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Click here to view the Chapter 6 Takeoff Tapes.
We walked into the briefing room a few minutes before 05:30 and sat in the same order as our formation would fly - a standard procedure for large-force employments. I took the number six seat in the second row. Lt. Col. Scott would lead the package, so he took charge of the briefing, beginning with role call and then a time back.
The plan was to launch four elements, each consisting of six aircraft. Each element would be escorted by its own KC-10 Extender, responsible both for air-to-air refueling and the transportation of personnel and equipment. Three aircraft would fly on each wing of the
KC-10, with thirty minutes separating each of the six-ship packages.
Less than 10 minutes to go before engine start. My stomach is in knots. I always have a few jitters before a sortie, but its never been this bad before. Once I'm airborne, I know it will all go away. I put my gloves on, connect my parachute harness, and climb into the cockpit. My crew chief follows me up the ladder and helps me strap in. He
wishes be luck, shakes my hand, and says he will see me on the ground once we arrive in the UAE. As he removes the ladder from the side of the aircraft, I put on my helmet, connect my microphone, and plug in my G-suit. I adjust the rudder pedals and then strap my checklist and lineup card to my legs. After completing my before-start checklist, I take a few deep breaths and stare at the Wasatch Mountains. The scent of JP-4 fills the air.
Once I reach the arming area, I park my F-16 along side the other seven jets and wave to Colette. She knows my tail number and waves back as I patiently wait for the arming crews to finish their final inspections.
Time passes quickly, and before long, I notice the next KC-10 taxiing
toward the arming area. Lt. Col. Rackley and the second element are right behind. Twenty minutes have passed since the first element departed. The giant KC-10 takes the runway and, five minutes later, takes off. Finally, it's our turn to leave. Lt. Col. Rackley leads our
formation onto the runway. As soon as we're in place, he gives us the engine run-up signal. With my feet planted firmly on the brakes, I push up the throttle. At 80 percent RPM, I make one last check of my engine instruments. Everything looks good. I give Vicious a big head-nod, and a few seconds later, T-Rack begins to roll. One after another, the Vipers take off. As soon as Vicious releases his brakes, I
begin the twenty-second countdown. With ten seconds to go, I run up my engine. A lump in my throat, I look over at Colette. We wave. I release my brakes, start to roll down the runway, accelerate rapidly, and am airborne within four thousand feet. I raise my landing gear, and as I pass by the control tower, I rock my wings in salute. We are on our way.