My Guest today is Rick "Kluso" Tolini who wrote an excellent book entitled "Call Sign Kluso - An American Fighter Pilot in Mr. Reagan's Air Force"
You can pick up a hardcover or digital copy of the book here:
We discuss his experience leading up to and in Desert Storm, including his shoot down of a MiG-25 Foxbat. We also get into what makes a good fighter pilot, the tempo of air to air combat, and effective leadership skills. Rick's book is an absolute gem and I could not put it down when I started reading it.
0:28 Early Life
7:15 Kadena Air Force Base
14:30 Air Combat Tactics
19:13 The Human Factor
26:38 Desert Shield
38:44 Desert Storm
46:48 Training to fight
54:54 Add Value
58:11 Strafing in the Eagle
1:05:11 Why you wrote the book
Thanks for listening!
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This is the PilotPhotog Podcast. Let's listen to the story of the 15 pilot who fought in Desert Storm and has just released a new book and titled Call Sign Kluso and An American Fighter Pilot in Mr. Reagan's air force. Hi everyone. My guest today is retired USCF, Lieutenant Colonel and F 15 fighter pilot, Rick Kluso Tolini. Hi, Rick. Thanks for joining.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (25s):
Hi and thanks for having me on happy to be here.
And in the early part of your book Call Sign, Kluso you point out key moments in your life that were significant and help determine your path. One that stuck out to me as I read it was when you went to a party and you talked to your friend, Mike, can you share with us how that conversation basically shaped the course of your life?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (44s):
Yeah, so the background on that was I was a student at San Jose state university and the department of aeronautics and my friend Mike had, and was also the student there. And we had similar goals, as many of the students did. And that program was to become airline pilots and we pursued that and many different ways. And the funny story, that's not in the book, so I'll expand on it is when we first graduated and we were all kind of like, I would say California hippies, even though it was, it was in the seventies, it was past the hippie area, but we all had like a long the air and, and that lifestyle have how we dress it up.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1m 24s):
And right after we graduated and he told me he was going in the air force, which was like, wow, I didn't expect that. And, and then I just, he, I saw the not too long afterwards, he goes, no, I got to the gym. I was ready to sign the papers at the induction office. And he said, I couldn't do it. So he, you had a pilot's slot, but he just, you know, I couldn't do it. So he started working for, I think like call me doing, you know, sales and engine parts or something. And after about a year or a year and a half of that, he quit that. And I didn't know that. And so this was a new year's Eve party.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (2m 6s):
And so I guess it was December 31st 81 going into 82. And I was teaching at San Jose state. They had hired me as an instructor after I graduated. And one of my students was given a party, so they invited me over it and I literally wasn't going to go. And then I went and just, I just wanted to say high and meet everybody. And literally, as I was walking in the door, Mike had, and his walking out leaked to the leave the party and it was like, oh my God, Mike, what do you know, what are you doing here? And then why is your hair so short? And, and so he told me that whole backstory of, you know, not going in the air force and then deciding, oh, I'm going to go back.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (2m 54s):
And he was on his way to pilot training. So he'd just finished OTs, he home on leave. And he is on his way to pilot training. And he was telling me about how, and he was really excited about it. And it was just like such a departure from what I thought we were both trying to pursue that it had never crossed my mind to take the military path and in the aviation. And after I got through talking with Mike that evening, it just like planted the seed in my head that it didn't take very long the gro, but I started thinking, well, that's, that's a good idea. And Mike's plan was to go to the pilot training, maybe get a heavy aircraft transport or something, prep for being an airline pilot and get out.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (3m 40s):
And I go, well, I can do that. Yeah. And so, so that was the start of it. And so the unique part of that is I outlined the book is that if I had not gone to that party, or if I had just arrived a few minutes later, Mike would have already been gone and that seed might never have been planted. And I'm not sure, you know, what direction my life would have gone in that case. So, so I, I tried to give a few examples of that in the book about our life flows in a certain path. But, you know, there's always sometimes little things that we don't notice that, that divert that path into maybe the direction we're really supposed to you.
PilotPhotog (4m 21s):
It's incredible that life is really a series of events. And some of them are so significant, which at the time they seem insignificant, but they turn out to be turning points.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (4m 30s):
Yeah. And so my hope in people reading the book is not just an aviation story or a story about, or a war story, but that they can see that connection of their own humanity to other parts of life and how we depend on all our human connections for our life to move forward, hopefully in a positive way. But even the, the difficult times are, can create a positive result.
PilotPhotog (4m 56s):
You mentioned that you were, you were an instructor or a teacher at San Jose state university. Can you share how those experiences being a teacher and a mentor helped you later in your career?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (5m 7s):
Yeah. So the first part of that was understanding the opportunity I was given because I had literally just graduated. I was a CFI and I was planning just to, I stopped as working as a tow truck driver, as you know, and, and I'm just going to keep doing this and build the flight time. And the director of that department came to me and offered me a job and I was just blown away and it's like, I didn't ever considered teaching, but I go, well, yeah, I can do that. So I took a pay cut from being a tow truck driver to be at San Jose state university lecturer instructor. And it was difficult my first semester because I didn't really know what I was doing, but what I learned from that is the students taught me how to be a better instructor.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (5m 51s):
And I learned that I had to adapt my methodology and my, my techniques to the individual that I was trying to teach. And I was teaching machine tool skills and, and things like that. So it was not only a lecture, but it was a practical application of what was in the lecture. So that was a very big growth opportunity for me. And I knew, and, and the, the department chair, both, both of us knew I wasn't going to be there that long, but I took the two years. I was there to become really good at it, I think. And that when I did decide to join the air force, I think I came into the program with a certain level of maturity to both receive instruction, but also later in my air force career to be able to instruct also from that experience.
PilotPhotog (6m 39s):
And I think there's a lot to be said about that. Teaching is as much having knowledge as it is knowing your student or knowing your, your audience, so to speak and kind of tailoring the message to them. Right.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (6m 50s):
Yeah. And as you mentioned in your previous question, and it's also the process of learning for ourselves and how you actually, and the process of teaching sum buddy, is something you become better at it also. And that's what really carried over into my air force fighter pilot career is when I was given an opportunity to become an instructor pilot, it just made me a much better fighter pilot in the process.
PilotPhotog (7m 15s):
The first assignment actually was at Kadena air force base in Japan with the 12 fighter. Is it the 12 fighter wing or the 12th
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (7m 23s):
At that time was 12 tactical fighter squadron. They were called tactical at the time they changed that later in the air force organization, but yeah, 12 technical fighter squadron. And with the number 12 there, their nickname was the dirty, dirty dozen. We loved that name. That's great.
