Just after New Year’s Day 1991, I headed to the Red Sea, where I was to conduct analysis to support commander of the Red Sea Battle Force aboard John F Kennedy. After a night in a hotel in Jeddah, I knew I had to get to a base in the morning to catch what’s called a COD flight, or carrier onboard delivery — a small airplane that brings supplies out to carriers at sea.
The hotel clerk could speak English, so I asked him to tell the cab driver that I wanted to go all the way to the airfield at Prince Abdullah Air Base; I didn’t want to be left at the gate of the base for a long walk. Apparently he told the cab driver not to stop at the gate but to keep going to the destination. And that’s what happened.
When we got to the base, there were a couple of guards out, and the cab driver followed his instructions to a T. He drove right on by and onto the base. He didn’t even roll the window down. Moments later, there was a squad of guys surrounding the car. They threw us up against a chain link fence, and I felt something cold in my back, so I do believe that I was close to the business end of an AK-47.
We ran into a stalemate. There were several different nationalities involved. I couldn’t talk to them. They couldn’t talk to me. Nobody could talk to anyone. Finally, a U.S. Air Force colonel stopped by. He made a call, and everything worked out. It turned out that the JFK COD was really flying from King Faisal Naval Base, 20 miles away. The taxi driver took me there — and stopped at the gate.
On the COD flight, I was happy; I knew when I got to the carrier, I would finally be safe. But the ship’s security staff were operating at such an elevated threat level that the first thing I saw when I got off the COD and onto the flight deck were guys with guns pointed at us. I still wasn’t safe.
Several days later, Desert Storm began, and we were working around the clock analyzing sorties. But it still wasn’t quite as stressful as finding my way to that ship.
Dr. Bob Ward is a Senior Research Scientist at CNA.