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Who’s Your Baghdaddy…?

August 12, 2013
IMG_0007 (2)

Old number six. I am the short guy standing on the right.

 

Hey Ya’ll,

I have not been doing a good job of telling some stories from over there. There are several things competing for my time in life at the moment. When I cut out time from life to write, I have found myself gravitating to my unfinished novel. When I take away from that novel writing, and I do something for the blog. I find that there has been something that felt like it was more pressing. I apologize for the serious slant lately. I will get off the soapbox for a while, and wonder towards other things.

Baghdad fell in early April 2003. I never saw it, but I am told of a character called “Baghdad Bob” who gave daily press conferences about the fallacy of American troops invading the city. I wonder whatever happened to old Bob? I honestly don’t know if he found himself at the end of a rope or if he was hanging out at Abu Grab? Maybe he is driving a taxi cab in New York. Ah the mysteries of life.

 

baghdad

Fiction is better than truth sometimes.

 

For the rest of the month, my crew went to different places. It was just the way that scheduling fell. We flew multiple missions to the countries of Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait. And the airfields of Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra, Talil and H1 all of which are in Iraq. If you remember that H1 was the flight on my birthday that nearly ended badly. If not for what I believe divine intervention, I don’t think I would be walking the Earth today. You can read the story at the following links.

https://robakers.wordpress.com/2013/04/12/happy-birthdaypart-one/
https://robakers.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/happy-birthdaypart-two/
https://robakers.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/happy-birthdaypart-three/

So for the next month, my crew flew everywhere except Baghdad, while it seemed that all of the other crews were doing nothing but Baghdad. If anyone knows a pilot, you know that they are never happy. You could give them five months off from work with full pay, and they would complain about having to walk to the mailbox to collect their paycheck. I am no different and I whined to the scheduler until we got to go.

 

baghdad 2

This is a scene from the movie “The Green Zone” staring Matt Damon. When I saw this I nearly left the theater. It was never like this.

 

 

 

baghdad 3

Another scene from that crappy propaganda movie. My wife and I were expecting Jason Bourne. We got two hours of preaching about WMD and made up CGI scenes like this. Never was it like this. Total Hollywood make-believe.
But that really is Baghdad International Airport. I wonder how much they paid a Blackwater contractor to fly his helicopter around the terminal so they could have actual footage?

 

 

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Actual picture from mid April 2003. Almost a ghost airport.

 

In late April I don’t remember the exact date, we went with our Commander. KK is a great guy, a fellow FedEx pilot and one of the best pilots I have ever known. He wanted to get out of the office and it was a pleasure to have him along for the ride. Scotty flew up and KK flew back. I was in the right seat for the entire day, manipulating the gear and flaps while otherwise being a bag of doughnuts.

Incidentally, leaving Baghdad with KK at the controls, we were shot at for the first known time. The missile alert system activated, it did its job and puked out a sequence of flares. KK flawlessly performed the tactical maneuvers and we lived. What we didn’t know until later, is that Deron and Tracy were in the back filming the low level ride with the video recorder. Deron had the camera was moving from the left side to the right side window when the alert went off. With the airplane being thrown around somehow Deron made it to the window without falling. As he got there, a flare went by the window. He literally jumped back from the window in the paratrooper door, five feet. He went to the window again, only to be surprised by another flare. Again he jumped back. It happened a third time but he didn’t flinch as much. Finally, at the window the event was over.

 

baghdad 1

From Yahoo, C-130 popping flares. They actually deploy one at a time.

 

Here is a YouTube video of a C-130 dumping their flares. It is short if you want to watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOx_wHhitqk

The warning indicator led us to believe the missile was fired from the right side, my side. I was literally twisted in my seat looking for the smoke trail while talking to KK the entire time. Crew Resource Management in effect, I never saw anything and reported that to the crew. Deron calmly stated that he didn’t see anything either. Several hours later, we watched the video and we knew why he didn’t see anything. We couldn’t stop laughing.

