Begun March 2006
The Flight to Iraq
Explosion vs. Blast
The Boy and the Stick
Rain in the Desert
Evening in October
The Loss of a Friend –
Christmas Letter 2006
20 JAN 06 – EASY 40
Last flight in Iraq
What day of the week is
It is 2:15am on August 22,
2006. This is the last night I will spend at home before going
to Iraq. I can’t sleep. This is the last time I might ever be
in my home. The chances of me dying in this war are very
small. Statistically, I would probably be in greater danger
being at home doing my state side job and going to Drill.
In the civilian world, I am a
police officer. I am also in the National Guard-not inherently
dangerous, but I drive a few hundred miles a week commuting
between Colorado Springs and Denver-in heavy traffic. Knock on
wood-never crashed-but seen a few fatal ones along the way.
As a Cop you live with the
knowledge that death may find you sooner that a stock
broker-enough about that.
In a way I feel like the
condemned man on the last night.
I am at a point in my life
where dying does not bother me-not being there for my wife and
daughters-that gets to me.
God willing, in a year and a
half, I will look back and be a better person for having been
through this deployment and the World will be a little bit
Back to Top
“Embrace the Suck” is a running
joke in a lot of Army units. It is a term to describe and
endear bad times. In my 16 years with the Army I have found the
Army, at times, has the unique ability to make fun actives
miserable and bearable activities downright painful.
The first step of the
deployment was a trip to Ft Hood, Texas for pre-deployment
training. I guess the Air Force Academy Shuffle Board team had
an out-of-town competition or a General in some office saw a way
to save a few dollars. So, rather than getting on an airliner
for a three hour flight, my Unit and I, loaded onto busses and
traveled over 25 hours to Ft, Hood, Texas.
The “Suck” was “Embraced”
Back to Top
This is a reference to the Bill
Murray movie “Groundhog Day” in which the main character wakes
up every day to the same day.
The training my aviation Unit
conducted was noticeably shy of aviation training. We spent
many days and nights doing convoy training and a lot of other
things that were not related to flying helicopters. This was
not as bad as it sounds-on some level in the Army structure
someone made the decision to train every soldier with a base of
skills which they might need in the Iraq theatre; How to react
to enemy fire, first aid, cultural sensitivity, law of warfare,
etc. This would not be a bad thing by itself, but this training
was being conducted at the expense of aviation training. As the
deployment training schedule rolled on at some point the Unit
would pack up the aircraft and be without aviation equipment
while it traveled to Iraq. This would be a better time to do
all of the non-aviation training, unfortunately this did not
The perspective was best summed
up by this interaction. An Aviation Officer was speaking with
an veteran Infantry soldier. The Infantry soldier was trying to
convey the importance of the “Green Training”, close-quarters
shooting, convoy operations, etc. The Aviation Officer asked
the Infantry soldier how many times (when he was in Iraq) he
piloted a helicopter. The Infantry soldier replied, “zero”.
Which is how many convoys, room clearings, and close quarter
combat situations aviation pilots and mechanics will most likely
Of course, a
soldier anywhere may find themselves at a given time in a bad
situation, but the focus of the training we did was 80% on
things we might do 1% of the time. I am not a primary line
pilot, but I will be flying the Blackhawk helicopter as a part
of my duties; in 5-months I have flown less than 5 hours.
The days roll by and your
memory of what you did the day before becomes clouded, with
memories of prior days and weeks. I am sure on some level this
is what prison must feel like. Away from your loved ones,
living in a room, only looking forward to when you will next see
Back to Top
The heat of Kuwait and Iraq
have no words that accurately convey the condition. “blast
furnace” comes close.
When I first walked down the steps
of the airliner that brought me, and the rest of the soldiers to
Kuwait, I felt the jet engine exhaust blast as I came out of the
plane in front of the wing. I became disoriented. There was no
jet blast in front of the wing. The jet exhaust was behind the
wing. The wind was hotter than any wind I had ever felt, and it
If you inhale
inside a dry sauna you can feel the heat scorch the inside of
your nostrils. The same thing happens in this heat, only you
can’t leave it. The feeling is stifling, overwhelming. A
soldier said it best when he said; “You really think you are
gong to die in the heat, but you don’t-and you keep going.”
temperature I felt was over 140F. I have been told the hottest
temperature ever recorder in the world was only 136F. This
temperature did not take into account the heat reflecting off a
hot runway, or in the dark green metal cabin of a helicopter.
I had always
wondered, in pictures I have seen of the desert, everyone wears
long sleeves and long pants. I assumed this would make you
hotter. I learned quickly when the temperature creeps past
about 110F it is actually cooler to keep skin covered. Your
body temperature is cooler than the surrounding air. Exposed
flesh quickly overheats.
You sweat more in
this environment, but because of the heat and low humidity-you
are always dry. Clothes washed and placed soaking wet on a line
outside in the middle of the day are bone dry within an hour.
You learn to sleep
in a pool of your own sweat.
Back to Top
Some say the
desert is mostly devoid of life. I can say first had this is
not true. In the harshest deserts of Kuwait and Iraq there is
ample life, but on a much smaller and more annoying scale.
ever present; more so when one tries to escape the oppressive
sun for the shade. The flying tormentors become a constant
Attempt to cover
exposed skin with desert sand and the Sand fleas wait to fest.