PilotPhotog (7m 40s):
And can you share your experiences when you first arrived to the dirty dozen and how flying into Pacific was different than the state side or even on you?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (7m 49s):
Yeah. Well, I didn't have anything to base that off of, but the first thing I found out when I went to <inaudible> training and Luke was, I didn't know where Kadina was, where Okinawa was or anything, and why you always being sent so far away. But most of the instructor's at Luc who had been in activity and they told me, they said, you really got the best F 15 assignment and your opportunities for training, there are just going to be better than anywhere else. And that turned out to be true. So Kadina at the time had three F 15 squadrons, I know RF four squadron, but the Pacific Western Pacific had a large fourths of other fighter squadrons and Korea mainland.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (8m 36s):
Yeah. And the Philippines. And so we were always always training together. And then they had what we call large force exercises. And in the Pacific, the main one was cope thunder, which was part of the red flag series of, of exercises. So everybody's familiar. I think most people are familiar with red flag that name, but don't realize it actually exist. And other, other locations by the time and what we did at cope thunder in the Philippines was huge compared to what they were doing at red flag at Nellis, you safely had large exercises also, but I think on the basis of size and regular ability to do it Kadena and the Western, the pack and Pacific air forces exercise was by far the largest, the largest of, and the most frequent.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (9m 32s):
So, so sometimes we would have, you know, packages of 6,200 airplanes on the mission, but a part of that was the blue forces and some of it was red, but that ended up replicating very close to what we did, especially in the opening weeks of Desert Storm. And I was prepared based off of my experience. It could be enough for that. And then eye the mission commanders I selected for Desert Storm are also mainly folks that had flown and perform those types of missions in at Kadena or, and you safety. And because I knew they can handle the complexities of a mission planning and be in the leader and mission commander for that kind of mission.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (10m 19s):
So it was a truly unique, and then we, we got to just to do so much regular fundamental training at a very high level activity. And then
PilotPhotog (10m 29s):
Yeah, few people realize what it takes to put one fighter in the air and let her alone, as you said, 60 to a hundred for a sense of scale, typically how many aircraft are involved in a red flag exercise versus cope thunder?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (10m 42s):
I think at that time, as I recall, they would, they would do things like maybe an eight ship of F fifteens and, you know, a 12. And it would probably be on a scale of maybe about 30% of what we were doing and in the Pacific. So, and they've expanded red flag a little bit since then, but they've never done anything again since the eighties and into the early nineties. So what we did at cope thunder, part of that changed when the Philippines closed when Clark or airbase closed.
PilotPhotog (11m 12s):
Right. That was a, there was a volcano that erupted, right. That concept of the clothes.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (11m 17s):
Yeah. We were supposed to go like the next week where we're going down to the cope center and Mount Pinatubo exploded. It's like, Nope, you're canceled. Yeah. Never going to the Philippines again. And it was very sad
PilotPhotog (11m 30s):
As you mentioned, the book, the end of an era. So in the book, you mentioned one of your, I believe he was a flight commanders, OPEC. Who was his last name? No, that was his Call Sign. Oh,
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (11m 42s):
I don't know how he got that, but his last name was CAS OPEC cask. It was actually my squadron commander.
PilotPhotog (11m 50s):
Okay. Call Sinopec your squatter commander. His leadership style was very straight to the point and he trusted his pilots. Can you elaborate on that?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (11m 60s):
Yeah, that was not just unique to, to OPEC, but it was kind of the tradition at Kadena, but also we had great leaders. Some of them would go on to be like four star generals and stuff, but there was very high standards expected of everybody. And I think even more so on the 12th squadron, from my perspective, then the other two squadron's and, and OPEC was part of establishing and maintaining the standards of excellence that were expected in are and how we went about our business. But along with that, he trusted us and he trusted us to watch out out of each other to hold each other accountable.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (12m 40s):
And the example I gave in the book was we, his, he had just taken over squadron commander, which is kind of, you know, high visibility when you first start. And we deploy to the first ever F 15 deployment to Thailand for a pretty big exercise, a similar and very large force exercise. And we expected him just to lay down a lot of rules and restrictions about how we were gonna fly and, you know, socialize, I guess you could say. And he didn't say anything about that and his opening comments. And he said, bring the airplanes home safely every day. That's all, he, that's all he asked me. And that, that just the established the sense of the us that we don't want to, you know, betray.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (13m 27s):
And so we flew very hard. We were, as you were doing afterburner Takeoff's and implement and departures and coming up initially at 600 knots or the landing break for the landing, but we just watched out and after each other, if anybody got out of line or was doing anything crazy, we, and we would pull them back in. And, and so we wanted to repay that trust that OPEC put us, and for me, that kind of established that leadership skill to expect high standards from your people, but also trust them to do the job.
PilotPhotog (14m 1s):
Yeah. And if there's one rule it's hard to break it. Right. Because there's only one. And, and it also speaks to the professionalism you're dealing with highly trained, highly skilled professionals. It sounds like he imparted that trust onto you. And it was well
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (14m 15s):
Founded. Yes. And I've had other good commanders' along the way too. And some of those were outlined in the book, but I used the OPEC as the primary example for both for that experience and other, other fortunate mentors I had and in my career,
PilotPhotog (14m 31s):
Yeah. That sounds like an excellent leadership style. I think we've all had experiences with micromanagers and that never works out. And that's so true. And when it comes to air to air combat in the book, you mentioned how tempo has everything and how that manifests or translates into the ODA loop. That's O O D can you elaborate on that? I could
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (14m 51s):
Probably give you like the two hour lecture on the, yes. Some of my students here and get that lecture. That was something I more have. I came to a realization of later in my career, and even now as I'm instructing in the simulator, because I started recognizing that and the air force doesn't train to tempo sometimes. And we did it naturally through the process of our, you know, large force employment of our high level of training and, and things like that to where, let me, let me point another term for you. And this is not mine.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (15m 32s):
I Googled it. I kind of thought about it. And I go, and let me Google this and see if it exists. And it does, it was called intuitive expertise. And that's what you want to reach as a fighter pilot or as any professional is a level of intuitive expertise where you can make a decision intuitively quickly. And, and that is part of that whole OODA loop cycle. And the example I give and using that is we do a very basic Trent level of training, which is called BFM it's it's basic fighter maneuvers. And for your audience that doesn't know what that is. That's one versus one maneuvering in a visual environment, usually within a mile of each other and mile and a half from each other, and where you're fighting either with an offensive advantage or defensive disadvantage to get us one other aircraft and the people.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (16m 26s):
And I figured this out after I became an instructor and had to get better at it, that the people who can stay one step ahead of the adversary, even in a defensive posture, but the guy behind you actually gains quick advantage and the fight, and actually forces the adversary to constantly be reacting to him. And in the process of that reaction, you have already analyzed it while it's in Korean and selected your next move before he even finished his last move. And so if that makes sense, is that you get one or two steps ahead on the OODA loop. So that's the very basic aspect of it in a one vs one environment and a larger, and this is not a concept that is unknown obviously, but in a larger war time combat concept, it's the same thing is that you press the initiative against the adversary and don't let him recover from that.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (17m 28s):
And other words, you are constantly updating and selecting the next moves, the next tactic or the next execution. And that adversaries are constantly on their heels. That's the thing, that's really the art of war going back all the way through centuries of like, if you read the sentences, the art of war, which I read as a young fighter pilot, it's, it's the constant in and anything in life, but especially in lethal events, like combat that you have to use tempo as part of your tactics.
