With a fresh load of fuel, an American warplane breaks away from an airborne tanker over the snow-capped mountains of eastern Turkey. Another moves in to fill up before heading into northern Iraq and another day of exchanging fire with Iraqi air defenses.
For eight years, patrolling the northern No-Fly zone has been jokingly known as Operation Sleepy Hollow because nothing ever happened. Now, virtually every day American planes fly in Iraq they get shot at, and shoot back.
The combat took place out of our camera range, but by the time the U.S. jets returned to the base in Incirlik, Turkey, they were carrying fewer missiles than when they took off. The F-15's dropped scores of laser-guided bombs said one pilot, "There were several strikes against artillery pieces that were actually shooting at coalition aircraft."
At a post mission briefing, Captain Rick Rosales described what he saw when the Iraqis fired rockets at him, "It was sight to behold, no doubt about it. It made a huge dust cloud off the ground, a coordinated launch by them, and about 10 seconds later, maybe 15 seconds, there was an air burst right around 20,000 feet.
Since December 28, when the skirmishes started, the planes based at Incirlik have hit 160 targets and the Iraqis have done their best to hit them.
Lt. Col. Abbie Reese says that things often get too close for comfort, "How close does that stuff get? It's always too close no matter how close it is. In yesterday's case I estimate it was 5 to 10 miles away from my aircraft. Obviously it can get a lot closer and does."
It's combat, pure and simple. And this time it's combat involving women. They weren't allowed to fly missions during the gulf war but now a female weapons officer finds herself dropping bombs on Iraq.
She is just another part of the force the U.S. is throwing against an enemy it thought it had defeated eight years ago.