Airmen react to Hussein’s capture
By Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams, 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
/ Published December 15, 2003
KIRKUK AIR BASE, Iraq (AFPN) -- There was cautious enthusiasm here the afternoon of Dec. 14 when rumors began floating that Saddam Hussein, the ace of spades in the “55 Most Wanted” deck of cards, might have been captured.
For most people, the sound of gunfire outside the perimeter gate was nothing out of the ordinary, as small-arms fire happens here on a regular basis. However, this would turn out to be anything but an ordinary occurrence.
Senior Airman Heather Gondek, of the 506th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron, woke up when she heard the celebratory gunfire, but said she thought it was just another firefight.
“I thought, ‘Here comes an alarm red,’” she said. “And then I woke up and heard the giant voice tell us to put on the flak vest and helmet. Then someone else came in and told us that we may have caught Saddam. I was excited. I thought it was really cool that we finally got him.”
Chaplain (Maj.) Pete Lambert, a Catholic chaplain, was in the middle of Mass with 20 people when he heard the gunfire.
“All of a sudden we heard all these gunshots going off. It got so intense that some (people) got up and ran out to see what was going on,” Lambert said. “It must have been about 11:45 a.m. We just continued Mass. At the end of Mass, the group commander announced it was celebratory (gun) fire because there were rumors around town that Saddam Hussein had been captured.
“I was very happy, but cautious because so far it was only (a) rumor,” he said. “I checked the Internet, and there was nothing there. Maybe half an hour after that, they talked about the possibility he had been captured. Later, I went down to the medical tent and there was (a) press conference with the general and the pictures of Saddam. It feels good.”
Reactions from 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron airmen were similar.
“I’m glad they captured Saddam Hussein,” said Airman Ronald Beltran, of the 506th ESFS. “At first, I didn’t think it was true, but I’m glad we got him. I hope we go home soon, but if we don’t, we’ll finish and complete our mission.”
“As soon as the word came out that he had actually been captured, I went over and called my wife,” said Staff Sgt. Raymond Nesbitt, also of the 506th ESFS. “She had just gotten to work. I told her and she just started screaming with excitement. She told all the people in her office, and they couldn’t believe it. They were all excited.”
Nesbitt was patrolling one of the base-defense sectors when he first heard the celebratory gunfire.
“I called my (17-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son), who were at home, and they were all excited. They were watching (television) and couldn’t believe they were actually sitting down watching history take place. They see a light at the end of the tunnel, just like the rest of us. It’s a great Christmas present,” Nesbitt said.
“I was skeptical at first until I heard the confirmation on the news,” said Airman 1st Class Nicholas Tardiff, a bus driver for the 506th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. “Then I was pretty happy about it -- extremely happy about it, actually.”
Airman 1st Class Amber Taden, of the 506th Expeditionary Services Squadron, said she saw a couple of bullets from the celebratory fire land near her.
“I was walking by one of the bunkers and heard a round hit the bunker. I knew I needed to get my flak vest and helmet. I came back, and we just heard the ‘dink’ of an AK-47 round that we found on the floor of the recreation center,” Taden said.
Senior Airman Nicoal Hunter, of the 506th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, was working on the airfield when she said she heard the small-arms fire. She said her viewpoint is less about Saddam and more about the importance of the event.
“I’m just enjoying the moment right now,” she said. “Being a young airman in the Air Force, when stuff like this happens, it puts it in perspective of what’s really going on in the world. To be honest, I’m kind of happy because I joined up to serve my country. Right now I’m happy I can tell my family that I was in Iraq at this point of time in history.”
“The long-term consequence (for the base) will be good,” said Col. Dan Peabody, 506th Air Expeditionary Group commander. “I expect some short-term backlash to it. Hopefully, after a week or so even that will dissipate. The hope is that it will rapidly lead to the collapse of what resistance there is out there without any indication of a formal leader continuing (the fight).
“Even though we may not have had a direct role, we certainly have contributed significantly to the ongoing activities that led to what happened. I’m very proud of everyone here and all that they contributed,” he said.