Islanders prepare for war

With President Bush’s pivotal speech on actions against Iraq just minutes away Monday, a crowd gathered along the edges of the Navy’s Outlying Field near Coupeville to watch the Prowlers screaming past, just feet above their heads.

If there were any peaceniks in the crowd they were keeping a low profile. These people were gathered under the deafening roar of the flight path to support their troops.

Kellie Harris and her son Joshua come up from Langley as often as possible to catch the free air show.

“It’s such a rush,” Harris yelled above the noise of the jet bearing down on them. “This is the best seat in town.”

Harris said she doesn’t agree with the vocal war opponents in the south end of Whidbey Island. She recently participated in the pro-troops rally along Highway 20 near Bayview.

The EA-6B Prowlers, based at Naval Air Station Whidbey, use the field for practicing touch-and-go landings, continuously circling the airstrip, braking to just touch the asphalt, then accelerating in a burst of jet fuel and burning rubber.

Eight Prowler squadrons are deployed aboard carriers in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, which may turn to war before week’s end.

Harris, like other spectators lined up along Keystone Road Monday, hoped Bush would call for war.

“I don’t want my son’s sons to worry about it (Iraq),” she said. She has a nephew in Kuwait who has been bagging sand for weeks, waiting for war to start.

Steve Colby and his son D.J. were in town from North Vancouver, and Colby exhibited a view contrary to that expressed by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Cretien.

“We’ve got to stop the madman (Saddam Hussein) before he’s marching down main street,” Colby said.

Shannon Buys came over from Coupeville, and was resigned to the inevitability of war.

“We’ve gotta do what we’ve gotta do,” he said.

While the Prowlers practiced at Outlying Field, Whidbey base commander Capt. Stephen Black was philosophical about war, as he partook in the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Oak Harbor Monday.

In comparing Saddam Hussein to the snakes that legend says St. Patrick drove from Ireland, Black said told the crowd, “May St. Patrick give us strength to realize there are serpents in this world, and the courage to scare them away.”

As the clock ticked closer to President Bush’s 48-hour ultimatum for Saddam to get out or face U.S. forces, people went about their business Tuesday, with war on their minds.

In the Pot Belly Deli in Oak Harbor, patrons chewed their sandwiches while mulling the possibility of war.

“I don’t like war, but we have to back the president,” Ross Reed of Oak Harbor said.

Bruce Carmen of Oak Harbor said, “Freedom comes at a price. As Americans we have to stand up and be counted. I fully support our commander in chief.”

A few booths over and poles apart in opinion, Taffy Taulbee of Greenbank was very critical of President Bush and the impending war.

“I just think it’s ludicrous that we should do so much for oil,” she said. “It’s a shame so many people will die so Bush can have a better public approval rating. My husband just got back from Germany and he spent the whole time apologizing.”

With more than 2,000 sailors deployed from the Whidbey base, there are a lot families left behind who do not share Taulbee’s viewpoint.

Sandi Pollpeter’s husband Scott Pollpeter is the commanding officer of VAQ-139, the “Cougars,” which has been on board the USS Lincoln for almost nine months. The last month or so the ship has been waiting in the Persian Gulf.

Sandi Pollpeter watched Bush’s speech at her home with several other officers’ wives.

“I thought the speech was right on” she said. “It covered all the issues that needed to be covered. It left no questions in anyone’s mind as to what his intentions were.

“We’ve got to show support for the president and the troops,” she continued. “We’ve got to make them as proud of us as we are of them. They can’t be worrying about us.”

She is proud of her husband, but also fearful for his safety. Prowlers are one of the first airborne units to go into hostile territory, as their primary role is to jam enemy electronic capabilities.

After months of waiting, the ultimatum was a sort of relief to Pollpeter.

“Maybe we will get an answer, and know when they are coming home.”

Cynthia Woolbright and Jessie Stensland contributed to the story.

Outlying Field viewing guidelines

Several public roads run adjacent to the field outside of Coupeville. The best adrenalin rush-inducing spot is along Keystone Road, just off the end of the runway. Spectators may view the jets practicing on the field, as long as they park safely off the road, stay off Navy property and do not use a flash when photographing the jets, as this can distract the pilots.

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