At times the Sand fleas seem to be in league with mosquitoes as
your body becomes an open food source.
Night and sleep
might otherwise provide some respite from this torment, but
unseen bed mites are a frequent sleeping companion.
You learn to
ignore the discomfort and drive on.
Back to Top
Mary is a pretty young lady, 23
or 24 years old who works in the Flight Operations office at a
US airfield here in theater. He job consists of filing flight
plans, occasionally talking on the radio to aircraft and general
administrative duties. In the US she could be employed at any
airport in the country making $10-15 dollars per hour. She used
to be in the Air Force, as a lower ranking enlisted person,
where she learned the job of working in the administrative
office of an airfield.
She is a civilian,
working for a defense contractor providing support to the US
military. Her days are long, 12 hour shifts with maybe only a
day off per month. She is paid approximately $120,000 per year
to do this; over $9,000 per month with room and board provided.
She plans on
working this job for 4-5 years and then semi-retiring for the
rest of her life.
janitor from Pakistan, cleaning the same office makes barley
$100 per month.
Back to Top
one day in August, 06
Flying in the desert has it’s
own unique challenges. Because of the haze, most of the time
you can’t discern where the horizon ends and the sky begins.
This makes it difficult to “feel” when the aircraft is pitched
up or pitched down.
There is also very little “terrain
relief” (patterns, rocks, vegetation) which makes it very
difficult to determine what your altitude is by looking at the
This day was one
of those days. I was doing a training flight in Kuwait, prior
to “going over the burm” a.k.a. going in to Iraq. It was dusk,
making it all that more difficult to fly in the reduced
I was flying with
an experienced pilot who had flown many orientations. I was on
the controls, flying 100 feet at about 130kts (150 mph). We
traded the controls back and forth a number of times while I
became accustomed to flying at that at altitude. On a number of
occasions I would lose focus for a second or so and the aircraft
would sink to around 60 feet or rise to up to 130.
At one point I
transferred the controls to the other pilot and began to work
inside the aircraft (I was looking at the radios and
instruments-not outside, not an unusual thing) I saw the
altitude was starting to drop and told the other pilot
“altitude”, to inform him he was below the altitude we were
targeting (also not unusual).
have ever woken from a groggy sleep and looked at a clock and
not immediately realized what the numbers were saying to you,
then you can begin to identify what happened next. I looked up
at the altitude indicator and saw the green digital “16”
readout. In what must have happened in less than a second, my
mind did not immediately grasp what the “16” was telling me (16
feet above the ground!)-and we were descending.
We both must have
realized what was happening at the same time-because we both
pulled up on the controls, bringing the aircraft back to a safe
second of inattentiveness and we all would have been in the
middle of a 14 million dollar bonfire spread over a quarter mile
of the desert floor.
We were lucky that
I have never been in combat.
As a police officer, I have had my share of scrapes and adreline-fueled
events. But going into a combat zone is another experience
altogether. The night before I flew north into Iraq from Kuwait
I conducted my PCC’s (Pre-Combat Checks), examined my gear and
weapon to make sure all was ready. For the first time I was
given ammunition and not expected to account for it.
I remember loading bullets into
the weapon’s magazine (“clips” of ammunition which are inserted
into the rifle, thinking - these bullets may end up being fired
at another human being. Being that if I were to use the weapon,
it would probably be a defensive survival situation, I only
loaded one tracer round (bullet) 2d to the last bullet of the
Tracer rounds are bullets with
a phosphorus tip, which glow when fired. This is the red (or
green) dot one can see traveling to the target when a rifle is
fired. For the operator of a machine gun, a series of tracer
rounds enables the gunner to “walk in” a burst of machine gun
fire on a target. In my case using a single tracer round at the
end of the magazine of bullets lets me “see” that I only have
one bullet left in the chamber of the rifle and I have to
reload. I only put in one because “tracer rounds” may help you
find your target, but they can also help your target find
In 16 years in the Army, most
of it in aviation, I have never flown or ridden in the CH-47,
the Army’s large twin rotor helicopter. It is a fine machine,
with an excellent safety record, but the thought of flying in an
aircraft that can have a mid-air collision with itself has never
left me. I would fly into my first combat zone in this
I remember looking at the
setting sun as I stood on the rear loading-ramp of the running
helicopter, weighted down with body armor, weapon, gear and
ammo. It was over 110F and I could feel the sweat soaking under
my body armor. Inside the helicopter was hotter. Although the
cabin is quite spacious, after I strapped down to the troop
seat, with armor and gear around me, in the oven-level heat
breathing became a focused effort.
The noise level in
the back of a running CH-47 helicopter makes voice communication
impossible. You are effectively a mute. The crew uses helmet
intercoms to communicate, but passengers are little more than
moving baggage to them.
I watched as the tail gunner,
who sits on the end of the ramp, loaded his belt-fed mounted
machine gun as we left the ground. The sky was darkening and as
we flew north. As the light faded, the back of the helicopter
looked out over a black abyss.
I used a hand-held GPS to track
our movement. I watched on the small screen as we crossed onto
Iraq. The heat was still stifling and in the blackness of the
cabin area of the helicopter, the air moving through was hot.
