Today we are pleased to share an item from SUSRIS guest-blogger Abdulateef Al-Mulhim reflecting on his days in the service of the Royal Saudi Navy. Al-Mulhim, who retired at the grade of Commodore, notes in this story about the 1994 World Cup that the American and Saudi armed forces have worked hand in hand for many years, and that the cooperation continues.
The Saudi Navy Pilots and America’s Air Force One
Between June 17th and July 17th of 1994 history was made when the United States hosted the World Cup for the first time. However, there were fears the seats would be empty because of the slow American adoption of football. It is not even known as football; the Americans call it soccer. To the surprise of a lot of people it broke a record of more than 3.5 million attendees with an average of more than 69,000 thousands spectators per match. It was a record that had been held since 1950. Even the 1990 World Cup in Italy had empty seats and we all know how serious the Italians are about football.
This tournament was the first time for Saudi Arabia to be in a World Cup. The Russian Federation competed independently for the first time since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. East and West Germany played as one team for the first time since 1938. In this tournament all the seats were sold and the United States had created Major League Soccer as a precondition by the FIFA to give the United States the tournament. 32 teams participated.
Saudi Arabia was in one of the strongest groups. It included Netherlands, Belgium and Morocco. Saudi Arabia played the Netherlands on June 20th and lost 2-1, then played Morocco on June, 25th and won 2-1. The Saudi Arabian team gained popularity among football fans when they faced the next match against Belgium.
I watched the first two games after flying from Pensacola to Washington and New York. At the time I was the Saudi Navy Liaison Officer stationed in Pensacola and Milton, Florida, home to U.S. Naval Air Stations. On June 26th four of our Saudi Navy student pilots called me and requested permission to fly their required cross country training flight from Pensacola to Washington to have a chance to watch the game between Saudi Arabia and Belgium on June, 29th. They were Fahad Alzahrani, Fahad Alharbi, Rumaih Aldossary, and Saeed Alshahrani. They were all Lieutenants (Junior Grade).
We arranged for two U.S. Navy planes, each plane piloted by two Saudi Navy aviators in addition to one U.S. Navy officer with each aircraft, to grade the fliers performance. They were LCDR Art Kimmel and LCDR Mike Joslyn. The aircraft left Pensacola on the 27th of June.
I arranged with the Saudi Football Federation to get tickets for all of them and we met on the day of the match, June, 29th. The Saudi team defeated Belgium 1-0 and qualified for the round of sixteen.
The World Cup tournament experience for the Saudi Navy pilots was the same as for other fans except for their mode of transportation. The planes the four Saudi Navy pilots flew from Pensacola had landed at Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington, the home of Air Force One, the U.S. presidential aircraft. They parked their planes next to it.
As we reflect on the arrangements for these four Saudi pilots to fly in military planes across the United States, refueling at U.S. military facilities and then arriving at one of the most sensitive American bases, it is testimony to how strong and strategic Saudi-American relations were and still are.
— Abdulateef Al-Mulhim retired at the grade of Commodore from the Royal Saudi Navy. He can be contacted at: email@example.com