ABOARD USS SAN JACINTO, At Sea (NNS) -- In the early morning hours of March 20, dictator Sadam Hussein's seat of power, Baghdad, came under fire.
Besieged from all sides, the peaceful desert sky was awakened by the thunderous cacophony of anti-aircraft fire. Shooting wildly into the air, Iraqi military units desperately tried to end the destruction that was raining down upon them.
Their dangerous foe: 42 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM) launched from various ships and submarines in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf, aimed at the maestros of a banned Iraqi war machine.
Although the cruise missiles launched in the opening days of Operation Iraqi Freedom weren't fired from their ship, the TLAM crew of the USS San Jacinto (CG 56) was ready to answer the call.
Forward deployed to the Mediterranean Sea, aboard the guided-missile cruiser San Jacinto, these few brave Sailors have one of the most important roles in the operation. Waiting in a dark room for an order they hope will never come, their job is to program exactly when and where a 1,000 pound warhead, carried by a 20-foot long cruise missile, will hit.
Defending their country from afar, they stand ready to take decisive action on a moment's notice.
In their minds, their role is no more important than any other in the war on terrorism.
"I'm doing no more than anyone else," said Gunner's Mate 2nd Class Justin Burt, one of San Jacinto's Vertical Launching System technicians. "Even if we're playing a bigger role in this conflict, we're no more important."
Since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Tomahawk has become vital to the safety of American interests abroad. It is a long range, subsonic cruise missile used for land attack warfare that can be launched from surface ships and submarines. The cruise missiles are designed to fly at extremely low altitudes at high subsonic speeds and are piloted over an evasive route by several mission-tailored guidance systems.
Used in almost every conflict since Desert Storm, the 2,900-pound weapon is so important to both our defensive and offensive capabilities that only Britain, our closest ally, is equipped with this capability. In 1995, the governments of the United States and United Kingdom signed a Foreign Military Sales Agreement for the acquisition of 65 missiles, marking the first sale of Tomahawks to a foreign country.
With its unique stealth-like abilities, range and controllability, the Tomahawk has become the U.S. military's weapon of choice. Because of its slim radar cross section, the missile is nearly invisible and can demolish an enemy's spirit just as easily as an airfield.
The real beauty behind the Tomahawk lies not in its power however, but in the missile's ease of use.
"The concept behind the missile is really simple," said Fire Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Josh Tillman, San Jacinto's TLAM primary launch controller. "It's fire and forget. All we have to do is program in a mission and launch."
For related news, visit the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) Navy NewsStand page at www.news.navy.mil/local/cvn75.