At a US Base in Saudi, Pizza and Preparedness
PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, SAUDI ARABIA
The memory of the Khobar Towers bombing still lingers among American troops in Saudi Arabia, its most obvious daily effect being one of the tightest security plans devised for United States forces overseas.
On June 25, 1996, a truck bomb killed 19 American servicemen when it was detonated in front of a housing complex in Dhahran, eastern Saudi Arabia. Since then, the US Air Force has moved lock, stock, and barrel to this remote base 80 miles south of the capital, Riyadh.
"Everything in my tent came from Khobar, and it's all marked up," says F-16 fighter pilot Capt. Randy Redell of Westlake, Calif.
"We ask ourselves: Are they old, or is it from the blast? The mirror is broken down the side with a very jagged edge," he says.
Even the coffee table in the tent quarters of Brig. Gen. Bentley Rayburn, 4044th Wing Commander, has a plaque noting the source of its damage.
"The best thing is that we are now in the middle of this enormous Saudi base," says General Rayburn. "But Khobar is kept in front of us. People have learned how to break into Fort Knox, so we don't let up our vigilance here."
Part of the "force protection" mantra means a life of confinement to base for those who are not flying. Even for pilots, contact with Saudi "culture" is often limited to radio banter with air-traffic controllers.
The Air Force has been creative in making the humdrum day not only bearable, however, but sometimes pleasant. Many say that they expected to find something akin to a bare cot set in Death Valley.
American culture, to go