clarify, because in the general American public, there's not only a lot of amnesia that goes on, but we've -- this has now gone on since 1991. So the facts surrounding it, especially for younger people, may not be as clear. So that there's -- I know a lot of people are mistaken in continuing thinking this is the United States making this decision, and clearly, we're in support of it. But it was also something that came before the United Nations, and now is -- that's a very topical issue. I think it's important to re-affirm this side.

You guys, obviously, have been doing a phenomenal job in being able to avoid a lot of this. Is -- are they getting any better, I guess would be a question, in their accuracy or in their attempts to take down the fighters that are patrolling the no-fly zone?

Petruka: Are they getting any better? I don't really think they are. Are they getting more innovative? Yes. Possibly more aggressive, and certainly more willing to at least take a shot and do some harassment fire, but it's difficult -- and they certainly learn from our actions. And the risk to us is still fairly high, but I wouldn't say they're getting any better at it. But they are trying awfully hard, and they're working to try and find new and different ways of bringing an airplane down, and they definitely adapt.

Q: Am I mistaken -- and again, I go through so much news, this may not be an accurate recollection. But if I'm not mistaken, just recently, we heard of an Iraqi fighter plane invading the no-fly zone, or violating the no-fly zone?

Petruka: That does happen occasionally.

Q: And are they escorted out, or is it an immediate firing upon that enemy aircraft?

Petruka: Well, it depends on the situation. The no-fly zone, particularly in the south, is awfully big. And so, you can have a guy duck a couple of miles across the border, and we simply can't respond because we can't get a jet there quick enough. And that is actually a very common occurrence. But in both no-fly zones, we've had guys come across the border into the face of our aircraft, and they've been splashed --

Q: Okay.

Petruka: -- as far as the fighters go, and it's -- that's what your chief concern is, is the fighter aircraft crossing the line.

Q: Are you allowed to pursue a violator into other areas after they've left the no-fly zone?

Petruka: That, I'm afraid, is a rules of engagement question, and I can't answer that.

Q: Okay. I understand, I understand. Can you hang on for just a moment?

Petruka: You bet.

Q: We've got a short break coming up, and I'll be right back with you. And it is my pleasure to be talking with United States Air Force Major Mike Petruka, and he has been flying and patrolling the no-fly zones in Iraq. If you got a question, ask a direct question, we'll let you listen on the radio to the response. But keep in mind, you want to restrict your questions to non-political issues and specifically, the missions and what they've been seeing as they've been patrolling. I've still got great questions. We'll be back in a moment. You want to get in 560-KEYS, 560-5397, free for Cingular Wireless callers; U.S. Cellular and Spring PCS callers, pound 1440. I'm Eric Von Wade. It's 4:17.

Announcer: More of the Eric Von Wade Show after this.

(COMMERCIALS PLAYED).

Female Speaker: Hello, sir?

Q: Yeah?

Female Speaker: Hey, are you allowed to take questions?

Petruka: I'll take questions.

Female Speaker: Are you sure?

Petruka: Yeah. Any question I can't answer, I'll say I can't answer.

Female Speaker: Okay, great. All right. We're coming back. Can you hold on for me? Thanks. Stand by, Sonny.

(WEATHER FORECAST BY DAWN MICHAELS).

(MUSIC PLAYED).

Q: And we are back, 4:21 on News Talk 1440 KEYS, a special interview. You don't want to miss out on this. Rarely do we get an opportunity to talk to the guys that are out there protecting our nation's interest, that are in the line of fire. And we are privileged to welcome our special guest today, a man that knows what it's like to actually live what we read about, Air Force Major Mike Petruka. He's been patrolling the no-fly zones in Iraq. And Major, great to have to back with us.

Petruka: Okay. Good to be here.

Q: We've got some people obviously that want to ask you some questions. But I wanted to clarify once again, as we've been telling you, in recent years we have seen -- and you've done anywhere between nine and ten tours in patrolling the no-fly zones in Iraq -- there's been an increase in the amount of times that they have fired upon, or violated the rules of the no-fly zone. I don't even know if you'd know off the top of your head, how many instances there have been since the no-fly zones have been established, that Iraq has violated them.

Petruka: Somebody keeps a count, and it's not me.

Q: Oh, okay.

Petruka: But we are talking well -- if you talk about firing incidents, you're talking well into the thousands.

Q: Man.

Petruka: And the Secretary of Defense at a news conference talked about at least 400 events this year. And keep in mind that when we talk about firings, we don't see all the firings all the time. Those are just the ones that we see and report.

Q: Right.

Petruka: And the number is almost certainly higher.

Q: That is mind-boggling, because I have yet to hear anybody, even -- you know, 400 in one year, I'm not sure if the average American is aware of how often this happens.

Petruka: Well, I think certainly not. When about the end of 1998, when it really picked up, we got a lot of attention for a couple of days, because that was the first time that we'd actually struck back against a surface-to-air missile, a couple of F-15s in the north, F-15Es, chorus flight and bud flight. And I was the lead back-seater in that engagement, and they attacked us from ambush, and we circled back around. Around 18 minutes later, we destroyed the radar, and left. And that made international news for four days, but typically, that's exactly the kind of thing that hits the news for a while. We show some combat video, and it drops from the public consciousness.

