By TECH. SGT. BRIAN DAVIDSON
447TH AIR EXPEDITIONARY GROUP PUBLIC AFFAIRS
BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Just about midnight the wind kicked up as suddenly as someone turning off a light switch, bringing with it huge clouds of dust that rolled in and obliterated everything from view.
People who were bunked out in their tents were rudely awakened as tent ropes strained and even some beds were buffeted by the turbulence.
"Although weather reports had predicted high winds, even our satellite images didn't reveal the curtain of dust that descended on the airfield," said Tech. Sgt. Michael Sanborn, 447th Expeditionary Operations Squadron weather flight noncommissioned officer in charge.
Deployed from the 25th Operational Weather Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, Sanborn is no stranger to working in a desert environment and knew full well the dangers of such high winds and reduced visibility.
"We had 10 aircraft due in that couldn't land and had to turn around," said Col. Daniel Kornacki, 447th Air Expeditionary Group commander. "Three aircraft ended up stuck on the ground as their crews scrambled to cover intakes and protect their engines from the blowing dirt."
Kornacki deployed from his position as the vice commander of the 94th Airlift Wing at Dobbins Air Reserve Base in Georgia. As a career C-130 pilot in the Air Force Reserve, and a Boeing 737-200 pilot for Delta Airlines, he knows from experience how unpredictable the weather can become and its impact on flying operations.
Shortly after the wind began, Kornacki set off driving up and down the flight line, straining to see through the dust as he searched for aircrew members who might have been caught out in the storm.
People who were working on the flight line ran for cover, and many of those who were off duty and had been sleeping stumbled out of their beds to see what was happening, only to find they couldn't even see the tent next door.
"Visibility was officially down to 1/16 of a mile," Sanborn said. "But the dust was pretty thick in some areas."
By first light, the winds had died down, but there was so much dirt in the air the sun was only a faint light in the eastern sky.
A layer of dust, so fine it was like brown flour, covered everything.
"It was everywhere -- you could even taste it in the air," Kornacki said.
Flight crews began trying to clean out engine intakes and other critical components of their aircraft, while other airmen were shaking the dirt out of their hair and clothes as they set about their normal daily routine -- chalking the experience up to "just one of those things that happens when you're deployed."
XSgt. Davidson is a 1982 graduate of Austintown Fitch High School, son of Roger and Pam Davidson, formerly of Austintown and now living in Tucson, Ariz. His grandmother, Minnie Davidson, lives in Austintown.