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US Pilots in Kuwait Hope To Go Home

February 25, 1998

AL JABER AIR BASE, Kuwait (AP) _ For American fighter pilot Capt. Jim Ewald, diplomacy ``fell flat on its face″ _ until the United States and its allies backed it up with military force in the Gulf.

At this desert air base with the largest concentration of U.S. air power in Kuwait, pilots and maintenance crews want to make sure that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein keeps his word, even though some are unhappy they won’t get home as quickly as they had hoped.

Like Ewald, many American pilots and crews are concerned that Saddam might try to wriggle out of his agreement to allow U.N. weapons inspectors unrestricted access to all sites.

``I’m a bit apprehensive that we will lull Saddam Hussein into the thought that we won’t be as willing to use military force as we were, let’s say this week. And he might try to take advantage of that at a later time,″ said the 31-year-old pilot from Elmhurst, Ill.

Leaders like Saddam only understand violence or a serious threat of violence, suggested Ewald, who flies an A-10 ground-attack fighter on routine missions in the no-fly zone in southern Iraq.

``And I think that all the diplomacy in the world really fell flat on its face until the United States and rest of the countries in the coalition got serious, reinforced what we already have here in the Gulf militarily ... and were ready to use it,″ he said.

President Clinton says he will give the agreement a chance but keep a strong U.S. force in the Gulf in case Saddam reneges.

The U.S. Air Force commander in Kuwait also credited the military build-up for achieving a diplomatic breakthrough.

``Our capability here is what allowed the diplomats the leverage to accomplish what is being accomplished by the U.N. and all those around,″ said Col. Robert Awtrey of Charleston, S.C.

``Obviously, we’re all concerned to make sure it’s a long-term solution for everybody’s benefit,″ he said. ``Because of that, we stand ready to continue to provide a combat capability.″

At this Kuwaiti base 60 miles southeast of the Iraqi border, some pilots who fly the radar-evading F-117A Stealth fighter-bomber, which would be in the forefront of any attack on Iraq, had mixed feelings about news of the agreement.

``Obviously, when you’re prepared to do something like this ... you become very focused on it, and the adrenalin level goes up, and it’s impossible to come down from that overnight,″ said Capt. Dave Shipley, 34, of York, Pa.

``But once you think about what the results are going to be, you realize that this is the best possible solution for everybody involved,″ he said.

Standing near a sleek, black, V-shaped Stealth, Shipley said he thought Clinton was right to keep a strong U.S. force in the Gulf because the Iraqis ``have proven time and again that they can’t really be trusted.″

Airman 1st Class Sammy Baiza, 20, of Odessa, Texas, an A-10 crew chief whose tour has already been extended, said his buddies were unhappy when they heard Clinton say U.S. forces were staying in the Gulf despite the deal.

``Everybody’s morale was very bumped down, but we’re hoping to go home pretty soon,″ he said.

Col. Kevin Smith, 44, of Olympia, Wash., who commands Stealths and other aircraft operations at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, said he was certain Saddam’s awareness that 12 Stealths were at the Al Jaber base contributed to the deal.

``He tends to come to the agreement table when the Stealth is around,″ Smith said. ``We’ll wait and see if he complies with it before we consider it a victory.″

Staff Sgt. Patrick Dumka, 27, of Utica, N.Y., who works on the electrical and air conditioning systems of the Stealth, said he thought the fighter-bomber had already helped achieve victory.

``Winning a war without dropping a bomb, you’re doing alright,″ he said.

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