“Copy, Panther. Good work.”
We stayed on station for a few minutes longer as British Jaguar reconnaissance jets overflew the site and snapped some pictures. Then it was time to start the whole elephant walk of getting all 30 aircraft out of the AOR in an orderly fashion.
As I taxied into our hardened shelter at Incirlik, I looked down at the floorboard of my jet. I had one last call to make to operations.
“Ops, Rambo 1. Bring out some cleaning stuff. I’ve got ham-and-cheese sandwich all over the cockpit.”
“Rambo, ops, we’ll scramble the cleaners.”
That night at our tent city bar, everyone recounted their heroics. The F-16s accused us of trying to take out the SAM site by dropping our wing tanks on it and offered to give us lessons in bombing techniques.
This bought a quick response from the F-15Es, who came to our defense, thanking the F-16s for using their errant bombs to bracket the target so well that the F-15s had no trouble identifying it.
The F-4G pilots offered a theory that the Iraqis were trying to put a swimming pool in the area and figured that U.S. 2,000-pound bombs were the most effective way to dig the hole. The Intel officer described how the SAM operator would be all decked out in track clothes ready to push the button and then try to set a world record in the 400-meter “HARM evasion” event.
Finally, I received the final award of the night, from the Brit Jaguar pilots. Thankfully, there were no casualties, they said, so there would be no Purple Hearts awarded. But a little-known instance of collateral damage from the battle over Iraq had been the catastrophic failure of my sandwich, to which one Brit pilot added, “Oh, the humanity.” I was promptly awarded a pink heart, for incredible self-sacrifice in the face of enemy action.