The hours passed by, and fatigue set in and was hard to fight
off. I would periodically nod off, then jolt awake with the
movement of the helicopter; becoming more fatigued each time I
We eventually landed at Balad
Air Base many hours later. The fatigue I felt was only matched
by my disorientation. I could only imagine what it must be like
to have to fight after a ride like that. I soon found the
baggage truck and caught a ride to a temporary tent set-up where
I immediately passed out.
Back to Top
There is no silence, ever.
Generators growl and churn 24hrs a day. HMMWV’s (Hummer’s),
trucks, busses and military vehicles of all descriptions move
over the base at all hours of the day and night adding to the
noise. Day and night there is the continuous high-pitched wine
of helicopters and airplanes.
The noise from a
helicopter is an interesting thing. Three things on a
helicopter produce noise, the engine, the main rotor, and the
tail rotor. The turbine engine produces a high-pitched
never-ending scream. The main rotor produces a low-pitched
whirl and the tail rotor, oddly enough produces more noise than
the other two; a very high pitched whine that travels further
and is more deafening than the other two.
This noise is
punctuated frequently by fighters and other jets taking off.
The launch of a fighter aircraft in a war zone is an
awe-inspiring event. The fighter’s launch with full
after-burners, which mean the jets engine has the maximum fuel
dumped into it with the jets exhaust nozzle wide open.
We are only about
¼ mile from the runway. You first hear the blast of the jet
engine behind the concrete mortar barrier. The sound cannot be
described as noise. It is a continuous concussion that you feel
in your chest, and a rumble, which radiates through the ground
into your feet. As the fighter leaves the ground and climbs
above the barriers, the only thing visible is the 50-foot long
white flame tail from the engine. As the airplane reaches the
end of the runway, it pulls-up to an almost vertical climb. The
white-hot comet climbs vertically into the night sky rising
thousands of feet in just a few seconds.
This is usually
followed by the launch of a second fighter less than a minute
While these jets
are launching, one would risk permanent hearing damage if you
did not cover your ears. To see and hear it once is, awe
inspiring; to experience it dozens of times a day, is unnerving.
mortars (incoming) explode with a dull thump. I am told if you
ever hear one ripping through the air before impact, you have
less than a second before it impacts. I once asked how long you
have to get down if you hear it coming. I was told: “The rest of
you life” by a seasoned soldier. The mortars fired into the base
are generally at the maximum distance their range will allow,
and at very shallow angle. Like a rock thrown to be skipped
across water as opposed to arcing basketball shot. The
insurgents fire these mortars from the most distant possible
point to avoid the counter artillery fire and roving Coalition
patrols. The insurgents know, being seen by an American sniper,
Predator aircraft, or Apache helicopter gunship, standing next
to a mortar tube can mean certain death.
automatic weapons fire are also not uncommon. Guard towers on
the perimeter of the base have exchanged fire with insurgents.
On occasion, the Apache helicopters will fire their 30mm chain gun at targets
on the outside of the perimeter. There is no test firing, when
you hear gunfire-it is a safe assumption it's being shot at
Back to Top
Explosion vs. Blast
There is a difference between
an explosion and a blast. If you ever hear an explosion, you
might ask yourself if you want to get down or if you are inside
a building or room, if you should look outside. It rattles your
You don’t just hear a blast,
you are a victim of it. The first question you ask yourself is
“Is it safe to get off the ground?” You are on the ground
before you have a chance to think. The only thing you look for
is something that will protect you from the next blast. It
rattles your soul.
I, so far, have only
experienced one event I would consider a blast. I was in my
trailer room when it happened. When it happened, I dove to the
floor without thinking, I remember seeing items falling off
shelves and picture frames coming down. I thought for sure the
window would shatter, but it held. I rolled next to the sandbag
protected wall and waited for the next blast with my ringing
ears covered. It never came.
Back to Top
Burning plastic garbage, fuel
exhaust, sewage, industrial toilet chemicals, body odor – all
combine to produce a mixture of smells I can only describe as
eye-wateringly retched. This smell is with you 24 hours a day
on FOB Anaconda.
Back to Top
The Boy and the Stick
The event was over almost
before I could react to it. We were the lead UH-60 in a flight
of two. We were just north of Baghdad over some moderately
populated farm areas. I was left seat and on the controls at
the time. We were about 120 feet at about 130 KTS (150mph)-so the ground
was moving under us very quickly. I was looking 500-1000m in
front of the helicopter looking for any thing that might be a
threat. As we approached a mud-walled courtyard attached to a
farmhouse I saw a young boy, probably about 12 or 14 years old
run out from a shed carrying something, which he quickly raised
to his shoulder like a rifle pointing at us. We were almost on
top of him, 200-300 feet away; the right side gunner made a
call, indicating saw the threat and had a “bead” on him (machine
gun sighted on the target, ready to fire) (Gunners do not need
permission to fire if “they” perceive the aircraft is
threatened). A woman appeared from the farmhouse and must have
been yelling at the boy because he lowered what I now saw was a
stick. As we passed over him I looked back and saw the woman
beating the boy. The gunner in the back of the helicopter said
“That’s right, I teach my kids not to poke the bear with a stick
I’m not sure how close the
gunner was to firing. Fortunately, for all of us, he made the
right call. Had we fired, believing it was a real gun-we would
have been in the right, the boy would be dead and we would have
to live with the decision.
