This is an email from a USAF A10 pilot from
Afghanistan describing a
trip to brief the staff at HQ -- pretty funny stuff. I think we can all
relate ... Remember, war is hell ... but hilarious!
I apologize for not writing to you all for the last few days, but I
had to go away for a few days to a place where I could not check my
email. I know that makes it sound like I went someplace cool, but as you
will see that is not the case.
Before I can relate the story, I must first define a few terms for
you non-military types:
1. REMF - (remf') n. Short for Rear Echelon Mother F---er. A term used
to describe an individual deployed to the rear echelons supposedly
supporting the warfighters farther forward; rear being defined as:
a. not forward or anywhere near the front lines,
b. out of harms way, and
c. having most if not all the amenities from home.
REMFs are easily identified through the following distinguishing
a. REMFs uniforms are always cleaned and pressed. No dirt or mud
from the front. (Occasionally the uniforms will carry a small sweat
stain, but only when the line to the on-base Baskin Robbins ice cream
was especially long that day.)
b. REMFs are often sunburned from spending too much time at the base
c. REMFs have their very own battle cries - similar to the "Semper
Fi!" of the US Marines or the "Huah!" of the US Army", such as (i) "The
line for the beer is too long - it sucks here!"; (ii) "The DVD player
keeps skipping - it sucks here!"; (iii) "This is no-hat, no-salute
2. CAOC - (ka' ok) n.
a. Synonym for chaos: extreme confusion or disorder.
b. Short for Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) - the
organization tasked with the command and control of all air and space
operations in this theater.
c. Large conglomeration of REMFs with little to no concept of how
things are actually going on the frontlines.
3. Al Udeid - (al yoo deed') n.
a. US air base in Qatar.
b. Location of the Operation Enduring Freedom CAOC.
c. Home of the majority of REMFs in this theater.
d. Owner/operator of a base pool, indoor/outdoor gym,
indoor/outdoor bar and entertainment pavilion, Pizza Hut, Baskin Robins,
5 dining facilities and multiple indoor heated shower and bathroom
4. Qatar - (gu' ter) n.
a. Oil-rich country in the Persian Gulf, adjacent to Saudi Arabia
south of Kuwait and north of UAE.
b. Host nation of Al Udeid Air Base.
c. Small country that is afraid of its larger sister country to the
west (Saudi Arabia) and so has let the US set up HQ there.
So our saga begins with my tasking to proceed to the CAOC at Al
Udeid, Qatar to brief the director, a 1-star general, on A-10
capabilities here in paradise and ways in which we can improve the
overall air operations from our perspective. Armed with this tasking, my
education as an Air Force pilot and weapons officer, and my extensive
Microsoft PowerPoint (tm) skills,
I built my presentation. The first thing you all must know is that a
Major (O-4) never gets to brief a Brigadier General (O-7) without first
presenting the briefing to two O-5s (Lieutenant Colonels) and an O-6
(Colonel). Here is when you learn the ugly truths about military
1. You are not smart enough to know what to brief. Even if you are
the highest qualified pilot in the unit you do not have enough
experience to properly form cohesive thoughts and bullets. For these
actions, you need an O-6.
2. You are actually giving the briefing the O-6 wants to give.
Unfortunately, he fails to provide you any guidance until you have
completed hours of preparation. During the "review" process the O-6
torpedoes your slides and you start over with the O-6 sitting a chair
next to you providing helpful and timely suggestions. Repeated attempts
of saying, "sir, do you want to just give the briefing?" go unanswered.
3. Your choice of color, font size and bullet will be carefully
scrutinized. Apparently a little check mark is better than a dot or
square for bullets these days. I was unaware of this new Air Force staff
/ REMF requirement, thus the need for rule number one. With a completely
rewritten, but O-6 approved briefing, I am ready to travel to Al Udeid.
We'll pick up that story in Part II...
OK, so we left off with my finely tuned PowerPoint briefing and
myself awaiting transportation to the CAOC. Again, I must start off with
a few definitions:
1. Herbivore - (er be vore') n.
a. A plant eating animal.
b. A "heavy" / airlift pilot.
c. A military transport aircraft. Synonym: "grass-eater"
2. Herc - (herk') n.
a. Colloquialism for C-130 Hercules aircraft.
b. A so-called "tactical" airlift aircraft used for intra-theater
resupply, personnel movement and medical evacuation.
c. A herbivore manned by 2 pilots, a navigator, a flight engineer,
and several loadmasters.
