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'Going downtown' on the Constellation

By Frank Buckley
CNN Correspondent

CNN's Frank Buckley
CNN's Frank Buckley

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
•  Weapons: 3D Models

In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and newsmakers around the world.

Air wing commander goes 'downtown' in Iraq

ABOARD THE USS CONSTELLATION (CNN) -- Friday night was extremely busy for us. It was the first night of the "A-Day" air plan.

We were given incredible access to the air plan on the USS Constellation. We knew several hours before the air plan was launched what was going to happen.

As part of our embed rules, we were not permitted to say what was going to be happening until it happened, and until those aviators returned safely to the aircraft carrier.

But we got a great insight into the sense of mission the pilots were feeling before their first flights over Baghdad.

I sat in on the briefing of the first strike package that was flying into the vicinity of Baghdad. The carrier's air wing commander led the briefing.

He told the men gathered in the squadron ready room that the day was a day they would never forget. As he put it, the package was "going downtown."

The atmosphere was quite solemn in the squadron room: It was a group of focused pilots who were ready to go out and conduct their mission.

Immediately after the first strike package returned and landed, I happened to be in a passageway when the air wing commander walked by me in his flight suit. He had just gotten out of his jet, but he came down to the hangar bay and gave us his impressions of the flight.

He talked about how he flew during Desert Storm and how they didn't use night vision goggles then. But this time they are using them, and he said he wasn't sure if it was such a good thing, having the ability to look down and see all of the fire directed at them.

He was being a bit facetious, but his point was that a pilot could see everything. Some of the younger guys were talking about how much fire they saw down below, how many explosions they were seeing simultaneously. They were just amazed.

They told us that no amount of training could prepare them for what they saw. Even though all of them have flown combat sorties over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch, and most of them have been shot at, they all said that last night was unique.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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