Life is such a fragile thing.
Back to Top
You would think the first rain
of the season in the desert would be a refreshing experience.
Maybe somewhere else, but not here; the first rain drops strike
the ground and the sun baked dust is kicked up. The air becomes
thick with a fine dust that penetrates everything. We
Americans, who devote so much energy to cooling the air spaces
we live and work in with air conditioners, now those same air
conditioners suck in the fine dust particles and cover
everything with a thin layer of grit. Food, clothes,
everything. As the rain continues, the sky seems to rain mud.
I guess what should be cleansing drops, falls through the dusty
air and by the time the drop reaches the ground it is a drop of
mud. The result is mud and dirt streaks on everything.
After a very short time, the
ground is soaked and the fine dusty sand is replaced by sticky
mud. The kind of mud you can’t wipe off, only smear from one
place to another.
The air becomes
humid. Clothes no longer dry out.
Back to Top
If you have ever awoken on a
foggy morning and only been able to see about 100m, then you
scratch the surface of what a dust fog (not a dust storm) looks
like. Unlike being in a cool water mist which you can feel burn
off as the sun rises. The “dust fog” hangs in the air all day.
When you look at the sun through the dust, it looks like a dull
globe in the sky. The heat begins to build, and the dust feels
more stiffening. This hot blanket of dust is made all the more
uncomfortable when you realize you are breathing in all the fine
dust particles. Then, some dust does settle and it leaves a tan
talcum powder sheen on everything-inside and out.
Back to Top
Evening in October
As a Staff Officer
I have the freedom to conduct MBWA (Management By Walking
Around). On this particular evening I wandered over to the
MEDEVAC (helicopter air-ambulance) operations center. In many
ways it feels like a firehouse, which I am used to as a police
officer-(always the best coffee); relaxed and easy going – until
a call comes in. Then it is a controlled and orchestrated
sprint to get a 7 ton helicopter and a crew of four off the
ground in less than 8 minutes. This includes the planning time
for the crew to be updated on any “hot-spots” they must avoid
when going to the emergency.
When I arrived at
the Ops. Center it was relaxed and there were few people around
because it was late in the evening. As it turned out, within
minutes of my arrival a “9-Line” MEDEVAC request came in.
A “9-Line” as it
is referred to, is just that; 9 lines of information sent over
the radio that gives a MEDEVAC crew all the information they
need to accomplish the mission; things like –the number of
casualties, types of injuries, the location of the landing zone,
how the landing zone is marked.
As I watched the
radio operator writing down the information and yelling to the
crews pertinent details to get them moving, there was a
noticeable reaction when the patient information was called
out. 3-year-old child with shrapnel wounds to the head, neck
As a police
officer, I have been to many child injury calls, difficult for
all officers-but this caught me by surprise. Shrapnel wounds?
3-year-old? Those are things, which in a normal world do not go
The flight crew
seemed additionally motivated, and the helicopter was lifting
off the pad as I walked out of the Ops Center a few minutes
later. I watched the helicopter depart for the POI (Point of
Injury). The POI was close to the base and this would be a
In the time it
took me to reach the hospital landing pad, the MEDEVAC
helicopter was already there. The child has just been brought
into the emergency room. As is the case with child injuries in
any emergency room, everyone working in the area seems to have
and eye and an ear on what’s happening with a child. I was no
exception, as I stood by the entrance door.
The child was
screaming as a huddle of doctors and nurses examined the small
form on the ER gurney. The child’s parents (I’m guessing) stood
close by. They were obviously Iraqi and clearly in shock
between what had happened to their child and the maze of
technology that surrounded them. I also detected a sense of
relief that their child was receiving the highest level of
medical care a first world country could provide.
I watched for a
few minutes as the child was being treated, screaming the whole
time for his mother and father, who stood as close as they
could. Before I left, I asked one of the ER Technicians what
the prognosis for the child was. He told me the child was in
bad shape but it was a good sign the child was crying (meaning
the child was still conscious). Even with years of emergency
work, there is only so long you can listen to a child cry in
Back to Top
A good kid with a big heart, a
little on the different side. He has multiple tattoos including
a scene from “Mystery Science Theater” tattooed around his upper
arm and the Bible passage from “Phillipians" on his forearms.
Has been known to say and at times do some
really off the wall, but funny things.
While in Pre-deployment
training at Ft. Hood, SGT M voluntarily removed his gas mask
in the gas chamber (exposing himself to tear gas), because
someone told him it would help cure his head cold. I told him, I
told his parents I would watch out for him, but “I can’t protect
him from stupid”.
His favorite food is Chilpolite
While at Ft Hood, because there was not Chilpolite restraunt, he had his
girlfriend send a Chilpolite burrito to him in the mail. Not
sure if he ate it or not.
Other notable comments or “M's”;
“Minnesota is like Canada’s Mississippi”
“I always thought it would be fun to pee in
the pool; while standing on the deck 5-floors up”
“I want a fish, can someone send me a fish
in the mail?”
