Local News

Pope Airmen Aware of Persian Gulf Risks

Posted November 18, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— President Clinton is again beefing up our military presence in the Persian Gulf. While there's no call to action for added fighters from Pope Air Force Base, they're still in the thick of the action in Southern Iraq.

There are about 200 Pope airmen now in the Persian Gulf, and their focus is on Iraq. They're about half way through a 45 day assignment. It's part of a routine rotation, but when you're dealing with Saddam Hussein, there's really no such thing as routine.

"You worry all the time when they're flying, definitely when you have the treat that their security is threatened," says pilot wife, Charlotte Fulton. "They might get shot down, or they might become actively involved. To say you feel threatened would be a big understatement."

Fulton is keeping a close eye on developments in Iraq, because her husband is flying missions there. Major Paul Fulton is with the 75th Fighter Squadron, which left for an air base in Kuwait last month. The Pope unit is helping enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq.

Fulton tries not to focus on it very much. She spends her time going about her daily business, and gains comfort from the wife support group.

The 75th and its A-10 Thunderbolts should be home by Christmas. But another Pope fighter squadron will take its place. The 74th is now getting ready for its next rotation in Kuwait.

"Most of the guys in the squadron have been in Kuwait several times now, so they're pretty experienced with flying in that region," explains Captain Joe Schultz. "We're really prepared, and we're really looking forward to going over there. We're ready for whatever comes our way."

Schulz is one of the A-10 pilots who will again take to the skies over Iraq, and he won't take anything for granted. He realizes there is always the potential for the situation to get worse.

Right now, the A-10s from Pope are making sure Saddam Hussein doesn't start gathering his troops in southern Iraq. Should the fighters come under fire or be called into combat, they can deliver quite a punch.

Here's a breakdown of the added force headed to the Gulf. Forty-five planes will head to the Middle East, half will be sent immediately. The jets include F-117 stealth aircraft to be sent to Kuwait and B-52 bombers to be based on Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean. Thirty more warplanes, including F-15's and F-16's, will be on standby in case they're needed.