Ninety-Nine, Shut Down
Late September 2000: Another hot and cloudless morning on the wide, shallow waters of the Gulf of Iran. Not a cloud in the sky from the Shatt al-Arab six hundred miles south to the Strait of Hormuz.
Except, that is, for one: a jet-black and somber formation, precisely 1,094 feet long by 257 feet wide. It hung doggedly over USS George Washington (CVN-73) as the American carrier patrolled the northern reaches of the Gulf, trying to keep a semblance of order in the nearly lawless lands bordering this 97,000-square-mile inland sea. Especially the one on the narrow northwest corner shore: Iraq.
The black cloud cast a shadow of despondency over the entire ship’s company as the flight-deck personnel performed that breathtaking ...