Lieutenant Colonel Michael Holland’s war had yet to begin.
He was one of eight Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve officers brought together as an ad-hoc advance party by Tactical Air Command forty-eight hours earlier. On D+3 Holland had been at McGuire Air Force Base working with his squadron to get ready for war when TAC HQ ordered him down to Langley. The 141st Tactical Fighter Squadron was a New Jersey Air National Guard F-4E Phantom unit preparing for deployment to Europe. In wartime the squadron, along with its parent 108th Tactical Fighter Wing was tagged for 17th Air Force and Germany. When it arrived on the other side of the Atlantic was another matter. With so many active duty squadrons still in the pipeline to Europe, it was likely going to be at least ten days before the first New Jersey Air Guard Phantoms landed in Europe.
In the meantime, planners at TAC had come up with the idea of putting together the advance party of Guard and Reserve pilots and sending them to Germany for a first hand look at the air war there. Upon their return back to the US, the group would compile their data, and observations together in a detailed briefing booklet. Copies of this publication would find their way to the Guard and Reserve squadrons leaving for Western Europe in the near future.
The eight officers arrived at Ramstein Air Base on a C-141 Starlifter at 0700 local time on D+5. Immediately, the group members fanned out to their assigned airbases across West Germany with orders to be back at Ramstein by 2300 for the return flight home. Before leaving from Langley, CINC-TAC had left them with firm orders not to take part in combat sorties under any circumstances. Their job was to observe and report, not chase MiGs or drop bombs on airbases and supply depots inside of East Germany. The time for that would come later.
Holland was now sitting in a conference room adjacent to the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing’s command post. Across from him sat Colonel Buster Glosson, the deputy chief of staff for plans and programs at USAFE. Glosson had been at Bitburg when Holland arrived and kindly offered to sit down with him for a few minutes to give him some insights on the war. Holland accepted without reservation. Glosson was widely recognized as one of the top air combat minds in the USAF.
“We are winning the war in the air,” Glosson declared confidently. “Six days in and I’m entirely satisfied with where we stand. We have almost complete air superiority from dusk until dawn. In the daylight hours our guys hold a major advantage which I expect to become total air superiority sometime in the next forty-eight to seventy-two hours. Are we taking losses? Yes, but they’re far below projections and not affecting day-to-day operations. I can’t say the same thing for the enemy’s losses. Can we improve in some areas? Absolutely, and we’re working on them right now.
“Every day we’re launching thousands of combat sorties. The sheer numbers involved are mindboggling. The ops tempo is pushing pilots, aircraft, maintainers, and just about everybody else to the edge of exhaustion.”
“No surprise there,” Holland offered.
“Not at all,” Glosson readily agreed. “We’ve trained years for this war. That training is now paying off immensely. There haven’t been any real surprises encountered yet. I can’t say the same thing for Ivan. He’s had quite a few thrown his way.”
“Can you give me an example?”
Glosson adopted a thoughtful pose. “How much do you know about what we pulled off in the first hours of the war?”
“Not much aside from what I saw on the news, and some scuttlebutt back home,” Holland admitted. “Apparently whatever happened, Ivan took a big hit. Oh, and that stealth fighter there’s been so much talk about is in squadron service.”
“Right on both accounts. Now, let me fill in the blanks for you.” Glosson spent the next ten minutes doing just that.
“Holy shit,” Holland breathed at the conclusion.
“Yeah.” Glosson nodded. “Frankly, it was executed better than anyone thought possible.” The colonel checked his watch and stood up. “Well, I’ve got to get back to Ramstein soon. Before I leave, let’s head down to the ramp and I’ll introduce you to some of the pilots based here. You can pick their brains for a while. It’ll be worth it.”
Holland rose from his chair. “Sounds like a good idea, sir. Lead the way.”