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Vipers in the Storm
Pilot Debreif


1) Flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon, especially in combat during Operation Desert Storm, is a thrill few individuals have experienced.  What inspired you to become a fighter pilot?

During my time as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy I learned a lot about the missions of the different USAF aircraft and the lifestyles of the pilots. There was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to fly fighters and "kick ass and take names."MARK “STITCH” MILLER

2) When did you join the Air Force, and what was your first flying assignment after completing Undergraduate Pilot Training?

I graduated from the Academy in 1982 and went to Sheppard AFB for Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training. My first assignment in the F-16 was Torrejon AB, Spain; the best flying and lifestyle I've ever experienced. My wife and I toured Europe, I flew as much as I wanted, and life was good.

3) What aircraft have you flown, and what are the different bases you have been assigned to during your Air Force career?

Other than pilot training I have only flown the F-16. I have flown in the F-15 and F-18 and am glad I'm a Viper pilot. I've been stationed at MacDill, Torrejon, Hill, Nellis, Ft Meade, Maxwell, Shaw, and back to Nellis.

4) Which models of the F-16 have you flown, and how many hours do you have in the Viper?

I've flown every model of the Viper built and every Block with the exception of the Block 1 and 5. Right now I have about 3740 hours in the Viper.

5) What was your best assignment and why?

Tough question. I've enjoyed every assignment in the F-16, but, they say your first love is your best love. Along those lines I'd have to say that Torrejon AB, Spain was my best assignment. I was a Lt. in Europe with a beautiful wife and no kids during the Cold War when we had as many flying hours as we could use. Life doesn't get much better than that. My first child was born in the Torrejon hospital and I'll never forget that.

6) This year marks the ten year anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the beginning of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. Looking back, what was the experience of combat like for you?

The first week was exciting and terrifying. None of us had ever experienced combat before so we really didn't know what to expect. Despite the apparent route portrayed by CNN, the Iraqis fought hard the first week. Here's a little war story: "Woody" Palmer was my wingman during the war. He was a "green" LT. from Oklahoma. The Ops O, Tim Nall, asked me if I wanted to replace him for the first night of the war since he was the only LT in our 8 ship. I told him that Woody was a good stick and wingman and I wanted him in the package. After he barely averted a mid-air on the way to the tanker (through no fault of his own), we refueled and pushed towards our target. As Nall approached the IP he was still in the weather. He made a radio call to the flight saying that if we were still in the weather at the IP to jettison our ordnance and RTB. As I looked at my RADAR I saw that he was already past the IP so I queried him on the call. Things were so crazy at that point that he didn't have time to respond. All of us pressed to the target and dropped our bombs except Woody. He jettisoned his at the IP as directed by the flight lead. This set up our RTB to Minhad with Woody 10 minutes in front of the rest of the flight. As he checked in with tower he called as # 8 on final to land. The tower folks assumed that he meant a flight of 8 and asked him to confirm that. Since he was single ship he told them that he was by himself. You can imagine the thoughts going through everybody in the tower thinking that the wing had lost 7 of 8 airplanes on the first night of the war. Ten minutes later the rest of us checked in and the hearts stopped beating so hard. After the debrief, Woody and I went back to our hooch and we were going to celebrate our first combat mission with a shot of whiskey that his sister had sent him and we were saving for this occasion. Woody did not want to do the shot because he felt like he didn't deserve it. I made him down the shot and told him that he had done exactly what he was told. He later went on to become the best wingman in the war; he could literally read my mind at night with our lights out and always be in position. I was able to get him a DFC out of the conflict.

7) How many combat missions did you fly, and is there one particular mission that stands out more than any other?

I flew 34 missions and the mission that stands out the most occurred on the third night of the war. I flew on night one and did the Mission Planning Cell on night two. As I went to bed late that afternoon I got woken up at about 2100 and told to get to the squadron to go fly. I'd gotten about 3 hours sleep. That was the night that the Iraqis had launched their first SCUD at Israel. Woody and I were told to launch and land in Saudi, get gas and contact the local command post for instructions. We landed around midnight in terrible weather and taxied to the hot-pits. While in the pits I contacted command post and they told us to launch ASAP and proceed to a tanker track. After rejoining with the tanker about 0300 we got gas and held with him for 3 hours. Finally, I couldn't stand it any more and I went over to AWACS on the secure frequency and asked them what we were doing. They said we were sitting airborne alert. Since I knew that we had 24-hour coverage with the F-15s against Iraqi Migs I asked them what we were sitting alert for. They hesitated, but eventually told me that it was for SCUDS. We stayed airborne for almost 8 hours (on 3 hours sleep) before I finally told them that we had to go home. They finally gave us a target that was up in NW Iraq. It was supposed to be a fixed SCUD site. As Woody and I pushed across the border to hit the target the weather got worse. About the time that we got a hot RADAR contact  on an unknown Woody lost sight of me due the weather. We aborted back to Saudi in the weather and RTBed. There is no way that we would have made it to the target that they gave us and gotten back into friendly airspace. We never did find out what the hot contact was. I researched it later and apparently there were no Iraqi airplanes that launched that day due to the weather so I can only assume that it was a friendly Eagle CAP; AWACS said nothing. By the way, all of the strike packages were aborted that day due to weather.

8) What do you remember most about your time spent in the United Arab Emirates at Al Minhad AB?

I remember the great friends that I met and the way different people react during stressful situations. I would not trade the experience I had with some of the great folks in our military for the world. Combat truly does bring out the best (and worst) in people.

9) What have you been doing since the war, and where are you now?

I have been flying the Viper with a minor speed bump doing the Staff/School thing. Currently I am doing the best job in the world; commanding the 422 Test and Evaluation Squadron – the "Green Bats" at the "Home of the Fighter Pilot" Nellis AFB, Las Vegas, NV!


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Copyright © 2003 by Keith A. Rosenkranz.  All rights reserved.
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