Veterans Voice: Shad Mort
Shad Mort, of rural Kidder, joined the United States Air Force in August of 1989. He took Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and was then sent to Myrtle Beach AFB in South Carolina, where he served as a heavy equipment operator. Myrtle Beach was primarily an A-10 (Warthog) base.
Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, virtually the entire base at Myrtle Beach was sent to King Fahd Air Base in Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield, which soon became Operation Desert Storm. Approximately 100 A-10’s were stationed at the base, along with a smaller number of fighter jets, and approximately 200 Cobra and Apache helicopters. Air strikes were carried out from the base on a daily basis.
Shad, and the other heavy equipment operators were heavily involved in building protection for the aircraft. Their primary duty was the building of “revetments” for the planes. These revetments were 16-foot high walls built with steel casings and filled with sand. There was one for each plane. They were essentially “U”-shaped with another wall in front, designed so that an aircraft could enter one opening and could later leave from the opening on the other side. These provided considerable protection for the planes.
Because of the strategic importance of the base, security was extremely tight with manned checkpoints and staggered cement blocks. On one occasion a vehicle loaded with explosives and driven by a suicide driver managed to enter the base but crashed the vehicle and was dispatched before detonating the explosives. On a few occasions they came under attack from SCUD missiles, all of which were shot down by the three Patriot missile placements on the base.
The weather was very hot, often in the 115-degree range, but was “tolerable” due to the low humidity. The heavy equipment operators lived in tents which also housed a variety of experienced equipment specialists who were very adept at providing for their own living conditions. They built functional beds keeping themselves off the ground, and air-conditioning units which provided relief from the heat. They slept 12 to a tent.
A lot of troops, mostly Army and Marines, moved through the base, using it as a staging station on their way to field assignments. On one occasion a number of British troops spent a few days on base. Shad commented that “the Queen provided better MRE’s than the U.S., they ate better!”
Asked about the cultural differences, Shad mentioned his first visit to the city of Riyadh. He and two friends were walking down the street when suddenly everyone pulled out “prayer rugs” and began praying, wherever they were at the moment, some in the middle of the street. He said that along with local restaurants, there were also McDonald’s, KFC’s, etc. Passing by a local restaurant they noticed there was a buffet. They filled their plates, uncertain of what they were selecting. After a few bites, Shad decided he had enough, and went down the street for a Big Mac!
There were a few scary moments as well. On one occasion, an A-10 pilot forgot to disarm his weapons after parking and leaving his plane. The next day, entering the plane, he accidently fired a Maverick missile which stuck in the revetment. Fortunately, the missile did not travel far enough to “arm” itself, but it was still a scary situation. There was a large “flash” and a “boom”, so Shad and several in his unit hid in a large culvert, not certain what was going on. The explosives disposal unit asked the heavy equipment operators to remove the missile. It was difficult to extract from the wall, and all the while were uncertain what might happen when it emerged. Fortunately, all went well, and they turned it over to the disposal personnel.
A duty for Shad and other in his unit was to police and inspect the runways, removing debris. When Shad called the control tower for permission to sweep the runway, he was informed that a “crippled” A-10 was attempting to return to base with part of its tail, and part of one wing missing. He was told to keep the men in position to assist what was expected to be a “crash landing”. Shad said that although daylight was fading, he could see the plane quite clearly as it approached, and that it was obviously having difficulty flying, tilting first one way then another. Fortunately, the pilot was able to land the plane safely, but accidently ejected flares in the process which added to the drama.
On another occasion, Shad was in the chow hall when some Army infantry men entered. One had left his weapon on “automatic” fire, and when he put it down (fortunately pointed upwards) it went off, putting about 16 holes in the roof of the tent. It created a few moments of chaos with people turning over tables and hiding wherever they could find cover.
Shad’s worst memory had to do with the crew of an AC-130. He had developed friendships with the entire crew which was shot down one night, losing all members. He still thinks about them from time to time.
His best memory is the many friendships he forged with the people with whom he served. He still remains in touch with most of them. Shad lives with his wife Amy, and their two daughters, Lauren and Shelby, on a farm northeast of Kidder.