Because of the threat potential here at Bagram, most of the
herbivores come in to graze during the night. Thus, my flight to Qatar
left at 0200 (that is 2:00 am). To make things more fun, we are in
blacked-out conditions so you have to run onboard a C-130 with its
engines running and no lights on. All the flight crew is wearing full
battle regalia, to include armored vests and helmets. I poked my head in
the cockpit and the pilots are sitting there with NVGs on and hand on
the throttles ready to spring to life if the base gets attacked... Since
we live here and do not wear that much gear I find it amusing they are
that nervous. Then I started wondering if they know something we
The flight is uneventful until we get to Pakistan. As a pilot I can
sit on the flightdeck and they usually give you an extra headset to
listen to what is going on and to be able to talk with the crew. Upon
entering the cockpit, I noticed the entire crew was watching a DVD movie
on a laptop computer. I started to ask if anyone was looking outside as
we were flying under visual conditions, but opted to keep quiet.
Besides, it was a good movie - the Patriot.
I take my seat in the rear of the flightdeck when all hell breaks
loose - a klaxon starts going off with warning tones and the entire left
side if the aircraft is engulfed in an orange light. From my
perspective, it appears as though we are on fire. Fortunately, my calm
herbivore crew informs me its the missile warning system jettisoning
protection flares - the system is just malfunctioning. "It does that..."
they assure me. The weapons officer side of me is now curious - "what
type of system are you using?" I ask. Blank stares. "What types of
flares do you have?" More blank stares. "Uh, we're not sure," they
respond. "I think the Chief knows but he's asleep."
So we go back to watching our DVD with the knowledge that (i) we do
not know how our protection system works, and (ii) it's not a problem
because we are over the "friendly" nation of Pakistan! Very reassuring.
We land uneventfully in Qatar six hours later. We actually land in
Doha, another US air base co-located with an international airport. From
here we have to take ground transportation to Al Udeid. We jump in a
Nissan Pathfinder, the SUV of choice in Qatar, and make our way to the
Qatar is like every other middle eastern country I've been to: all
new roads, lots of BMWs, and thousands of stores selling gold, jewelry,
rugs and furniture. The odd part is seeing the odd Kentucky Fried
Chicken or Taco Bell restaurant; wouldn't think those would be big hits
here. Along the way our driver realizes he has left his ID on the roof
and pulls the SUV off the road - instantly you can tell the passengers
that came from Afghanistan as they tuck into a ball and wince-you do not
EVER pull off a road over there. But, no land mines in Qatar, so we
proceed onto the base.
All joking aside, Al Udeid is everything you would expect of a new
airbase. Impressive. Everything new and well-built. We pull into the
living area of the base and there are literally hundreds of new tents.
We enter the billeting tent... now at this point I have bags in both
hands, I am unarmed and my hat is still on. This is important, because
within the first 5 minutes of being on a REMF base, a REMF tells me,
"Sir, I need you to take your hat off inside." Had I BEEN armed, I would
have shot her. Welcome to the rear echelon.
Surprisingly, the REMFs are well organized an inprocessing takes
only a few minutes. We are assigned transient quarters (a tent of our
own) and the most important document you need at Al Udeid - the beer
ration card. This all-powerful piece of paper entitles you to three
malted beverages per day.
I wept. We stowed our gear in our tents then went over to the
"pavilion." In a word, "pavilion" best describes the differences Bagram
and the rear echelon. The pavilion is a huge covered outdoor
entertainment area. It has tables and chairs for 200-300 people, and
sits adjacent the base pool, an indoor/outdoor gym and fitness center, a
recreation center with morale computers and DVD players, an
entertainment soundstage, and the indoor/outdoor bar. Amazing. We saddle
up to the bar, present our ration card, and (no surprises here) I order
up a Guinness.
For the next 2 hours, I savored my three beers and relaxed in the
warmth of the 85 degree sunny weather. I even considered becoming a
REMF... until I heard one complain that the line for beer was too long
and how bad it "sucked" at Al Udeid. Again, had I been armed I would've
shot him. Fortunately for him my aim would have been bad anyway since I
haven't had a beer in awhile...
Part III - the briefing.