PilotPhotog (18m 3s):
Yeah. War is from what I can gather is about, it's not about a fair fight and smoke pressing and continuing to press your advantage. Yeah.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (18m 11s):
And I think general Patton coined this phrase and the, obviously it was well known for is being an operational tactician, but he said a good plan executed now is better than a perfect plan executed too late. And that that's the idea behind it with the Loup and tempo in combat
PilotPhotog (18m 34s):
The intuitive expertise was the term correct? Yeah. So that, to me sounds like it relates to the 10,000 hour rule where it takes time. And, and what I've heard is from that as well as, or related to that, as things start to, you know, quote unquote, slow down, right. And then you kind of can almost step outside of what's happening and, and really analyze everything that's going on. Not just, you know,
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (18m 57s):
That's a perfect description of it.
PilotPhotog (18m 58s):
I think. Thank you. So, yeah. And that's true of almost any skill that's learned in life, right? It's that the word
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (19m 4s):
It really is. And, and they, you know, just the average person should tend, probably recognize it in their own life experience of when that, when they reached that point.
PilotPhotog (19m 13s):
Absolutely. You talked to the book about the age old lesson on, in this case, the air force becoming a little too dependent on technology and its downfalls. Can you elaborate how the human factor works into that? And almost can counter that?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (19m 26s):
Well, this is nothing new in, in life or in business or in warfare that S you know, we always, technology is a great thing. And it's the difference maker office obviously. And we're always pursuing, you know, improvement's and breakthrough technologies, but the man in the loop part of that, even though it seems like it's less important now, it's still, to me, the critical part of it. Cause that's the, that's the unknown, that's the difference maker. But we went through this in the 1960s when technology was expanding the fighter jet, more modern fighter jets were coming out and they started coming out with complex radar systems and radar missiles and infrared missiles.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (20m 9s):
And, and everybody thought like, oh, well, you know, this is going to be so easy to shoot down and other airplanes, you know, and we, at the same time, we lost a large portion of our experience fighter pilots that had been bred through world war II into the Korean war. And now they were all retiring and it's like, okay, tech and we're in the McNamara era, like, yeah, we just got all this great technology. And then we found out that doesn't work too good. Cause we're fighting what I, I guess we consider a third grade air force in Vietnam and they were doing pretty good against us. And so that was the lesson learned. And that was the birth of things like the fighter weapons school in the air force and a top gun.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (20m 55s):
And the Navy that, oh, we need to teach, teach fundamental air superiority skills and use the technology in the best way. But that technology is always going to be countered at some point. So even if there's an advantage, the, the enemy will figure it out, how to counter that advantage or develop similar technology. It's an age old lesson that we learned. And after you Desert Storm, we kind of want to the same draw down and loss of air superiority expertise at the same time that we had new technology coming on board, which was the Amram missile, a active radar missile launch and leave radar missile.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (21m 39s):
As people call it, you can fire it and not have to guide them as will all the way the target can do it itself. And then we got stealth technology and, and things like that. And there was no pure competitor at the time. So it was like, well, you know, we're doing okay, right. Well, I, I'm not sure where we're doing okay anymore because the big technology aspect has become a lot more. Even if you look at the Chinese threat and, and then some cases could be an imbalance could eventually and occur. But the, the, the key factor to me is it goes back to that intuitive expertise.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (22m 21s):
So what happens when technology becomes predominant in the tactics that we train to is that it creates this slow degradation in expertise becomes because you become reliant. And once that degradation occurs, unless somebody recognizes it and corrects it, it's like a, it's like a snowball rolling down the mountain is that it gets bigger and bigger and you move farther away from the starting point where you were. And this is not just my opinion. I talked to old school guys, we'd call ourselves the old school guys and they'll go, yeah. And what's happening. And so I tried to point this out and do my books and through other things butt.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (23m 4s):
But I think I used the Maslow's theory. And in the book with all you have is the hammer. Everything looks like the nail. Yeah. And in other words, you only have a single tool. So you want every problem that you face to fit back tool. That's not the reality of combat. And you have to have multiple tools and skills and expertise and your toolbox to counter the multitude of problems you're going to face in combat both at the individual level, the tactical operational on the strategic level. And when expertise gets diluted by reliance on technology, it's really hard to build that back up.
PilotPhotog (23m 48s):
Yeah. I think of the book, you also mentioned, it's a kin to technicians versus artists, right? You can teach somebody, push the buttons and run through the steps. If you throw a wrench in that, what do you do? You know, how do
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (23m 59s):
You read it? You know, and I've found a lot of times when I'm instructed, when I first get a student into the simulator and I teach some pretty technical skills on the, some things, and we have to get into pretty heavy duty thought process of technology and flight profile's and maneuvering the airplane. But I almost asked them and I go, what was your degree? And, and, you know, if they say aeronautics or engineering or something like that, a technical kind of it's like, oh, okay. But if they say like, I was a history major, or I was an art major, I go, great. I can really work with you and stuff. There's little more flexible. Right. And their minds are more open and they see things.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (24m 40s):
It's like, you know how they say, people have certain sentences and sometimes, and like, maybe if you're missing a sense, like hearing her or sight, you make that up. And other ways like you can, you can see if you can't hear you, you can see sound or hear the colors are. And it's like, there's a fluidity required. You have to have some basic technical, you know, ability and knowledge, but there is a fluidity and in different people's minds that sometimes adapts best to air combat and air superiority in particular, which is such a fluid environment that if you don't have that fluidity, you can become too strict or restrictive.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (25m 25s):
And you're understanding, and also the execution. So I don't know how the air force tests for fighter pilots skills, but hopefully something like that is in there and their testing and stuff
PilotPhotog (25m 38s):
Outside the box, or adaptive, adaptive thinking. Right. Or,
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (25m 41s):
Yeah, the adaptive thinking really. And, and that goes back to the other part of that is, and the danger of reliance on technology is, is one of our age old themes in the air force was flexibility is the key to air power. And that's never changed. In other words, that's the truth period. Whether you think so or not, or whether you apply that are not, the flexibility is to key the air power. And when you become reliant on technology that flexibility and starts to go away.