While crumpling paper and putting it into
the burn barrel: “I feel like I work for Enron”
Back to Top
Mr. Singh is from India. He
works in a small shack outside attending to two bathroom
trailers in our compound. His days are spent cleaning toilets
and refilling toilet paper. I often give him small items that
are sent to soldiers, which will never be used (soap, hand
creams, toothpaste), because they are in so much abundance. On
a number of occasions I have sat with him and drank chi tea,
which he makes in his shack.
He has been here
for 6 months. He works for a Turkish company owned by a British
India he is a professional accountant and makes the equivalent
of $60 per month. Here he works cleaning toilets and makes $500
per month. This might not sound like much, but his wages are
further diminished by the expense he must pay to travel to Iraq
from India. In his broken English he explained it costs him 7
months of wages to travel to and from Iraq from India. He
expects to work here for 2 ½ years. He sends money back to his
brother who cares for his family. He works 12-hour shifts, 7
days a week-no vacation, no days off.
His family is back in India.
He is married and has one 8 year old son. He explained his wife
can have no more children after an operation following the death
of his new-born daughter. He provided no more detail than this,
and I asked nothing more. He speaks on the phone to his wife
about once a month, which is all he can afford.
He expresses great fondness for
America and soldiers. He has befriended many here and makes tea
and bread, which he shares freely. He wants to visit America
one day, but that dream is very far off for him.
He has a faded and
well-worn English to Punjab school textbook. His English,
spoken with a British accent is reasonably good, but he
expresses difficulty with slang. “Go away” – “Go”: meaning to
move forward; “away”: meaning far off. I never thought of this
as slang-but to someone from a literally translated language, it
is difficult for them to understand.
“Singh”, he explains is not
just a name, but also identifies his geographical roots (Punjab,
India) and religion, Seik. People of the Seik faith system are
many times confused for being Muslim Arab, because of the
Turbans and beards men of the Seik faith display.
He stated openly he strongly
dislikes Islam, because of the violence it brings in the world.
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The uniform and specifically,
the patches on an Army uniform have specific and emotional
meanings for soldiers. What may appear to be just unique or
colorful patches are in fact strong banners of identification
and status. Probably the one patch which carries the most
meaning and status, is the right sleeve combat patch. Just
wearing one indicates you have been deployed to a combat zone.
The type of combat patch also
has meaning. The patch is representative of the unit you went
to a combat zone under. Some patches are more recognized than
others. The 101st Division-the Eagles head with
“Airborne” tab and the 82nd Division with the distinctive “AA”
(All American) insignia are immediately recognized among
My Unit has been presented
with the 36th Infantry Division patch, it is the unit
we are mobilized under, our higher headquarters. The 36th
Infantry Division has a distinguished lineage. Audie Murphy,
the hero from WWII served in the 36th ID. The patch
looks like an Indian arrowhead with a “T” emblazoned in the
middle. This design is from the history of the unit. When the
36th ID was first formed during WWI it was comprised
of soldiers and units from Oklahoma and Texas; the arrowhead
represents Oklahoma and the “T” represents Texas.
Some in the unit, from other
states, feel it is too much a Texas patch because of the “T”. I
am undecided but wear the patch because it is what I have
A soldier is not just able to
wear the combat patch of the Unit they served under, but also
the higher echelons of command, each represented by a different
patch. I will be interested to see what patch the soldiers wear
when we get home. Do they keep the “T” patch or change to one
of the higher echelons of command they are also eligible to wear
the patch of.
Back to Top
While one may think of a
military Tactical Operation Center (TOC) as fast paced, always
busy high-tech nerve center, in actuality, the pace is much more
sporadic. While their are times of very heavy workloads there
are also long periods of time with little or no activity. Give
soldiers time to think and they will surprise you with what they
can invent to pass the time. One “game” the soldiers of our TOC
would routinely play was the “Word of the Day”.
There are a number of versions
of this game. In one version, If you have seen the movie
“Super Troopers” and are familiar with the police officer “meow”
scene then you understand this game. In the movie, a police
officer made a routine traffic stop. During the traffic stop,
the officer randomly inserted the word “meow” while speaking to
the confused motorist; i.e. “Meow please see your license?”
In another version, an obscure word is selected and participants
are expected to work the new word, seamlessly into briefings or
communications. "Obfuscate" was the last word of choice.
Overheard in a shift-change briefing "This slide ensures the
subject is not obfuscated". An expanded vocabulary
never hurt anyone.
The words our soldiers used were varied, but most always had a
common theme, for example "Drinks". One soldiers was adroitly
overheard, while speaking on the phone:
“Sir, I don’t have that information in
front of me, I will have to check the “SODA” report and get back
to you.” One can almost be guaranteed; if you give an Army
acronym no one has heard before, many times it will be accepted
without question. In this rare case the soldier was asked and
quickly came up with "Status Of Daily
Activity" report. ...and the asker was never
…and there were, of course many phantom
soldiers referenced in daily conversation:
“SGT Fanta (drink reference) from B Company
is on that duty roster.”
“Private Carola (car reference) over in A
Company was given the message.”
Of course my game
was to catch them at the game and call them on it. I am
sure I missed more than my share of 'word games'.