Before I begin, I must respond to comments that I must have way too
much time on my hands for sending these emails. I completely concur. In
my defense, however, I just got back and some REMF stink is still on me.
That, and I can't sleep. Also, some of my definitions are tailored for
my non-military friends, so do not hammer me with "technically the
definition is..." This is only humor! However, the quotes I use are
no-kidding 100% accurate. So I left off enjoying my three beers at Al
Udeid. Once again, before I can continue I need to provide a few more
definitions/cast of characters:
1. Close Air Support (CAS): The Lord's work. Doing whatever is
required to protect friendly forces engaged with the enemy. An extremely
complicated, communications intensive mission. Only the A-10 and AC-130
are recognized CAS experts as we are the only pilots who train for CAS
on a regular basis in the Air Force.
2. Troops-in-Contact (TIC): Worst case scenario for CAS pilots.
Friendly troops are engaged with and in close proximity (< 1km) to the
enemy. When this happens, special procedures apply and time is critical,
for obvious reasons.
3. Big Board: In the CAOC, there is a multi-story room that houses
operations. Large projection systems show ongoing operations on huge
screens that can be read by everyone in the room. If you have ever seen
the movie Wargames, that is exactly what it looks like. These boards
combined are referred to as the Big Board. Again, all joking aside the
facility is impressive.
4. CAOC Director: A brigadier general (also known as an O-7 or a
'1-star') in charge of the CAOC, who oversees all the air and space
operations in this theater. Generally referred to as "the Man." In a
rare occurrence (the planets must have misaligned), our current director
is a former A-10 pilot!
5. Chief of Current Operations (CCO): Usually a lieutenant colonel
(also known as an O-5). Subordinate to the director. Facilitates ongoing
air operations by moving aircraft to the wrong areas, denying requests
to descend to lower altitudes, and giving crystal clear instructions
like, "request you notify the CAOC if there is an impending
Troops-in-Contact." (OK, we'll ask the enemy to give us a 5 minute heads
up when they are getting ready to attack so we can pre-coordinate with
you...). In a word- "middle management"
Theoretically, CCOs are (former) pilots and equally qualified for
the job. However, there are really four types of CCOs:
a. Herbivore CCOs. Stare at the big board in the CAOC in amazement
that all of these aircraft can move freely without the assistance of a
navigator. Fun to work with because they have no idea what you are
talking about and will agree to whatever you want as long as you sound
convincing. Easy to identify as they will start their sentences with
"you know, I'm a pilot too..."
b. Bomber CCOs. Dropped a few GPS bombs during Operation Anaconda
and now consider themselves to be CAS experts. They see no problem of
assigning a B-1 to do helicopter escort from 25,000 feet with a weather
deck at 5,000 feet. Very difficult to work with during TICs because they
cannot fathom that targets actually move. Also easy to identify as they
end all their sentences with, "and if all else fails, we have B-52s with
'weather-friendly' GPS bombs on board..."
c. Fighter CCOs. Read about CAS once at Air Command and Staff
College. A complete pain to work with as they have no idea what they are
doing but as fighter pilots cannot admit it. Avoid controversial
decisions as they may impede progression onto Colonel. Difficult to
identify until they say something like, " You know, I did CAS once over
d. Attack CCOs. The perfect combination of experience and
aggressiveness. The ideal leadership for the CAS war in Afghanistan.
Impossible to identify as they do not exist - those few A-10 pilots
fortunate enough to make Lt Col are delegated subordinate duties to the
CCOs or assigned to more glorious assignments on the front lines.
e. JAG: (i) Acronym for Judge Advocate General. (ii). A "combat"
lawyer who sits beside "the Man" and advises him on all things legal.
(iii) Responsible for the theater Rules of Engagement (ROE) and ensuring
they are at least 300 pages, are riddled with legalese, double-talk and
contradictory statements so pilots can always be found in violation just
for taking off... (iv) A REALLY bad television show on CBS with a cute
Now armed with the requisite knowledge of the players, the story
Life for CAOC REMFs is an arduous cycle of eating, briefing, eating,
briefing, drinking their beer ration and sleeping. Many have taken to
the notion that if you sleep 12 hours a day, you cut your tour in half.
