If only I'd known.
All those missions over Bosnia in the early and mid-1990s were worth more than hazardous duty pay and credit toward an Air Medal, why, they were downright dangerous!
If you don't believe me, ask Hillary Clinton.
Speaking in Dubuque, Iowa over the weekend, Mrs. Clinton told an audience that she "risked her life" on White House goodwill missions in the 1990s, including a "hair-raising flight into Bosnia," complete with a corkscrew landing and a "sprint off the tarmac to avoid snipers."
Clinton's remarks came in response to a jibe from Democratic rival Barack Obama, who recently suggested that her years as first lady were little more than a glorified tea party.
Unfortunately--as with other attempts to depict Mrs. Clinton's "experience"--this one seems to have backfired. Newsday reports that she "wasn't quite flying solo into harm's way:"
She was, in fact, leading a goodwill entourage that included baggy-pants funnyman Sinbad, singer Sheryl Crow and Clinton's daughter, Chelsea, then 15, according to an account of the March 1995 trip in her autobiography "Living History."
As the plane approached the runway, the pilot ordered the Clintons into the armored front of the plane, Clinton writes.
What's not clear is whether Sinbad or Crow were invited to the cockpit or had to brave it out in the unprotected rear.
Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters sheds more light on that "hair-raising" flight, thanks to the comments of reader Jonathan Sabin:
I was part of Task Force Eagle in Bosnia during that time. I was part of then MG William Nash, 1st Armored Division, security detail. I take two issues with her statement. First and most blatantly checkable, was the year she states. She's a year off. It was actually March 1996. We didn't go into Bosnia until after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, which was in the Fall of 1995, (November, I think). I remember it because it ruined Christmas for just about the entire 2nd Brigade, 1st AD, in Baumholder Germany. Then President Clinton actually came to Baumholder right before Christmas to make a speech. It should be easily checkable.
Secondly, she landed at Eagle Base in Tuzla, Bosnia in a C-17. At that time, it was the most secure location in country, being an old Russian MIG base. The compound was very well fortified and snipers weren't an issue for us. They never were during the entire mission, except maybe in Sarajevo. Our biggest issue was landmines, again, not an issue at Eagle Base as it had been very well cleared.
With a little digging, Mr. Morrissey found a reference to the Clinton trip in The New York Times, indicating that it occurred in March 1996, after implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords. With the conflict officially over (at that point), the threat from ground-based Bosnian-Serb air defenses was virtually non-existent. Ed Morrissey also discovered that Times reporter Mike O'Connor, along for the trip, made no mention of a cork-screw descent, or subsequent mad scramble across the tarmac in his report.
It's also worth noting that there were multiple layers of protection surrounding Mrs. Clinton and her entourage. U.S. and allied fighters patrolled the skies over Bosnia and the Adriatic Sea; NATO and French AWACS provided 24-hour air surveillance, and various air, sea and land-based SIGINT platforms monitored enemy communications and emitter activity.
And, if that wasn't enough, there were thousands of American troops on duty in the Tuzula area, plus Secret Service and military security teams. That alone was sufficient to discourage someone from taking a pot-shot at Mrs. Clinton. Indeed, it turns out that Chelsea Clinton, then 15, was along for the trip. Wonder if some enterprising reporter will ask the former first lady about "risking" her child's life on that dangerous trip? Suffice it to say: Mrs. Clinton and Company were safer on that trip than they would have been visiting a crime-ridden neighborhood in Washington D.C.
Truth be told, the "threat" from enemy air defenses in Bosnia was a concern for aircrews, but it was hardly oppressive. Over a two-year period (1994-95), Your Humble Correspondent logged more than 60 missions over Bosnia and adjacent coastal waters, as a crew member in a battle management EC-130.
Many of our early sorties (flown from Aviano AB, Italy) were in aircraft that lacked self-protection gear for negating shoulder-fired missiles. Until then, our employment doctrine called for orbits well behind Allied lines. No one ever envisioned that the aircraft (and its crew) would operate over hostile territory. But, with allied Tactical Air Control Parties (TACPs) on the ground, we had to maintain overland orbits, allowing us to maintain communications with "peacekeepers" on the ground, and if necessary, direct the flow of air support to them.
In those days, our greatest concern was Bosnian-Serb SA-6s, based in the Banja Luka area, not far from Tuzula. Before the Dayton Accords, we could never establish a firm "count" of the numbers of missiles, radars and launchers that had been transferred to the Bosnian Serbs. Our slow-moving "Herk" would have been easy meat for the highly mobile (and accurate) SA-6. Without an onboard radar warning receiver, we had to rely on tips from SIGINT aircraft about SA-6 activity. Getting that information--and providing it to the other crew members--was one of my jobs.
Our fears were confirmed when an SA-6 downed Scott O'Grady's F-16 over Bosnia on 2 June 1995. By that time, my squadron's aircraft had been outfitted with a self-protection system for shoulder-fired SAMs, but it offered no defense against radar guided missiles like the SA-6. For a time, our orbit was moved over the Adriatic, but it eventually returned to Bosnian airspace.
We usually operated with the defensive system (nicknamed "Snowstorm") in the automatic mode; when the sensors detected anything with an IR signature similar to a SAM launch, it began dispensing flares. Cynics argued that if the bad guys didn't know our location, they certainly did when the flares began falling.
But I digress. What I once dismissed as routine missions were actually exercises in heroism. True, I never had to run across the ramp--unless it was raining or the crew bus was leaving-- but hey, all those hours over Bosnia should count for something.
Time to polish up the old resume. By Mrs. Clinton's standards, I am a certifiable hero (or maybe, just certifiable). Did I mention that my crew once landed in Split, Croatia, to pick-up an F-16 pilot who had bailed out over the Dalmatia coast (the British rescue chopper didn't have the range to get him back to Aviano). Or the time I got a stomach ache from a bad box lunch?Maybe it doesn't quite compare with that perilous flight into Tuzula, but who knows?
As we've learned from the Clintons, it's not what you say--or how truthful it might be--but rather, how you spin it.