Back to Top
One young soldier in our section was in her last semester of
college at University of Northern Colorado. She had one
instructor who refused to allow her to turn in some required
assignments early and counted the few classes the soldier would
miss against her. Now, the soldier has to repast the
semester and can not graduate. Some who don’t support the
war will take it out on the individual soldiers.
There are a number of people who will claim an injury is worse
than it is or maybe even fake an injury to avoid a deployment.
What you don't hear so much about are the soldiers who hide
injuries and illnesses so they can serve with their units.
It was not until later that I found out, but one SGT in our unit
continued through the deployment despite having torn tendons in
his shoulder which later required surgery.
Many people bring up the issue
of women who become pregnant to avoid going to a combat zone.
This happens, no question. What does not make the news are the
women who terminate pregnancies in order not to let down their
unit or because of their desire to serve. Plenty of moral
issues there; but it happens.
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The Loss of a Friend –
This is a war zone and people
die. There have been casualties in other units, but thus far I
have not known anyone. We all live here knowing anyone of us
could die at any time; helicopter crash, mortar round, sniper –
who knows; we just keep doing our job and counting days until we
Tonight I just learned my
friend Ken Jordan was killed. He was shot. The thing that
makes his death all the more difficult to handle is he was not
killed in Iraq. Ken is a brother police officer and was killed
on traffic stop, in the line of duty.
I am torn, I want to go back
and join my fellow officers and grieve, and get back in the
fight they are in; but I am in a fight here. I am still
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Christmas Letter 2006
This is my part for my
families annual "Christmas Letter":
Happy Holidays to everyone.
Chris in Balad, Iraq. I am doing well. First of all I want to
thank all of you who have sent cards and care packages-I am so
blessed with a wonderful family and cherished friends. I ask
your pardon if I have not responded to each of you individually.
Now a little about what's been going on here. The mission of my
Army unit is to fly helicopters. We fly more than 50
helicopters 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Among the many
missions we fly are moving troops by air, so they are exposed to
less danger than on the ground, and conducting medical
evacuation of the sick and wounded (both American and
Iraqi-military and civilian).
As a Unit we have flown over 10,000 hours, and moved thousands
of troops and millions of pounds of cargo, all over the
country. The fact that we have not lost any aircraft, and have
had very few enemy engagements is a testimate to the proficiency
of our crews and work that goes into planning safe missions; and
most certainly, the support of the vast majority of the people
I realize many have strong reservations about the US involvement
in Iraq. I can tell you after being here and seeing the abject
tyranny and crushing poverty the people of Iraq lived under this
a worthwhile cause we must continue. It is also clear to me the
US and the Collation stopped a global threat with the toppling
of Sadam's regime and war industry.
A difficult road lies ahead. Continued effort in all areas -
military, civil, humanitarian, and media will be needed for many
years to come. Hopefully one day the people of Iraq and other
parts of the world will be able to live under governments that
recognize the things we as Americans so many times take for
granted, such as the rule of law, civil rights, and freedom from
season of love, please keep the soldiers and the people of Iraq
in your prayers. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and peaceful
PS-for any of you wanting to send care packages I am deeply
grateful. Because I have more here than I will ever use I ask
you to go to "www.anysoldier.com"
and pick a soldier who might not
otherwise have such support as I do, and send one to them.
Please give preference to our young soldiers with ranks like PVT,
PFC, SPC, and 2LT; they more than most, need to know they are
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20 JAN 06 – EASY 40
Maybe it was an omen when I
said I did not know anyone who had been killed in theater. On
20 January 2006, a UH-60 Blackhawk, call sign EASY 40, carrying 12
soldiers was shot down. There were no survivors.
I knew the pilots, CPT Lyerly
and CPT Taylor. I saw them both the day prior. Ironically, I
last spoke with CPT Lyerly while he sat a computer and planned
the doomed flight. I still expect to walk into the office and
see them where I last saw them.
This was a hard loss for me,
for all of us. All the soldiers on that aircraft were and are
heroes to me.
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It was a routine flight, if
there is such a thing in a combat zone. We were a flight of two
UH-60s flying a low-level day flight over a large expanse of
rural desert and scrub farmland. It is not unusual to see a
single mud walled farm house or other structure seemingly out in
the middle of nowhere as we fly over the harsh terrain of Iraq.
One thing which was unexpected
to see so far from any town was a dirt soccer field with a group
of teenage-kids playing a heated match. I saw it in the
distance and was struck by how far from any town or houses it
was. The players must have traveled for miles to this remote
As we flew closer, I could see
them more clearly and then something amazing happened. Almost
as if they were following an unwritten script, they all stopped
the soccer game and formed a single line facing our helicopters
and they all gave a rigid military salute to us as we flew past.
I was absolutely awestruck; the
hair on the back of my neck stood up. As we flew past I was
reminded there are those here who stand with us.
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Bathroom walls over here, specifically the walls of plastic “porta-jons”
and toilet stalls are not immune from the writings of bathroom
soldier-poets. I have read many “colorful” writings mostly profanity,
occasionally a note about a “favorite” commander and of course
the required Chuck Norris sayings. Like, “Chuck Norris’s tears
cure cancer – but Chuck Norris has never cried”. If you are not
familiar with some of these sayings, it’s worth an hour on the
internet to look some up.