We joined up with the night shift as that is when "the Man" works. Our
evening began at 2300 (11 pm) with midnight chow. To ensure all the
REMFs are happy, there are two food lines: one for those who want
"dinner" fare, and one for those who want "breakfast." No lunch food at
2300 - sorry! And you cannot get made-to-order omelets at this meal
either, which was a real disappointment. Post midnight meal we make our
way to the CAOC. I cannot adequately describe the impression you get
when you enter the building. I know my emails are riddled with sarcasm,
but in all honesty it is one of the most impressive facilities I have
ever seen. The Air Force had the luxury of building this facility before
any personnel were assigned, and they did it right. State of the art
technology. Taxpayers everywhere should be proud!
OK back to the sarcasm...
For obvious reasons I cannot discuss much of what goes on or
information that is displayed. However, one of the most humorous things
I noticed was the Predator video. For those not familiar, the Predator
is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The concept is that in situations
that may be hazardous to pilots and more expensive aircraft, the CAOC
will send in a UAV to search and identify targets or threats, and it
provides real-time assessment of airstrike success and failures. In
reality, however, UAVs like the Predator allow the CCO to see what is
going on real-time without asking troublesome pilots directly for
information. This produces three less-than-desirable outcomes:
(1) the CAOC is reluctant to conduct operations without a Predator
(2) they move the Predator right in the middle of where the real
aircraft are working to watch what is going on which impedes the Lord's
(3) the Predator video is like crack for the REMFs - watching the
video feed empowers them with the feeling they are directly fighting the
The CAOC is very protective of its Predators. One night the weather
was completely awful, and we asked the CCO to weather cancel our
fighters, or at least put them on weather hold. The CCO denied the
request, stating that the Army needed our support, and by-God, he was
going to support them (fighter guy - no controversial decisions). So we
launched into some really bad weather. Mind you, we could not see the
ground and could not have done anything even if we needed to.
A short time later, the Predators asked to weather cancel. The
response was, and I am not making this up, "Weather cancel approved. You
guys are too valuable to risk on a night like this."
So, our life value is something less than a large balsa wood model
with a snowboard engine and a television camera. That will not play well
with my life insurance agency.
Anyway, back to the video. While I was at the CAOC the weather was
unusually bad and the Predators were not flying. However, their video
feed was still being displayed on the Big Board - pictures from inside
the hanger, sitting on the ramp, out on the taxiway, etc. Why? No idea.
But I look at it as something akin to smokers trying to quit who pick up
used cigarette butts to try and get a final hit - they just can't help it.
So we get inside the CAOC and my initial excitement fades as we
attend the first of series of long, useless briefings on the next day's
Air Attack Plan. First, there is the "pre-brief" where we review the
"brief". Perhaps brief is the wrong noun because no one actually says
anything. In reality, the "briefer" simply presses the "next" key and
the audience stares vacantly at the presentation. Occasionally there is
a "no changes" or "same as yesterday" comment, but whenever there is a
"any questions?" the silence is deafening.
Upon completion, we move to a larger room for the "brief" where the
exercise is repeated, only the average rank of the audience has
increased by a factor of two. Upon completion of the "brief" the plan is
approved, everyone congratulates themselves on a job well done and heads
off to breakfast. And its only 4:00 am.
The lesson learned here is who ever prepares the "pre-brief" slides
is, by default, running the entire air war in Afghanistan...
So after breakfast (they do make made-to-order omelets at this
meal!) we head back and brief "the Man." For all my whining and sarcasm
over the last few emails, the brief goes extremely well. The general
concurred with most of our recommendations and was glad we took the time
to come brief him.
Mission accomplished! All the pain was worthwhile, we are
Then, unthinkably, "the Man" asks the JAG for comments. The JAG
announces he is "uncomfortable" with two of our suggestions which now
means I have to produce two background papers on the topics for his
review prior to their implementation. Strike 1. Then more of our
recommendations are staffed to the CCOs for review. Strike 2. Our final
recommendation is staffed to the herbivore rep as it deals with air
refueling. Any guesses? Strike 3. We'll see - he's still reviewing it,
but he is "uncomfortable" with the proposal - stole that legal term from
the JAG. Another background paper and more wasted time. When it is all
said and done we'll be lucky if we get 25% of what we recommended, but
for the Air Force that is a victory. Unfortunately, that 25% victory
will take 6 months to implement...
Fortunately, it is a new day and I have three beers on my ration
card. After that, we have to head back to Afghanistan, which I'll save
for Part IV.