Q: Just to me, again, I'm still, you know, mind-boggled at the fact that this has been going on to this extent. And one, it's not larger news when you take it in the grand scope. And secondly -- I don't know if you're aware; I'm certainly not aware -- were there any provisions as far as the U.N. and its resolutions were concerned with, if these no-fly zones were violated, what action would be taken? Is it simply a reaction of those that are patrolling it, and that's as far as it goes? Or are these things reported to any other body in the U.N.?

Petruka: Well, as with many Security Council resolutions, there is no tied-in enforcement mechanism. And that, of course, from a political standpoint, is much harder to get through the Security Council if you tie it to an enforcement mechanism. So in reality, it's up to whatever the current rules of engagement are to what the response is.

Q: So it's almost as if there's no long-term action or practice to deal with these violations. It's on a case-by-case basis, which really boils down to the rules of engagement when it's encountered?

Petruka: That's correct.

Q: And to me, I think this is something the American public needs to be very well aware of, is getting into the thousands of incidents. It seems as if it basically boils down to this -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- but the Iraqis will attempt to fire upon, or violate, as often as they think they have a chance of getting away with it?

Petruka: That's correct.

Q: And in the meantime, we have, you know, people like yourself, American, you know, pilots, American members of the Air Force and military, that their lives are at risk every time this happens. Simply because they haven't gotten any better at it, I'm sure as you know, doesn't mean they won't get lucky.

Petruka: That's exactly right, and that's a key point there, is that in warfare, as in sports, you can do everything right and still lose. And what we hope is that -- we hope that the odds don't catch up with us, or somebody, in the no-fly zones.

Q: Absolutely. If you don't mind, as I said, I'll let people ask their question. And because I know you're only able to stay with us for a few more minutes, I'll let them ask their question, and give me just a second to put them back on their own radio, and they can listen to your response, okay?

Petruka: Okay.

Q: And we'll do that. Let me welcome on -- first up, we have (inaudible). Abel, good to have you on KEYS.

Caller: Yes, sir. I just wanted to ask him what kind of weapons do they use when they do fire on him?

Q: Okay.

Caller: Like if surface-to-air missiles or just small-arm fire, or something like that?

Q: You're curious as to what type of weapons the Iraqis have used to fire on them?

Caller: Yes.

Q: Okay. I appreciate your call, Abel, and I'll let you listen on your radio for the call. And Major?

Petruka: That would be actually the whole bunch. Anti-aircraft fire is the most common because it's difficult to trace it back. Surface-to-air missile fire does happen occasionally. That is very dangerous, obviously, and having it happen to me, I can say it definitely wakes you up. However, again, historically, anti-aircraft fire is the biggest killer of aircraft. And it happens in all calibers and types, and that's the majority of firing incidents.

Q: Is it a volume effect, where they try to throw as much shelling in the air as they can, hoping to strike a target? Or does it seem to be individual anti-aircraft cannons and so forth that they use?

Petruka: It can actually be both.

Q: Okay. And have you encountered any heat-seeking type of a more advanced weaponry, surface-to-air? Or does it seem to be a bit dated material?

Petruka: No. The heat-seeking, we tend to operate at altitudes high enough that it's difficult to be engaged by those kind of systems.

Q: Okay.

Petruka: Radar-guided systems are definitely employed against us.

Q: And that, in fact, is where you guys have taken out some of their radar stations when they have fired on you with that sort of equipment?

Petruka: Absolutely.

Q: I tell you, I'm proud to know we have fine people over there such as yourself that are doing this job, because it's, to a degree, in the States, been a thankless job. And I hope that that changes because, indeed, we're looking at someone here who has -- Saddam Hussein and Iraq have waged a somewhat effective PR war in this situation. And it's been somewhat aided by either the lack of interest, or a combination of a lack of emphasis by the United States media in informing us about what's going on. Clearly, when you start to hear what's been happening over the span of time ever since the end of the Gulf War, it's hard to buy the picture of a leader who simply wants to live in peace and take care of his people. And that could easily be done if they would not intentionally, as it currently would have to be, violate the no-fly zones and try to engage, or shoot down, the patrolling planes. But I'm not sure if there's -- if we still have you.

Petruka: You've still got me.

Q: I got you. And maybe there's something you just couldn't respond to?

Petruka: Well, no. It isn't necessarily that. I mean, we should demonstrate -- it should be fairly clear that Saddam is not interested in either the welfare of his own people, or anything else related. And we wouldn't really expect him, a jackal really, to lie down with the sheep, if I can mix my metaphors.

Q: Right.

Petruka: And so, that's something to be very wary of.

Q: Have there been any new concerns as far as what type of dangers that you guys are facing in recent times? Has it just simply been an increase, or are there new threats that have been specifically outlined?

Petruka: Well, without getting into specifics, I can say that they're trying to be as innovative as possible, and that's all I can say on that.

Q: I understand. And I want to tell you, we're just about out of time. I know that you're about out of time, but Major, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us. Thank you for the job that you're doing, and I wish you the very best. Hope to have you home soon. All right?

Petruka: Okay.

Q: Thank you so much. That was Major Mike Petruka, Air Force fighter pilot. Back in a moment.

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