PilotPhotog (26m 12s):
Yeah. It sounds almost like it's the law, the law of gravity or, or yeah, yeah. You can break it, but you're going to be in trouble.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (26m 20s):
Yeah. You can ignore this, but write your own demise possibly. And that's it.
PilotPhotog (26m 24s):
And, and, and, and that goes back all the way, I think, to the world war one. Right. I mean, that, that has never changed and air combat, you know, and
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (26m 31s):
It goes back to the history of humanity. Right. It's just ever, ever forever.
PilotPhotog (26m 38s):
Right. And yeah. Some things never change. It's just that the circumstances and the technology, but everything else, the fundamentals I'd like to, I'd like to switch back over really quick to your, your participation and your involvement in Desert Storm. I know that when you, when you deployed you, oh gosh, sorry. What was the name of the, the airbase you were adding in Saudi Arabia?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (27m 2s):
You know, I was in a, the 50 eights tactical fighter squadron, which our name was the guerrillas and that was at Eglin air force base. And I was the, I was my second <inaudible> assignment. I went from Cadina to Eglin, and then I went to fighter weapons school. So it was the weapons officer who would, who's, he's kind of like the top gun, if you want to use the Navy term four, the squadron. So, so we deployed from Eglin to, to book airbase and the Western sector of Northwest sector of Saudi Arabia in August of 90 and 1990.
PilotPhotog (27m 36s):
That was part of operation desert shield, which of course became Desert Storm. And January 91, when you got there and you started planning, everyone started planning for death. What became Desert Storm? You had a problem with kind of setting up the schedules for having, you know, enough aircraft and pilots available to basically run a 24 hour air campaign. So you came up with, I felt was very brilliant solution on how to get everybody to fly and, and have enough pilots. Can you talk about a little bit about that and how you came up with that plan?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (28m 6s):
Yeah. So the unique part of this was as the weapons officer, I was sent to Riyadh or the very first planning conference. And I came back with the initial Desert Storm plan to tasking, and I was not, it was very close fold. I was not allowed to tell anybody about it other than my squadron commander and the wing commander who were there deployed with us. And so I had to work on the plans, which were basically the first three days of the war were already planned out. It changed a little bit over the course of the next five months, but I had these taskings and I've just the Manning for an air force. Fighter squadron is called a Manning ratio is, and the normal Manning ratio is 1.2, five pilots per assigned aircraft.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (28m 52s):
And so there was normally 24 at that time, 24 aircraft in a fighter squadron. So 24 times 1.25, you come out to, you know, like 30, 30, 2 pilots. So that's what we had with us. That's what we brought. But that's pilot ratio is okay for normal, just every day, peace time training. You have enough pilots to fill a schedule. That's about a 10 hour flying window every day. But when you go into the 24 hour operations, now you find you're, you're running out of pilots. And then the way that airplanes are tasked in these time training and you fly you no, maybe an hour, an hour and a half at a time. And if you're going to use the airplane again, that takes time to turn it around and refuel it.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (29m 33s):
And we train to surge operations, which would turn the airplane quickly. But when you go to war or the, the missions are longer, and we had cat missions that started out at two hours, and then they became four hours and 10, it became six hours. And that six hour cap mission was my recommendation to the planners at Riyadh. That if you can keep us on cap longer and we'll have some aircraft on standby in case they have to come back early, we can more efficiently provide airplanes for your tasking. So that was good. They understood that. And they quickly changed that. Then the problem became how many pilots do we have?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (30m 14s):
And I kept finding we have enough airplanes, but we're running out of the pilots. And Riyadh really wanted F fifteens on the offensive counter air missions. There, that's where those for the missions to go strike targets in Iraq, Baghdad, and other places, and you needed F fifteens there to protect those bomber aircraft attack aircraft from Iraqi fighters. They really needed F fifteens to do that. And they were having a hard time getting all the units to supply that. So what I did is I came up with the plan is instead of trying to task all our pilots on a 24 hour day, I change the, the duty cycle of our day to 18 hours.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (30m 57s):
And so what that meant is everybody would fly once in an 18 hour duty day window and our normal crew rest requirements, pilot rest requirements were normally 12 hours between missions, but we knew we just couldn't do that. And so you would do is you had fly you're mission, and it sounded like one missions, not much, but they were really alone. And normally, and you would come back. And so let's say you flew a mission, a Kat mission. And that was at noon on day one. And you were going to find another cat mission. The next day, that mission would start six hours earlier at 6:00 AM. And then if you flew at another cat mission, the next day, that would start six hours earlier at midnight.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (31m 41s):
So your day kept get rolling six hours earlier because it was an 18 hour day, basically. And, and once I did that, I've had, it was like, it, it plus start our pilot availability by that same percentage, like a 25% increase in the pilot availability. And it's like, Hey, guess what? We can do all those OCA mission's you, you wanted us to do. And they loved it. And the maintenance guys, the maintenance supervisors bought off on it. It was totally out of the box and the squadron commander and went and commander bought off on it. But even at that, it was a pretty difficult grind once it lasted more than about a week or two is like, your body is really not used to that.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (32m 25s):
And so, but it worked in the, in the timeframe we needed to use it.
PilotPhotog (32m 29s):
It sounds like that's a great example of intuitive expertise, which you mentioned earlier, by that point, you had been making schedules and, and you were, as you said, the weapons officer. So you had been doing this for a while and including with missions over at cope thunder. So by the time Desert Storm came around, it sounds like you had that kind of background that enabled you to do this or come up with this.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (32m 49s):
Yeah, yeah. That's true. So all that, all that previous experience has kind of flowed into too. And that flips that idea of flexibility. Is there power and, and being in tune with that is, let's just figure out how to make this work.
PilotPhotog (33m 4s):
My understanding is that's the air force still realize, and that kind of a pacing today, is that correct?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (33m 10s):
You know, it's so far away from that. I don't know that they still realized, and I think they would remember to figure it out if they ever needed to. Right. But the big issue right now with the air force is, is that pilot ratio issue is that if you think you can supply all of the combat sorties, you need by the airplanes you have at a location, you're not going to probably be able to, because you're going to run out of pilots. And then is there a enough of a surplus of a bailable pilots somewhere else that are going to be able to augment that?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (33m 52s):
So whatever you think you haven't forced structure. Like we have this many <inaudible> and we had this many at 15 seats. The actual force structure is probably closer to 60 or 70% of those numbers. And so if you lose sight of that and the importance of having enough pilots ready, experienced pilots with expertise readily available for long-term calm 24 hour combat operations, you could find yourself at a deficit very quickly. And then there's whole bunch of other issues with what the Bible and pending right now that, that are kind of on the margins too.
