April 15, 2021

Defending Forward Bases

The night sky lit up as ballistic missiles rained down on Erbil and Al-Asad Air Bases in Iraq. Sheltered in bunkers, Airmen found the extent of the Iranian attack hard to decipher. Staff Sgt. Brian Sermons, 22nd Expeditionary Weather Squadron aviation weather noncommissioned officer in charge at Al-Asad, heard “soul-shaking explosions.” Debris pummeled the bunker walls, kicking up dirt and dust and making it difficult to breathe. When a missile struck a munitions tent, small arms rounds started to cook off, and Airmen braced themselves for what they thought was a follow-on ground attack.

“The next four hours became a blurred mix of emotions and chaos,” a member of the 443rd Air Expeditionary Squadron Security Forces team at Al-Asad wrote afterward. “Bomb after bomb shook us for what felt like all night. … My muscles tightened and I could feel my teeth grinding. Then the radio chimed in. ‘You have six more missiles inbound to your area, followed shortly by two more.’”

No one died from the volley of Iranian ballistic missiles on Jan. 8, 2020, but more than 100 U.S. personnel suffered traumatic brain injuries.
It was a wake-up call: U.S. forward operating bases are vulnerable.