Hearing that the Johnson’s were in the terminal building Vicky and I left the pilots office to greet Bob and Emily. As a group we headed out of the terminal building to the tarmac where the plane was waiting for us. As we walked to the plane with our baggage, the fuel truck was still topping off the tanks of the G5LR.
My pilot Vance and co-pilot Josh were double checking the refueling operation. They wanted to make sure every drop was being put in the tanks that could be squeezed into them; they wanted to make sure that the tanks were filled to cap. This trip was pushing the G5LR to its extreme – we were trying to go seven thousand miles without refueling. When they were satisfied they helped us with our baggage.
“If the winds at thirty thousand are not in our favor, we will have to divert to one of these three countries Spain, Italy or Morocco to refuel,” Vance said.
“If it comes to that, Spain or Italy is the better choice – Morocco is not a fun place anymore, I hear,” I replied.
I knew that from reading the State Department daily security reports of the region I had access to, Rabat Morocco was one of the largest JGB sites with fifteen employees. They had a Blackhawk and two Suburban’s. What caught my eye about the Rabat Morocco embassy was that the ambassador on site had requested one more of each and additional employees. Even though the ambassador’s request was in the hands of the Secretary of State, the request was made months ago while still under control of Black Water, and there was a request to revaluate the site and expedite the decision a month ago, before JBG took over
The latest Intel I was privy to indicated that when the embassy and the staff left the compound, they were under heavy surveillance by multiple groups.
“Ten four, Boss” Vance replied as we took our seats.
Bob, Emily and Vicky made small talk while we taxied and took off. Vance did a gentle climb to thirty thousand feet before leveling off. It was the first time that Bob had been to Morton field. He was impressed and much of the talk was about the airport, helicopters and planes that had been on the tarmac.
My thoughts were by leaving around three Wednesday with a twelve hour flight and the changing time zones, it would be nine AM Thursday by the time we finally landed in Riyadh.
At four I activated SVOL and Vicky and I participated in the nightly meeting taking place at the gym from 30000 feet, at over 500 miles an hour. After we finished that meeting I took a break for a bit and chatted more with our guest. I needed a hot cup of coffee before I logged into VCATS.
I brought back 6 cups plus the fixings and carried two forward to Vance and Josh. After the coffee, I logged onto VCATS and looked at the evening’s updated embassy alert system. Nothing had changed for the region we were going to since I did a quick look at it this morning.
Because of the jet lag and time changes, we decided to call it a night. Bob and Emily decided to sleep in the fancy comfortable reclining passenger seats while Vicky and I took one of the fold-down bunk beds.
At 6 Vicky and I were up, dressed. And we were ready to start our day. I made coffee and nuked several of those precooked brand name breakfast biscuits. I carried fresh coffee and a tray of biscuits to the pilot’s cabin. While Bob and Emily were still sleeping we checked our e-mails.
While we were sleeping, Vance and Josh both had made trips to the bathroom located in our sleeping area. I knew that because I was doing the half-sleep half-awake routine that I did during my time in the sand box. I also knew that when Vance came through, Vicky and I were together and our arms tightly around each other. The heat was on, it was warm in the cabin and the covers were half off of us. Josh came through an hour later.
About 10 minutes into checking my e-mails, Vance came across the intercom waking Bob and Emily, telling me that there were problems at King Khalid International Airport.
I logged into VCATS, to my surprise, the screen lit up with all kinds of official warnings for the area where we were going. What a difference a few hours makes in the Middle East.
The King Khalid International Airport – our destination – was indeed under attack by unknown militants, most likely ISIS, to show their growing power and reach. The airport had been shut down temporarily and would reopen soon – was the promise. We were still three hours away.
Several other embassies in the region had received threats that were in the active file, including the one in Riyadh, Morocco, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Egypt and Jordan – all the threats were flagged as serious and credible. JBG people were assigned at all of them.
By the time I looked at all the sites and read all the details in the alerts, another hour had passed. All of a sudden the 35 ton plane shook like a leaf in a wind storm. Vance came on the intercom again, “BJ that was two F18s on full afterburners that just buzzed us.
A moment later I was pinged on the VCATS. It was Amy Lockerman, “King Khalid International is not safe for you to land at; all non-Arab flights are being diverted. A pair of F18s is going to escort you to the US Joint Air Force base at Riyadh. You will be met there by your people as soon as it is safe to do so,” she said.
“We were buzzed by a couple of F18’s a few minutes ago. They have not returned or communicated with us,” I replied.
“They will shortly,” Amy replied as she signed off.
“November two niner seven Alpha, (N297A) this is King Khalid control, do you copy?”
“King Khalid Control this is N297A, roger on the copy,” Vance replied.
“N297A, change frequencies to 122.99 repeat 122.99 and call Falcon, do you copy? Acknowledge,” the control tower replied.
“Control this is N297A roger 122.99 and call Falcon,” Vance replied.
“Control over,” the tower replied.
“Falcon this is N297A,” Vance spoke into the radio.
“N297A this is Fighting Falcon 5 on the port side and that is Falcon 6 on the starboard. Come to a heading of 090, maintain speed,” Falcon 5 replied.
“Roger, 090, maintaining speed and altitude,” Vance replied.
I looked out the port side window, an F18 loaded for bear was less than 100 feet off our wing – a glance out the right side was the other F18. Both of them had a red, white and blue falcon painted on the tail with its talons extended, ready to snare its prey. A small US flag was painted above it.
Vicky, Bob and Emily were glued to the windows. I took a moment to take several pictures of the F18s through the window with the smarter than smart phone and sent them to the girls at the gym with the caption “Our escorts to the dance are here.”
The flight went on for another hour. Falcon 5 and 6 were replaced with Eagle 4 and 8.
“N297A this is Riyadh approach turn to heading 124 and pick up the glide slope to runway 124,”
“Roger Riyadh, heading 124 and follow slope to runway 124,” Vance replied.
Fifteen minutes later the landing gear doors were opened and locked. Eagle 4 and 8 poured on the power and pulled away in cloud of smoke.
The tires squealed as they touched the runway and picked up speed to match our airspeed. At the end of the taxiway a Humvee was waiting. Vance was instructed to follow it to our assigned parking spot.
Josh lowered the stairs and I, followed by Vicky, Bob and Emily, stepped onto the tarmac. In the distance were the whistles and thumps of explosions caused by an RPG and machine gun fire in the distance.
Edit by Alfmeister
Proof read by Joe H.
Great story, great ! Eight paragraphs before the end, you have an eagle on an F18 with its “tendons” showing I think you meant to say “talons”…
You are correct, I will correct it, Thanks glad you like the story,Jack
A good cup of coffee, and one of your “episodes” really starts the morning out right!! Much appreciated.
The reference to the “smarter than smart phone” always puts a lump in my throat. Good memories though.
We are enjoying 50 degree weather here on December 5th. in Southwest Michigan, and will be heading out to do some biking on the local “rail trails” a little later this morning. So, good day all the way around.
I check Cindy’s site to see if by chance there is any news. Weather here is same 50’s in the daytime and low 30’s for the next few days. The smarter than smart phone will make an occasional appearance to honor her memory. Good to hear from you. Jack