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Guard members reveal details of their missions

November 07, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - On his last mission in the Middle East, Senior Airman Scott Nye found himself evacuating injured soldiers, some of whom could walk, some of whom were confined to litters.

Also loaded into the C-130 cargo plane were human remains.

"It made everything very real," said Nye, of Hagerstown. "You see stuff on TV and you realize that's actually happening."

Nye was one of a dozen West Virginia Air National Guard members who participated in a discussion with the media Thursday afternoon.

Because of lessened security measures, members of the 167th Airlift Wing for the first time were able to discuss specifics of their missions.

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Using a PowerPoint presentation, Lt. Col. Michael C. McMillie explained what Guard members have been doing in the Middle East and Central and South America since March.

In the Middle East, soldiers were stationed at Masirah, an island off the coast of Oman. When they were not working 16- to 18-hour days, the soldiers played miniature golf, basketball, volleyball, cards or chess.

The chow hall had ice cream and a salad bar, and each soldier called a 6-foot-by-8-foot space within a tent home.

Proud of their state, local soldiers painted a large West Virginia emblem on one tent and hoisted a state flag. It flew for only a few days before Oman officials asked that it be taken down, McMillie said.

Sweltering heat took its toll. After taking an allotted three-minute shower, soldiers would find themselves sweaty again by the time they returned to their tent.

Frequent, necessary hydration during the day didn't pay off at night, when soldiers found themselves heading to the latrine three or four times, said Staff Sgt. Robert Souders, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

Inside the planes, especially if all four engines were running, soldiers experienced unimaginable heat thanks to temperatures of 110 to 115 degrees, said Maj. Brion Hansrote, of Martinsburg.

"It was worse than walking into a sauna," he said.

As a loadmaster, Nye often found himself in the cargo area. He was at a loss for words as to how to describe it.

"It was hot. I don't know how else to explain it," he said.

Nye will return to the Middle East next month for a 45-day rotation.

"Nobody looks forward to going over there," he said.

McMillie said the need to constantly be aware of what was happening, combined with lengthy missions, made life difficult. Often crews would start working in the afternoon and stop the next morning.

Capt. Carla Riner, a pilot from Winchester, Va., said she found the monotony of downtime stressful. Keeping one's mind active is difficult when it's impossible to drive to a mall, movie theater or even McDonald's, she said.

A desire to see something - anything - green prompted one man to plant a small tree near the tents, Young said. He said he had no idea where the soldier found the tree, but said it was kept alive with bottled water. A sign placed under it read "Omani National Forest."

Capt. Chris Sigler, a pilot from Martinsburg, has been to the desert three times, most recently from June 29 to Aug. 6 in Oman and from Sept. 3 to Oct. 24 in Qatar.

He's an old pro at what to pack: "Shorts and T-shirts."

A lot of patience was required to deal with the flights since something almost always changed, including either the cargo or destination, Sigler said. Flying at all hours of the day also was a challenge.

"Your body clock was kind of messed up," he said.

Flying was both intense and fun, in part because there were fewer airspace restrictions, Sigler said.

Although heading to the desert is not the most desirable assignment, it's balanced by trips to places like Hawaii, he said. With 11 years under his belt, Sigler said he intends to stick it out with the Guard.

All of the Guard members who participated in the meeting agreed that 167th maintenance crews are top of the line. Riner said members of other units were amazed at how clean the C-130s were kept.

"Our maintenance guys are miracle workers," said Master Sgt. Thomas W. Young, a flight engineer.

In Central and South America, local Guard members flew 360 sorties, delivered 1,739 passengers, dropped off 588 tons of cargo and visited 36 airfields and 20 countries.

Every mission there was accomplished, they said.

In the Middle East, troops flew 1,110 sorties, delivered 2,517 passengers, 2,123 tons of cargo and visited 40 airfields and 18 countries.

Guard members did not complete one mission, which McMillie said was called off at the last minute. For all intents and purposes, he said, the success rate in the Middle East was 100 percent.

"We were the best over there, bar none," he said.

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