Local vets stepped forward after attacks | VailDaily.com

Local vets stepped forward after attacks

Randy Wyrickrwyrick@vaildaily.comVail CO Colorado
NWS Buddy Sims KA 9-8-11

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – When the whole world was running away from chaos and flames, heroes were running into it.On Sept. 12, 2001, The Day After, a group of local military veterans gathered for coffee and asked each other how they could help. They gathered for comfort, for camaraderie. They had the experience a world in crisis needed. “What can a bunch of old retired guys do to help our country get through this?” they asked one another, as they looked toward the Middle East where the war clouds were gathering.Little did they know …Fast forward a few months. Lt. Col. Buddy Sims, U.S. Air Force retired, was among 208 pilots asked by an uncertain nation to return to active duty as the United States armed forces prepared to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom.Sims had been a B-52 pilot and served two tours in Vietnam. Bob Fickes was around. He’s a master sergeant retired from the Air Force and living in the Roaring Fork Valley. He was with the National Guard and ended up in Iraq.”The last war was 33 years ago, and it’s now an all-volunteer military, so they couldn’t force us to come,” Sims said.He couldn’t wait to go.Silver-haired soldiersEverything was different this time, Sims said. In Vietnam, navigation and targeting was done with a map and a grease pencil.In Iraq and Afghanistan, the war was practically pre-fought on computer models often by people like Sims, whose lives had moved away from the art of war.One day, at the Combined Air Operations Center at Prince Sultan Air Base in Dubai, he looked to his left and right and was flanked by silver-haired soldiers just like him, one a district attorney from Washington State and the other a teacher from West Virginia.They controlled everything in the air that was at war, directing 3,000 combat missions a day when the war started in March 2002. They had 25,000 targets – Desired Points of Mean Impact. In three weeks they were out of targets and had taken the country.”That’s the modern day way of doing it. That’s how the new wars are fought,” Sims said.They’re still hush-hush about the technology and systems. The information is available only to U.S. military personnel. He started telling a story about a target, then stopped and smiled. “Wait, I can’t tell you that part,” he said laughing.Sims, like everyone else, felt his heart his the floor when those airliners hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He was an Air Force B-52 pilot and served two tours in Vietnam. On 9/11, he was a Pan Am pilot based out of New York.”I knew right away what had happened,” Sims said. “I’d flown that river approach countless times. If someone crashed a plane into a building, they had meant to do it and it wasn’t a professional commercial pilot.”Hero’s welcomeSims and other citizen soldiers left a hero and returned the same way, a far cry from the treatment he and other Vietnam veterans received when they returned from that war.On the way back from Iraq, their plane’s interior was papered with notes from school children, small American flags, a huge American flag signed by everyone in an elementary school. “The difference in how we were treated 30 years later is incredible,” Sims said.As they transferred planes in Boston, 200 people were there to greet them.Vietnam was lifetimes ago. Most of the kids fighting in the Middle East weren’t alive then. Our armed forces have never been in better hands, Sims says.”These kids fighting the war right now, they’re so smart, so dedicated, and they don’t know about not winning,” Sims said.Hanoi JaneHe was bombing North Vietnam when Jane Fonda was in North Vietnam broadcasting accusations to the world that American soldiers were baby killers. Years later she apologized on national television, but many Vietnam vets are leaving her forgiveness to God.”If we could have found Jane Fonda on the ground, we would have taken her out. We knew would have been court marshaled, but we would have done it,” Sims said.Most of the time they would try not to wear their uniforms off base. They’d be pelted with eggs and people would make obscene gestures and swear at them, Sims said.”That has to be the most shameful time in American history. You’re fighting in a war on the orders of the president and congress, you have no choice about being there and you’re treated this way,” Sims said.When those things happened to all those soldiers back them, it took until the Gulf War, 20 years later, for the military to come back in the public’s eye. Today, they’re looked upon as heroes doing everything they can for their country.”When I get Vietnam vets to come to the Vail parade, and I can get those 25,000 people to thank them, it can mean we have a VFW member for life.”

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