The only carrier-based assets to make it to Baghdad on 21 March had come from CV-64s CVW-2, as the entire follow-on CVW-14 strike package had been forced to abort due to a shortage of tankers. However, the second and third waves sent to hit targets in and around the Iraqi capital in the early hours of the 22nd included elements from CVN-72, and later that day still more F-14Ds, F/A-18Cs and F/A-18Es from Lincoln ventured into southern Iraq to attack targets listed on the ATO. CVW-14 CO Capt Kevin Albright was on one of those strikes. The mission called for four F/A-18Es and two F-14Ds to strike a missile production facility in the Karbala area, approximately 40 miles southwest of Baghdad. I was flying as Dash 3 in the Super Hornet division. The ATO was well constructed by the CAOC, which had the huge task of coordinating and scheduling thousands of sorties every day. Tanker tracks, offload fuel amounts and timings were all spot on.
The Super Hornets were loaded with a mix of 2000-lb JDAM that included a penetrator variety, as well as the standard Mk 84 bomb body. The F-14Ds were loaded up with two 2000-lb JDAM each. All strike fighter aircraft also carried a self-defence air-to-air load-out as well.
Brief, man-up and launch went as planned. We were assigned a USAF KC-10, along with a US Marine Corps EA-6B which had launched from Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia. In addition, we were also slated for a section of USAF F-16CJ SEAD- equipped fighters. Everyone was full-up, mission ready, on time and on station. No small feat, and a tribute to the CAOCs ATO planners and the maintainers in all the services who kept this huge armada airborne 24/7.
US Navy F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom
Title: US Navy F-14 Tomcat Units of Operation Iraqi Freedom
Author: Tony Holmes
Illustrator: Jim Laurier
Publisher: Osprey Publishing, Military History Books
Date Published: July 2005
Paperback; 96 pages;