PilotPhotog (34m 32s):
That's a great point. Can you discuss the pilot shortage? The air force is facing today and the strategies that would help mitigate that. And
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (34m 38s):
In my era, people just didn't think about the military as a possibility, but if you, if you found the right people, literally they were coming onto the campuses. This is my book is called Call Sign Kluso. And then the subtitle is An American Fighter Pilot and Mr. Reagan's air force president and, and the build-up of the Reagan era was the rebuilding of American military capability, post Vietnam. They were literally coming to the campuses, looking for anybody. And so that pathway of the citizen soldier, or in this case, citizen airmen has to be made available. And the traditional ways of receiving an officer's into who become pilot candidates into the air force of the air force academy in ROTC, maybe it's not a broad enough spectrum of quality people that are available in society.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (35m 34s):
So if you present them with, Hey, would you like to do this? It's pretty. I think, I think there's a possibility. Maybe my book could kind of open that up or other books that are written in a similar style, but going back to what I was going to say is one of the big problems is in the seventies to, into the eighties and nineties, and especially from the Reagan buildup area all the way until after it doesn't storm, we had this huge surplus of experienced air superiority expertise in non-flying jobs, non-flying positions. So I would call them, they were like banked. They were like your bank deposit or safety savings deposit of pilot expertise.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (36m 18s):
And they were on a, the, the major command staff that were doing staff work. And they were in alpha tours. And most of which was you were doing something else with your expertise besides flying and that 15, and then you were always coming back to the F 15 or whatever the cockpit community. And so that bank of expertise is largely gone now in the air force because of D draw downs of, because of those positions being taken over by civilians contractors, like, and those banks position opportunities are not available. So, so that, to me, the time and a little bit dangerous part is that not only do you have to meet the ops tempo of combat, but if you have combat losses, you have to be able to replace those over long-term, but it might not be a deciding factor and a conflict, but it takes six to 10 years to build that expertise wow.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (37m 25s):
Value or the savings, the bank and value of that expertise. So you don't recover from that easily, if that becomes a factor.
PilotPhotog (37m 34s):
Yeah. And the book you made the comparison to what was happening too, Germany and Japan during world war II, where the, in the first part of the war, they lost all their experienced pilots where the us was sending back their guys that had combat experience, the go train, the next group of fighter pilots. Yeah.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (37m 50s):
Yeah. And we did that, and that was kind of like the core philosophy and, and assignments and things like that to always maintain that rotating surplus of pilots, of leaving the top tip and coming back training the young guys with their experience. And then, and then you just continue that flow. And the post Desert Storm draw down was the very beginning of the erosion of that philosophical aspect of manpower management and rated manpower management.
PilotPhotog (38m 22s):
It sounds like it became more of an accounting problem than a practical or experience problem. Right. And it was just numbers on a spreadsheet. Yeah.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (38m 29s):
And, and, you know, that's the problem and that applies to every single company and industry. And that was like, when you put profits and numbers, I had of expertise within your organization. Eventually it's going to get to you.
PilotPhotog (38m 44s):
I ask you about the opening night sorties that you flew, or I think it was your first day sorority when you had an encounter with what ended up being four MIGS. Can you talk about that? And
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (38m 55s):
I was in the mission commander for the first night's mission and it was the, oh the 300 going into Iraq, the very opening a Desert Storm. And I led an H ship of, at fifteens that were part of the very first fighter sweep. And this is just a quick synopsis of that. And we shot down a three Iraqi aircraft, my number three men, JB calc. I had the first, the first shoot down of the war against the Iraqi MIG 29. But over, we had a series of several other missions after that on a very high tempo again. And then on January 19th and JB ha was his term to lead a mission.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (39m 40s):
So I was his number three and we had a very, this was one of those very large hundred airplane missions going to Baghdad. Wow. And it got canceled in the morning because the weather and the target area. And I think there were some other things going on because the Iraqis had just fought scuds and Israel. So they canceled are mission. And then, and then I got a call from a friend of mine from Cadena. His name was a bad mix Phat and Richard McSpadden. And he said, we need some Eagles to go up and fly at cap for some Skuid hunters in Western Iraq, because they wanted to find the SKUs that were shooting at Israel. And there was like, now we're like totally tasked because I, I were, you know, we're basically into day three of the war and I knew everything I'd done all the scheduling.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (40m 30s):
So I knew everything was tasked, but I, and I thought about it and, you know, and we just landed early. Let me ask our maintenance, if they can turn the jets around and get us in the air. And the maintenance guy said, yeah. So about 30 minutes later, I called SPAD back. And so, yeah, we can do it. And so literally we just, you know, kick the tires, like the fire's just the same. And we were up in the arrogance, I'm the leading the four Shipp. And we're just waiting around and Navy strike package from the red sea Navy forces was going in through our area to hit some targets near Bagdad and then coming out. And we just kind of wanted to move out of the way for several reasons and then safety me and the big one.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (41m 12s):
And then on the process of the them leaving their target, some MIGS were scrambled and appeared to be chasing them down. And I, I was able to confirm later through another source that yes, they were actually chasing them down. So our AWACS in our sector, our Western sector committed us against those Iraqi aircraft. And initially it was to make 20 nines chasing them down. So we, we just lit the afterburners and put them in a cutoff position kind of intercept to get there quickly and got there. And just in time to wear, they, they came off to the Navy package and then headed north-east.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (41m 52s):
And it looked a lot like a tactic possibly that we'd seen, been briefed on our intelligence, brief dishonor. The Iraqis used against the Iranians during their long war, because right after the MIGS turned away, two more MIGS popped up north of them, about 30 miles north of them. And we turned, I turned my flight to check those guys out and engage them. And they turned out to the MIG 25, sit down at very low altitude, going very, very fast. And so that was the fourth ship we faced at the time. And we still had to respect the other to make 20 nines is if they turned around and you know, it would be, you know, more aircraft coming to the merge.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (42m 35s):
But at that time they did. And so I turned the flight in north into the mix 20 fives. If you watched the history channel, they do a recreation of this fight, the, and they get some of the directions, some of the details a little bit wrong and it's described and several other books, but hopefully I feel in more details and my book, but basically I turned the flight into it. And then the Iraqi Foxbat pilots do a very good job defending against our radar capabilities and our potential to shoot them at beyond visual range BVR with our aim seven's. And that was a big surprise. And, but we were ready for that because we'd been trained against those kinds of defensive tactics.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (43m 18s):