I have also seen some gang graffiti. As a police officer, I can
say it is “minor” gang graffiti. I have yet to see it used to
mark territory and I have yet to see any “cross-outs” (meaning
opposition gang threats), this indicates the gangs are not an
ingrained issue. The areas I work in show it to be isolated
and not overt.
One interesting thing I have found is that the closer a unit is
to combat the more prayers show up as bathroom writings.
Interestingly, I have yet to see a prayer written which has been
defaced by another author. I recently returned from a remote
base with a lot of troops who go “outside the wire” on a regular
basis. Somehow the prayers seem much more “real” here – some
are quite amazing.
Here is one I found and felt compelled to
pass on (from Tallil Iraq, Bathroom L-10):
Now that we see eye to eye
I will give you my dearest prayer
that will hopefully one day make you feel safe.
I am a sinner
I’ve thought of lust
and have been angry for
questions not answered.
I’ve seen peace for a moment
but now is just a word.
Has my faith lost touch?
Have I praised you enough?
Have you shown me the way
towards your precious hands
where Jesus awaits?
One day oh Lord I will beg for your forgiveness.
One day oh Lord I will cry because I am scared.
One day oh Lord will you save me like
the gentleman who is reading this right now is wondering.
My brother, don’t wonder anymore
For the Lord is with you
My heart and soul is with you
Take care on your mission
-Author Unknown (April 17, 2007)
..and another which gives a little insight
into what a soldier thinks about going into battle:
"Dear Lord, please don’t let me screw-up,
but if I do please don’t let me live."
(not the first time I have heard this one)
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Last flight in Iraq…
My name came up on the duty roster for a
routine transport mission to Baghdad for July 9, 2007 and I was
listed as the Air Mission Commander (AMC). The AMC is not
necessarily the most experienced pilot, but usually the highest
rank. The AMC directs the flight and is overall responsible for
all the aircraft in the formation.
Because I was leaving Iraq (going to
Kuwait) sooner than most in order to coordinate the movement of
the rest of the Unit back to US, I realized this was going to be
my last flight in Iraq. Sometimes when the aircraft crews are
assigned, usually a week prior, no mission is sent down from
higher on the day of the flight and the crews do not fly. Part
of me was hoping this was the case. It wasn’t.
The mission was a departure late in the day
to Baghdad. Not a big deal except this put us over the middle
of the city during rush hour. People who make it a routine to
shoot at aircraft also have jobs and would also be on the street
during rush hour. Great, how many days left to get killed in
As we conducted the preflight inspections
of the aircraft a number of the crew knew this was scheduled to
be my last flight in Iraq; but no one said anything about it. I
also made no remark like “This is my last flight in Iraq”…saying
this only seems to call fate to punch your ticket.
The day was also hot, even hot by Iraq
standards. I am guessing it was over 125F in the aircraft
parking area. When it gets this hot, even when you have water
you can’t keep it going into you fast enough. You have to wear
gloves to preflight the aircraft, the metal of the aircraft is
to hot to touch with your bare hands. After putting on a long
sleeve flight suit, body armor, flight vest, gloves and a helmet
then strapping into the tight fitting cockpit, you literally
bake like a Thanksgiving turkey in an oven. The only thing you
want to do take off and get some air moving over you, even hot
air is better than nothing.
As we took off from the base the weather
was bad, not bad enough to keep us down, but bad. The dust that
day was reasonably thick. We could see only about 2 miles in
any direction. This sounds like a lot except you travel that
far in less than a minute, a low flying jet travels that far in
seconds. Power lines, which are everywhere, are nearly
invisible. About two weeks prior, a helicopter from a sister
unit hit power lines and it was only a lucky twist of fate the
crew was not killed. Luck is a good thing, until you realize it
is the only thing between you and death.
On the good side we would be hard to see
from any distance on the ground; making it that much more
difficult for someone to shoot at us from the ground.
As the flight flew into Baghdad I was able
to reflect on the changes I have seen in the city over the past
year. If you were to judge how the city is today vs. a year ago
based on what the press reports, you would think it was worse.
I don’t agree.
When I first flew over Baghdad almost a
year ago there were major portions of the city which were
designated “no fly zones”. The threat over these areas was
considered too great to even get near in a low flying aircraft.
Areas like “Sadar City” were definitely areas we avoided. This
assessment was based not only the threat of being shot down, but
also due to the concern with what would happen to a crew if they
made an emergency landing in one of these areas. The movie
“Blackhawk Down” comes to mind. Now there is no area of the
city which we can’t fly over. People still shoot at aircraft on
occasion, but it is sporadic and not planned attacks and due to
the heavy American presence almost everywhere, making an
emergency landing while bad, is not necessarily the end of the
Back then, there were large areas of the
city which were completely uninhabitable “war zones”, bombed out
areas with no civilians risking their lives to go through. Now
there is new construction and traffic – people and cars all over
the city and in many of the previously uninhabitable areas.
There are still bad areas, but much fewer.
Back then, American patrols were limited
and few; seeing patrols while not uncommon, were few and far
between. Now they seem to be everywhere, both American and
Iraqi patrols. Maybe it is a result of the “Surge”, but
whatever it is there are signs of security everywhere. The now
heavy traffic is broken up frequently by checkpoints and
security roadblocks. A few months ago I saw my first
“dismounted patrol” (soldiers walking as opposed to being in
vehicles) with none of their vehicles or armor in the area.
