UK professionalsIraq US Amateurs

Friendly Fire

True short story by John McMiken

Reed Legless Empire site 2

Why do they use the term 'Friendly Fire' when it truly is:

'Amateur Fire', 'Unprofessional Fire' or 'Incompetent Fire'?

The Story:

On the lead up to the first Gulf War, I was employed as an electronic field service engineer by a UK company that manufactured and maintained anti-aircraft defence simulator systems for the military. I had been working for this company for many years by this time and I could easily sort out any technical problems from my memory and in-depth knowledge of the system. Just prior to the first Gulf War, one of our systems located on a UK military base in Germany, developed a major fault. At that particular time, the personnel on the base were going through intensive training for the build up to the first Gulf War. One of our other electronic engineers had been working on this fault for three days already, but he was unable to locate the source of the problem, so I, being the most experienced engineer on this system, was called upon to sort out this problem urgently, as it was now a serious hold up to the training program for the troops who were to be deployed to the Persian Gulf area within the coming week. So I mobilized quickly and was at the site in Germany within 12 hours of being called out.

On arrival at the site, I debriefed the system operators, ran a test scenario and confirmed their problem. On further investigation I found the problem to be caused by a jamming of some damaged gear teeth in the laser head unit of the missile simulator flare. This I reported back to my company HQ in UK and they told me that they had a spare laser head and would check it out immediately and that I should take the next flight back to UK to pick the replacement laser head up. I reported my findings to the military officer in charge on the base and told him that I had to return to UK to pick up the spare, but I would return just as soon as I could to get their system operational again as quickly as possible. I was quite lucky with the flights, I managed to board a return flight to UK within the following three hours. On arrival back in UK, I went straight to the company, checked the replacement laser head myself and was quite happy with it.

The laser head involved was quite a precise piece of engineering, all of the mechanical parts had to be exactly positioned within thousandths of an inch (clocked) and it was a very delicate piece of machinery, approximately two feet tall, by nine inches wide at the base. This item was so delicate and expensive that to transport it by air on the flight to Germany it had to have its own seat to be strapped into, so my company purchased two return tickets to Germany, one for me and one for the laser head, because the unserviceable laser head would be returning with me. So off we went to Germany again as quickly as it could be arranged, me sitting on one seat on the aircraft and the laser head strapped into the seat next to me. On arrival at the military base again, I quickly set to work replacing the laser head and within one hour the whole simulator system was fully operational. The troops were eager to start training again, so I just grabbed the old laser head and left the simulator quickly. With the old laser head under my arm I went into the military admin office to get my paperwork signed and to grab a cup of tea before I set off back to UK again. When I walked into the office, everyone was crowded around a map on the wall, the map was a map of Iraq and Kuwait and one of them was busy drawing simulated attack lines on this map, so I just put the laser down and stood at the back looking on, quite interested in what they were doing. The officer in charge then spotted me and asked if the system was okay now, I just nodded and said that it was back up to being 100% operational again, so he shook my hand and asked me if I wanted a cup of tea, which of course I did. He brought the tea for me and then sat down next to me and started chatting about the problem that I had just fixed. I had been here many times before, so everyone knew me, they were like friends now, they knew that I was not a security problem, so the rest of them just carried on planning their tactical moves on the map. Then I turned to the officer next to me, pointed to the map and asked him if he was worried about the Iraqi forces, at which he just laughed and shook his head and replied that really the Iraqi forces were no problem for them. Then he stopped laughing, got very serious and said to me "The biggest problem that we face in Iraq is the Americans" at which, I just nodded and took all he said in, but not really understanding what he meant, but I remember his words to this day.

About one hour later, I headed back to the airport with the old laser head, I had two tickets, so no problem I thought! When I checked in at the check-in desk, they wanted to put the laser in the hold, so I showed them the ticket and insisted that it travelled in the seat next to me. Even though this laser was now unserviceable the mechanical positioning of the parts (clocking) was still very critical. So I went through to departures, but then was stopped by airport security, they asked me what it was I was carrying, so I replied that it was a laser head for an anti-aircraft defence simulator and that it had it's own seat on the aircraft next to me. They saw the connector hanging out of the side of the laser and they asked me if I could switch it on, to which I replied "No, not unless you have a 12 volt DC power supply" So then they said that the laser could not go on the aircraft with me, so I tried to reason with them, that just earlier that day, I had flown with a new one these into Germany, but either they did not believe me or did not understand, because they were still adamant that it could not go with me, at which point I said that I was not going without it. One of these security people then went to the phone, spoke for a while and then returned to me. He said in broken English that the Captain from the plane was coming up and sure enough, within the next two minutes the Captain arrived. He looked at me, then looked at the laser and then asked me exactly what it was, the Captain was English so it was fairly easy, but he still didn't understand all the technical terminology, but after a while he turned to the security and gave the 'thumbs up' to them. So then we set off side by side to the aircraft, but on the way down he said to me quite seriously, "Please tell me that that is not a bomb" to which I started smiling and I replied to him holding it up "If this is a bomb, do you think that I would be sitting in the next seat to it?" at which, we both laughed and continued down to the plane.

The simulator that I repaired worked fine and the troops trained 24 hours per day prior to their departure to the Persian Gulf. Not one of their men was even injured by the Iraqi military during their operations, but 13 of them were killed by 'Friendly Fire' from an American Forces ground attack aircraft. The senior officer's last words to me "The biggest problem that we face in Iraq is the Americans" still sounds in my ears to this day.

So much for the term 'Friendly Fire', use the correct term 'Amateur Fire', 'Unprofessional Fire' or 'Incompetent Fire' which it truly is.

How do you think that someone who has lost a son, husband or father feels when they are told that their loved one was killed by 'Friendly Fire'?

Well, no surprise! It just happened again in Afghanistan, August, 2007. Who needs incompetent miltary 'allies' like this? At least with the enemy you know where you stand.

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John McMiken (Ian Reed)

 

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