So, so they, when they turned back in me and my wingman cherry pits, Larry Cherry pits, we got our radars in position. We found them as they came back into the fight, but they were just way too close now. And we had a big, we were very high, they were very low and very fast. And we ended up at emerge, which is a visual fight, which we did not expect to happen. So it's like, oh, that's one of those things you're talking about. Its like you better that wasn't the plan. We were going to shoot them at long range and then get out of the fight. But now it was a me and my wingman initially to V2. But one of the Foxbat left the fight and very high speed to the south.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (43m 59s):
We didn't have a shot. I didn't have a shot capability. I was the guy I was targeting. And so it became a classic. What we call ACM or combat maneuvering fight where it was me and Cherrie me. And my wingmen two verses won against the, a one Foxbat but turned up at the merge. And that was probably to his unfortunate demise because he had to, at 15, he had the fight against and he did the best he could. He was using chaff radar countermeasures players for IRR missile counter-measures and he survived several very close range shots from cherry cherries, third or fourth shot finally got to him.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (44m 41s):
He actually injected out of his Foxbat. I didn't see that. But Jerry did. And then my, my aim nine heat seeker followed that up shortly after. And as we were trying to leave the fight, the other Foxbat came in and cherry som I picked them up in a auto acquisition mode in my radar and I was able to just quickly convert very close to his six o'clock. But it's the everybody out of burners called that has made that I'm trying to identify, is this a Foxbat or net 15 or the Navy Tomcat since those guys were around earlier. But I finally figured out by visual recognition or the nanny thing, that there was a Foxbat and, and from that point on I, I continued engagement until one of my aims sevens finally blows month.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (45m 29s):
And so that was probably, yeah, that was an intense fight for many perspectives. A lot of temporal distortions you, you asked, was it surreal? And I said, yeah, it was surreal. But the unique thing was, was how automatic everything was. And that tempo part where you're just doing things based off you're training and not have to actually think about them. And that was the benefit of the, how good our training was probably more than what the Iraqi Foxbat pilots had been able to levels of training they'd been able to achieve, even though they were very experienced combat pilots and they executed their tactics very well.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (46m 9s):
They just, when they got to the visual and we were, and they were, they were in the wrong the airplane. So that's basically the way that progressed and, and, and that's the way that ended. And that from my book, that's like chapter eight in my book. And that's kind of the nexus of the story, obviously both pre career post-career as what people want to read about mostly. But as I say in the book for me, it was one data point, but it did validate our training. It did validate the concept of mutual support, the flight lead and the wingman helping each other and our case that that made the difference. And that's why we were successful
PilotPhotog (46m 48s):
The engagement and the way you describing the book and, and just now as well is, is very, very detailed, very interesting. I mean, it was a real page Turner. I found the book overall to be extremely enjoyable. As I mentioned earlier, you go into your, your early life and then, you know, of course the, for the fighter pilot stuff, which is great and then post fighter pilot. And there's a lot of great takeaways from the book aside from a great fighter pilot story and career. So I can't recommend it enough. I really can't recommend the book and have to everybody it's incredible. And it speaks to, as you said, the Testament of the training, and I would almost say the muscle memory, right. That just kind of takes over because you've done it so many times the
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (47m 30s):
Yeah, that's to me, the, the important aspect of the, of our, not just my results or my flight's results, but our squadrons results for Desert Storm is really a Testament to the investment and air superiority technology and training that came to fruition during desert storm. So I think that's an important lesson, not just to, you know, celebrate the results, but to understand how do you achieve those results because it's not, you shouldn't take it for granted that it's going to happen that way. Every time I remember when I was at officer training school, Steve Richie, I dunno if you know who Steve Richie was, the last American Vietnam.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (48m 15s):
He came to our class, he gave a recounting of his Vietnam experience and I was just mesmerized. And, and, and maybe that was probably the beginning seed of like, I want to be, I don't want to be a fighter pilot instead of a fly a C 1 41 or something. So people want to hear those stories. But, but what I really wanted to do, especially when I'm talking to pilots is get them to understand the realities of combat, which are different than training. Your training is so important, but you have to train for combat instead of training, training to train. It's very easy to lose sight of that.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (48m 55s):
And so usually when I talk to people now it's more on that, that motivational, how do you establish standards of excellence, how you recognize those, how you promote those, what are the realities of combat? And, and the, one of the realizations I came to was, and this is not my observation. In fact, I was a little bit surprised that I, that I came to this understanding is that not everybody is going to have the same level of aggressiveness in combat. Hm. And that's an age old experience of combat. And so I read a book at well after my air force period, and it was called on killing O N on killing K I L L I N G.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (49m 43s):
And I think Grossman is the author and it talks about the psychology of warfare and the age old problem is unless you're a psychopath, right. Humans are not programmed to kill other human beings. Yeah. And so you said like in world war two, the average infantry man, maybe only 10 or 20% of a unit would actually fire their guns. You know, I can't remember because it was a very low percentage or if they did fire them, they would actually fire them at the end and B rather than the just shooting and blindly. And so, so training a lot of the emphasis and training over the years, they knew that.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (50m 27s):
And so in the modern aerial combat, they try to overcome that. And I had no hesitation to hit the pickle button and farmed missiles in combat. But because I had trained through many simulations that this was a target in front of me and I didn't hesitate. And my flight was very aggressive. Me and my wingman were very aggressive, not just on that engagement, but through the war, but I didn't always see that consistently. And it made me start to wonder why that is. And now I understand it's just the human psychology that it's not just self-preservation sometimes it's just like your, you Mae you couldn't participate in a war, but wars or combat is a big open environment.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (51m 13s):
And there's people at the knife points edge, and then there's people participating, but kind of on the fringe, if you know what I mean, and it's very easy to select which one of those you wanna, you know, and, and, and you're all participating. So you all have value in the fight, but, but different aspects of a unit will maybe fight harder than others. And I can't quantify that or qualify it. That's just, it's there. It's natural. And so the thing I, and presenting my story is, is how, as a combat fighter unit, do you create that level of expertise, that level of spree and within the unit two, where you become in a more effective combat unit.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (52m 1s):
And I think you can apply that to any, especially in the specialized combat unit, like special ops or, or something like that, or you have a neat, unique expertise and ability to, you still have to collectively be able to use that as a unit. So I, I figured that out after Desert Storm, and it became the focus of my training philosophy of how I continued to try to train fighter pilots, you have to prepare him for combat, not just, you know, pass there next upgrade, or the check ride or whatever, or check right, or whatever is you have to prepare them for combat. And that's not an easy task.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (52m 41s):
And the farther you get away from combat experience within the culture of the organization, the harder it is to, to keep a handle on that.