I have no doubt the streets are just a
dangerous today for a soldier as it was last year. Snipers and
IED’s being the main threat. But the city fundamentally looks
better and more secure. It is apparent to me there is more
commerce and productive activity - markets, new construction and
areas which have been cleaned up, etc.
Hopefully the Units picking up our mission
as we rotate out of country will continue to see improvements.
But as always, the enemy has a vote in what happens and they
would like nothing better than for Baghdad to be a complete war
It was only after we landed back at the
base the crews laughed and joked about this being my “last
flight in Iraq” – and that is just fine with me.
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What day of the week is it?
For many soldiers in Iraq there are no days of the week. No
weekends, no holidays, no 5’O’clock bell, no “beerthirty”.
Every day is a work day. Depending on your job you may have a
“Reset Day”, meaning you can catch up on sleep or do personal
chores, etc. I only had one reset day while in Iraq, for me it
meant I only went into the Operations Center four times that
day. Days of the week have no meaning.
Similar to two
school kids asking each other trivia questions, on occasion one
soldier will offer up this question: “So, what day of the week
is it?” The first response is usually “OH, wait! Don’t tell
me”, “Aw man, I knew this a few days ago” or the more common
“……..(long pause), ……(look around a room for a
calendar),…..(count on your fingers), …..I think it is…”
I am sure most
soldiers will answer much more quickly the date and how long
until they go home. For me it is August 5, 12 days and a wake
up until, (I have been told) I will go home.
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On August 17, 2007 I got on an airliner in Kuwait city with the
rest of my unit and we all flew back to the US. It was hard to
believe I was actually going home. Although many did not say it
at the time, stories of units turned around at the airport, some
even after getting back to the US, then having to do another
three months or more in Iraq created an element of doubt as to
weather we were actually going to really get to go home. With
the time differences we left at night and the flight seemed to
As we flew, the flight crew continued to
update us as to where we were, “Over Iraq”, “Clear the airspace
of Iraq”, “Over Europe”, “Over the Atlantic Ocean”, “Over US
soil”, each time the announcements were met with cheers from us.
The first place we landed was in Bangor,
Maine. When the pane touched down the cheers were overwhelming,
for me it was sinking in that I was really going home. Because
the plane had to refuel, we had about an hour layover and
everyone on the plane was unloaded into the airport. When we
walked down the concourse we were met by cheering people lining
the walkways. It was not just a few people; I am guessing
50-100 people were there to welcome us home. These were not
people who just happened to be in the airport either. The
people of the City of Bangor have set up a volunteer welcoming
committee and hospitality office in the airport. What most
amazed me was that we did not land in the middle of the day. We
arrived somewhere around 1am or 2am, Bangor time and all these
people turned out in the middle of the night for us. I found
out later they do this for all the returning flights from Iraq.
Between all the cheers, handshakes and hugs we all received an
While we were waiting in the airport I had
the opportunity to speak with a number of the people who
welcomed us. One man I spoke with was a Viet Nam veteran and we
shared a few heartfelt soldier stories and I thanked him for
welcoming us all at the airport. He told me he was retired and
he considered it a personal mission to greet each group of
soldiers as they came through Bangor airport. In passing I
asked him why he did this. He paused for a moment, then with
tears in his eyes he said that when he returned from Viet Nam
the first thing that happened to him in the airport he returned
to was that a war protestor spit in his face. Since then he has
made it his life mission to see that never happens to another
soldier. We both shared an emotional moment and I thanked him
for his service also.
We then loaded back on the airplane and
flew the last leg to Colorado Springs. As we were landing I
looked out the window and saw Pikes Peak. A year earlier I
looked at the same mountain and wondered if I would ever see it
again. Now I was home. The relief for all of us was
overwhelming as we landed. We were again greeted as we got off
the plane and we loaded onto busses to go to Ft. Carson. I
found special meaning in the police escort we received for the
bus convoy, because it was from my coworkers.
The administrative check-in procedures
before seeing our families were thankfully brief. We all
marched in formation into a gym and were reunited with our
families with cheers waiving flags and welcome home signs. I
saw my wife and oldest daughter for the first time in more than
6 months. It was emotional.
My youngest daughter, who was 6 months old
when I left, was now a walking talking two-year old. She was
very shy and not sure what to make of me, now a new presence in
her life. Thankfully I was told before I saw my family to not
be surprised if very young children have unusual reactions to
you when you get home. Not being prepared for my daughter
reacting the way she did would have been hard on me.
Thankfully, relatively quickly, she reattached to Dad as if I
My readjusting to normal life was probably
easier than some others. My sleep patterns were way off, I felt
more at ease sitting in my basement with cement walls around me
and “hot” August Colorado weather did not seem to bother me
much. Once a few days after returning, I had borrowed a
friend’s car to do some errands. As I was driving I noticed I
was beginning to feel a little “warm”. It then noticed the
windows were up, the air conditioner was off and the outside
temperature was about 95 degrees. I laughed as I realized it
was probably 110 degrees in the car and it was only “warm” to
It is good to be home and in good health.
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