My son Ian is in Kuwait, serving his country as a crew chief for the A-10 Warthog. His work carries considerable responsibility, especially for a 19-year-old. But he was prepared to do his job by the outstanding training he received in the United States Air Force. Ian recently wrote family and friends an e-mail that describes his plane and its lethal payload. A follow-up e-mail shows that our son is trying to keep focused on his job and not dwell too much about the death and destruction around him. The subject line of the first e-mail was “The A-10″:
We’ve had a break in the sandstorms, so the birds are in the air more. I’m pleased the A-10 is getting so much publicity these days. It’s about time. The F-16, B-2, and B-52 steal all the glory. They are impressive aircraft compared to my slow, ugly Warthog. But while the A-10 may be the ugly duckling of the Air Force, it is tough and lethal and saving the lives of American troops. That makes us proud.
Yesterday, for example, one of our convoys came under attack. We scrambled and were able to save the convoy by inflicting massive firepower and fear on the attackers. It feels good when we make that kind of impact.
Here’s a little on my routine. I work 7 days a week. I wake up at 0530, go to chow, and get myself to the flight line. I go out to my jet which, by the way, is the “flagship” of the fleet. It is the commander’s plane, and it has special wing markings and the 9-11 “Let’s Roll” logo. I prep the jet and do everything it takes to make sure it can get in the air and unleash hell. I launch the pilot out, then recover the plane whenever it comes back. My day is consumed with the needs of my baby. Whatever it needs, I provide. Then, around 1900-1930, I get back to the compound, eat, and go to bed.
Now here’s a little on my baby, the A-10. The aircraft is built around a 30mm Gatling cannon. It has seven barrels and fires 70 rounds a second. The rounds are a “party mix” which consists of depleted uranium rounds followed by incendiary phosphorus. The uranium punches through armor; the phosphorus follows and burns at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. At 70 rounds per second, it is very impressive. Whenever the plane fires, it slows considerably and shakes a lot of screws loose. So when it comes back, we have to tighten things up.
The A-10 also has 11 pylon stations for weapons…. When all the munitions are used, we bring Hell to the field.
Ian’s next e-mail to family and friends came Sunday morning. Its subject line was “Sunny, Sandy, Sensational Kuwait.”
We have all been working hard turning jets. The pace is fierce, but so is the wrath we inflict. I feel mental fatigue creeping up on me. After working 12 hours or more in the sun, I burn out. My body recovers after rest, but mentally I am tiring.
The birds continue to come back empty. We talk to the pilots about where they were, what they hit, and what it was like. They are pumped before and after the flight. After we recover them, they get out with a big dip in their mouths and start telling us about all the things they blew up. It can be scary and awesome at the same time. I had a pilot tell me yesterday he had 11 confirmed vehicle kills with my bird.
I don’t know why, but I don’t think too much about what is actually happening. I work on an aircraft whose function is to kill people and break things. I assist the pilot in destroying tanks, APCs, artillery, bunkers, and buildings that have people in them. The other day, we hit a building with a suspected 200 Iraqi troops in it. I gave it some thought, but didn’t dwell on it. I know it’s happening, but I let it pass. It’s something that I know needs to be done, and I will do my best to help get it done. Another crew chief is struggling with this. He asked me if it bothers me that we do what we do. I told him no. It doesn’t when I think about what Saddam Hussein and the Republican Guard have done to the people of Iraq. Torture. Rape. Chemical attacks. The Republican Guard deserve what we serve.
On a lighter note, I just got promoted! Effective Tuesday, I will be a senior airman. I completed my courses, put in my time, and volunteered to come to the desert. Because of that, my supervisor put me in last month, and the commander approved! I really feel a sense of accomplishment. Now I can say I got my 3rd stripe in the desert.
I hope all is well back in the States. I keep thinking about all the things I’m going to do when I get back. This is wishful thinking, but if I’m back before the end of the semester, I want to party with all you MSU [Michigan State] people. I’ll be spending some quality time with my family (including my dogs) and those of you who will still be in East Lansing during the summer.
I don’t think I’ll be back that soon. My orders are cut for a year. At the very least I would like to come back by fall semester so I can continue at James Madison [the honor college at Michigan State]. I guess I just have to leave it up to God.
Mom and Dad have been forwarding e-mails from people all over America and the world. I don’t know these people, but their prayers and support mean a lot to me and the other guys here. They really do help us — more than they know….
— Gleaves Whitney is editing a book of wartime speeches by American presidents, to be published later this year by Rowman & Littlefield. This is the sixth in a series of reports about his 19-year-old son Ian, who is serving in Kuwait with the Michigan Air National Guard.