PilotPhotog (52m 51s):
What I was referring to earlier about the, the motivational speaker. I mean, I think there's lessons here for the people in business and leadership outside of combat, outside of, you know, the MIG 25 and all that stuff. I think there's, you've got a lot of really powerful lessons that are based on your experiences, but I think what translates to other areas. Yeah.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (53m 12s):
I know what you mean. I'd be happy to do a Ted talk.
PilotPhotog (53m 20s):
And I think you, you should honestly, I mean, if there's, if there'd be a way for you to do it because got the, the life experience the back it up.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (53m 28s):
Yeah. And, and, you know, and I, and I, I, I'm glad you could see that and, and, and make a connection because yeah. And, and then once again, that was, I was, I was writing this book, not for aviation enthusiast. I knew that that would be the selling point for most of it, but I really did want to make it a story about life and those important, you know, the things we learn and how to apply them and how to make ourselves better and how to make our community culture or business environment better. And so, yeah, those are universal, I think. And, and especially when you get into like, you know, a management level position or a program manager, like you said, is, is how do you get the best?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (54m 13s):
How do you, do you innovate how you, how do you make progress? How do you get the best out of everybody, not just for the project or the company, but the fact that you're actually trying to create value within the individual's life experience through that process. It's and yeah, that's, that's a tough challenge. It is. It is.
PilotPhotog (54m 34s):
And I have a mantra that I always use is always add value, right. In any situation, as much as you can walk away, having added some value. Yeah.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (54m 44s):
And that's a very important, and, and I kind of present that at the end of my book in the last chapter is when you make every decision based off of a value orientation, and especially when that value and orientation is, is towards the human being or the individual involved. And you're generally always been a make the right decision. And I discovered that unfortunately I became pretty eight type personality post Desert Storm. I don't know if people recognize that I'm sure some people we're at the wrong end of that, but it was all motivated towards that. A, the, the mission, the mission is so important and being prepared for combat.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (55m 25s):
And so, but at the end of my career, when I became a squadron commander, I kind of realized if I made a decision based off of what I thought was best for the air force or best for the mission, lots of times it was the wrong decision. Yeah. And, and I'd forgotten the lessons that I'd been taught somewhere along the way early on. And I came to that re realization data. And it's, it's a cliche in the military and, and the air force take care of the people. And the people will take care of the mission, but you lose sight of that so easily. And, and especially when you're in a position of responsibility, you think you have to make micromanage, like you said.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (56m 10s):
And so I came to that realization and, and from that point on every time I made a decision and I put the person first to create value for that person in their career, or just the personal life, always, always a hundred percent worked out much better, not just for that person, but for the air force. And I could actually quantify that in many instances of how I kept somebody in, I got them to the right assignment and, and things like that, that, that was probably even more than my combat experience. The most rewarding aspect of my career was at the very end of the, some of the struggles I had to go through at the end, but the value I could create and that process by far the most rewarding aspect of my career.
PilotPhotog (57m 1s):
Absolutely. And you, you, I think you refer to it as paying a debt of gratitude. Yeah.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (57m 6s):
We have to always appreciate everything, the good, the bad, and then repay that somehow.
PilotPhotog (57m 12s):
Can you talk about in the book when you're in desert storm, when you were flying and ended up being called Cindy cap, OCA missions, and those were east of Baghdad, if you try to prevent the Iraqi fighters from fleeing into Iran, can you talk a little bit about that experience?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (57m 26s):
I am so glad you asked me that question. Yeah. So I think the quote was, you know, you give people enough time and more, they'll come up with something stupid. And I, I can remember reading stories from the Vietnam era of like, who ordered this mission. It's like, what are we doing? And I never expected it to happen to us, but so, so after my events on January 19th, I'm at the same time, the Rico Rodrigues and mull Underhill was shutting down to make 2019 and very close partners. Basically on January 19, the Rockies came out with their most aggressive tactics and I found out later, they actually came out and trying to shoot down and 15 that day.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (58m 12s):
And they'd send out some of our most experienced best pilots, their best tactics. It didn't work. And they, they got, you know, hammered pretty hard and you don't think, well, we've only shot down and like four or five, airplane's like, what's, that is like the idea of air superiority is not always about numbers. It's about making sure the enemy realizes they're not going to be successful. And we accomplished that. So, so we achieved at what I would call their superiority three days until the war on January 19th. And after that, the Iraqi stood down for a while and then a, the red folks at Riyadh's decided to start going after them in their shelters, their hardened shelters, which were not so hard.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (58m 54s):
And, and they were using the fifties and F1 Eleven's to drop laser guided bombs and destroy, basically destroy all their frontline fighters on the, on the ground. So, so when it started happening about two weeks into the war is the Iraqis tried to, and I don't know if this was like, I doubt that it was the order from Saddam, but it might've just been an order from the air force or self-preservation from the Indian, from the lower levels. But they started taking off and flying mostly to Iran. They would go into Syria to, and from the operational perspective, it had no impact. In fact, from my units, my perspective, and my unit was like, great.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (59m 37s):
I suppose one lesser McAfee fighter I have to worry about. And they're probably not coming back, but it, you know, it started playing on the media and we'd get a little bit of CNN broadcast and they were playing it up. Like, why are all these Iraqi aircraft getting away? And it became, I think, a little political at that point, from my perspective, and then not long after that, they came up with this mission and you all are all of our cap, counter air patrols, combat air patrols, they all had names to them. And so they put this one between the Baghdad, Sam rings, <inaudible> rings and Bagdad, and the Iranian border east of Baghdad.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 0m 20s):
And literally it was about a 20 or 30 mile strip of land airspace and land or space above it that you had operate in. And that w that was the very, very tight location cause we're up at 30,000 feet. And so just from the perspective of being able to point your radar ground down and see somebody maybe taking off close to you or trying to sneak in underneath you, it was almost untenable. And they wanted us to be out there for six hours at a time. And it's like, this is crazy. And the other thing we found is a, the Iraqis didn't shoot at us too much. We avoided the F fifteens. We avoided the Baghdad Sam area because we had no reason to be in there.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 1m 3s):
Right. But if you stayed in one place for very long, they would park either a Sam or some very high caliber, AAA that would go up to 25 or 30,000 feet underneath you. And they'd find out your altitude and they'd start shooting matching, just hoping to get lucky. The Sam and we're not normally guided. They just used them as high explosive, big artillery. They would just launch it up, listen to the altitude you were at. So nobody liked that mission, but it was, we had to do it. It was our tasking, but I came up with better ways of doing it, which I said, Hey, we can, we can Rove through the Cindy cat, but we don't have to stay there.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 1m 45s):
And the other thing is, what we found is if we just stayed in the city cap, they would just go around us. They knew we were there. So, so what I asked was as my private Stu is do one spin in the Cindy cap and go somewhere else, move 30, 40 miles north, come back through there, move 30 or 40 miles south, the unpredictable. And once we started doing that, we started catching a Rakhi, surprising Iraqi, and we didn't get them all, but we started surprising Iraqi aircraft that were trying to get to Iran. And I think we got five or six more shoot down after that. So that did two things that made the Cindy cat much more safer to operate in, even though maybe that was not the intent of what the general son and his to do.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 2m 33s):
It was a much better execution of it for us. And it was much more effective. And being able to the rockiest didn't know where, where you were going to be at any given time. So,
PilotPhotog (1h 2m 43s):
So by adapting randomness or uncertainty, you were able to execute better. Yeah. You had some of your squadron mates straight up the truck during the Gulf floor and you yourself were taught how to stray from the ego from the former a seven pilot. Can you share how you set up and perform strafing and the Eagle?
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 2m 57s):
You want me to tell you how to do it? Or
PilotPhotog (1h 2m 59s):
Just the overall experience or what it was like all
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 3m 5s):
Line up at 6,000 in debt? Yeah. Yeah. Well, the part of that backstory is the guys that sprayed, if the Iraqi truck, and you didn't have much success at it, but the finally hit it. They had not been taught how to spray. They got grounded because it was like not a, it was not a mission we were tasked to do. And so we were told by our wing commander, by direction of Riyadh, that we could not decide to strafe any targets on the ground and less the AC on the air control element chief on the AWACS the lead controller on the wax directed us to, and unless we were formally tasked or directed by the AWACS.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 3m 47s):
And so by that time, our roving calves were not just in Cindy cap. We were going all around Baghdad, up to the north, to the east, to west and so forth. And we were just looking for anything that was moving, but we found some Iraqi airplanes, larger airplanes, like transport airplanes, which were high priority targets on the ground at two different air bases at Ballade, which is pretty well known. And the other one was called Samarra east, which was Northeast of Baghdad. And so the, we told, reported them today, wax, I won't go into all the details to keep this short, but he goes, yeah, go ahead and strife. You understand ACE direct stray.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 4m 27s):
And he goes, yeah, its like, you don't want to tell me twice. And so my old weapons' school, the weapons officer from Eglin Mongo Robins, he was, he was a guest visitor to our squadron and you got to fly some combat missions, which was awesome that my, one of my former mentors was flying with me. So he was number three and we had briefed, Hey, what if we do get tasks to spray how to do? And I just gave him a quick, like 10 minute, here's how you do it. And he rolled in on Samarra east and just took out the Iraqi transport airplane on that base, got a direct hit on it. It's like good job. And then on the way home, they go, Hey, go back by Ballade and straight. And that one you reported some and 12th Cubs there and it was okay, so me and Cherrie rolled in on that air field and I, no, he hit his target and I never saw, and I did mine or not, but then three and four rolled in and they weren't supposed to.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 5m 21s):
And so, and I read stories from world war two about strafing German airfields in Europe. And its like, you did not want to be the last guy across the airfield because they wouldn't hold their fire until the last airplane straight. And then they would try to shoot that. And that's what happened to mom go and he almost got shot down by a role in the surface to air missile that was protecting the base. So it was pretty exciting. We got told don't ever do that again, but the director from the ACE save the us. So we didn't get grounded.
PilotPhotog (1h 5m 51s):
As you mentioned, you do go into great detail and the book and it's, it's a real page Turner. I, I very much enjoyed reading all of the events in Desert Storm and again, and you know, and your early life and then later, and your career in a more leadership mentor role. The last question I'd like to ask is what advice can you give to a young person who wants to become a fighter pilot? Yeah, that's
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 6m 12s):
A great question. Sometimes I get asked that sometimes I'll get asked like by a parent who has a young child with them and they find out I'm an fighter pilots like, oh he really likes air or she really likes airplane's and how do you do that? So I always tell people, regardless of the age is like, okay, first of all, do really good in school, study hard. And if you have an opportunity to take flight lessons, I would always recommend that to people before they go in the air force. I mean the air force will train you, but the more experience air experience you can bring the better you're going to generally do it, pilot training and sometimes the deciding factor and getting a fighter for not.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 6m 52s):
But this is the advice that a friend of mine, his name was Bob zombie was his Call Sign, Bob zombie Scott. And this was on my first assignment activity and, and I was an experienced wingmen at the time. And actually I was waiting my turn to start a flight lead upgrade, which just the first significant step. And then your progress as a fighter pilot to go from wing men, the flight leader. And I went out as zombies wingman one day and I was probably just being a little bit too proactive in voicing my opinion about our tactics or maneuvering that day and Zomba, you would probably say I was being annoying, but he kind of took it well and he just let me do what I was doing.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 7m 35s):
And he understood, I was chomping at the bit. Right. And, and we got back and he didn't, he didn't like to me out or anything, but he recognized what was going on. And he said, Kluso I just want it. And this was probably one of the best pieces of advice I ever had. And this is what I would pass on to somebody who wants to do anything. Whether your goal is to be a fighter pilot or whatever your life goal is, is he said, Kluso just do the absolute best at what you're doing today. And then everything else will fall into place after that. That's awesome. And I thought about it. I go, oh, he's right.
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 8m 18s):
And I took that. And so that's what I would say to somebody, whether you want to be a fighter pilot or whatever your career goal is, and I don't care what it is, you know, the, the best step bat, but not just always trying to be your best at your goal. You have to get there. So be the best at what you're doing today and your goals will naturally move and the right direction. And sometimes you'll end up finding your goal with something different. Actually in that process,
PilotPhotog (1h 8m 50s):
I've heard it sort of similarly put hard work, always pays off. Right. It's yeah. Even if it's almost like a Zen thing, right? Because even when you're just doing a quote unquote mundane task, if you really dedicate yourself to it and your present and the moment you get so much more out of it. Yeah. So both aviation fans and just people in general who are looking for some good, almost like life advice, right? Because it's the way the whole journey. And you do a really good job of saying, you know, in the early years this happened and this was the end of my childhood, so to speak and then this happened and that happened and you paint this picture of the, the trajectory of your life and you tie it all together. So neatly, and it really concludes with, with everything you know about, about gratitude.
PilotPhotog (1h 9m 31s):
Rick "Kluso" Tolini (1h 9m 31s):
Really appreciate your comments about my book because that was my intent. And so the fact came across and you, you connected with that. That's the best compliment I could ever receive. So I appreciate that. And I truly appreciate the opportunity to do the podcast with you.
PilotPhotog (1h 9m 46s):
Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the interview, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of Rick's book. He goes into much more detail on, there are a lot of great stories. You can get the book as a hardcover or digital Kindle edition. I'll leave a link in the show notes.