Fast forward to June, 2003. We landed at Baghdad, once again. It was high noon with the sun is baking the ramp towards 130 degrees. It was stupid hot. The engines were shut down and we were milling around the airplane. A couple of Army guys come out to tell us that our cargo isn’t ready to go yet. It may be a couple of hours. No surprise there, nothing is ever ready on schedule. I don’t know who asked but somehow we got the Army guys to offer to take us on a tour of Baghdad. The guys came and asked me if we could go. My reply, “Heck YES!”

 

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Deron on a bus driving down the most dangerous road in Iraq. He ain’t scared.

 

So we jumped into a small bus and took out to explore Baghdad. Our driver, I don’t remember his name, so we will call him Johnny. Johnny took us to an anti-aircraft battery first. We off loaded and got some great pictures.

 

IMG_0001 (2)

Two weeks earlier, this gun was manned by a bunch of scared Iraqi soldiers. Lucky for them a bomb didn’t fall on their head.
Because if it had, them we would have not gotten this cool picture.

 

 

Then he asked if we wanted to go to the terminal. “Another, Heck YES!” Before he agreed, he warned us that the road was quite dangerous. There had been shootings, mortars fired and an occasional IED explosion. Remember this is June, 2003. The insurgency hasn’t started yet. Six months later, this road would be considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world. Being dumb aircrew guys we started calling him a chicken and it got worse from there. Our Johnny ain’t no chicken, off we go.

 

IMG_0005

The ramp was full of parked jumbo jets. Saddam ordered that the engines were removed so no one could escape.

 

We pull up in front of the impressive terminal. The building rivals anything you might have seen transiting Atlanta, Denver or Dallas. Huge would be an understatement. We started poking around and the first thing we see were cots. The Army guys were using part of the terminal as their barracks. Most of Baghdad is without power and the terminal was dark, but thanks to the size and lack of windows. Like a modern cave, the interior was relatively cool. But we did make us find a new appreciation for our tent.

 

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Nice and calm, as opposed to Matt Damon’s movie.

 

The second thing we noticed was the huge amount of blood that was splattered on the marble floors. Huge blood stains were scattered around. The concrete walls were pitted with bullet holes and the massive windows had spider cracks from stray rounds. There had been a firefight in the lobby and people had died. It was very sobering.

 

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It is hard to see but this is inside the terminal.

 

But not for long, we roamed the terminal like a bunch of kindergarteners. Paul climbed through the x-ray machine. Gary and I searched every desk for whatever was left over. We collected a pile of documents from the Iraqi Aviation Administration. I still have them in a box in storage. We got newspapers, books and other random things that were left behind. We went through the first class lounge and some of the guys got some tea cups and saucers. I took a sign for the flight to Vienna written in both English and Arabic. Finally after a couple of hours, we went outside and took some pictures in front of the massive Saddam mural. These murals were not so subtle reminders to visitors of Baghdad that they were guests of Saddam and they were expected to follow all of the rules.

 

tabuk 034

Billy Grimes and his crew standing in front of a Saddam mural. This one was at Al Neisseria, Talil Air Base. I have one like it but it isn’t digitized.
This is Saddam as a fat action hero.

 

 

The picture was littered with graffiti. Notes to loved ones, remarks about Saddam’s manhood, stickers from every Coalition military group imaginable, and other random notes covered the entire mural. Everyone wrote Saddam a personal message.

Deron wrote “Marshall University, Huntington West Virginia.”
I wrote about the Old Number Six. This refers to a line from the 1970s movie Blazing Saddles. It became our crew mantra that we repeated as our battle cry. Someone would say. “Let’s give em the old number six.”
“What’s that?” We would reply like a bunch of kids in the Christmas Play. Everyone the recited the lines, in unison. “That’s where we go into town a whopping and a whooping. Killing every living thing in sight, except the women folk of course.”
“Do you spare the women and the children?” Paul would ask.
“No Way! We rape them at the old number six dance later on.” We would finish the quote in cadence.

To watch the scene in the movie click here. Be warned, it is not for young folks or those who are sensitive to inappropriate comments. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EM-lxsxeXBI

 

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Outside the International airport. This is Saddam as a peaceful man.

 

After the field trip was over, we headed back to the airplane. It was still there, sitting empty. Some different Army guys told us there was no cargo to go out. So we loaded up, and went on with the day.

Just another day in a never ending string of days.

 

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Taken in Baghdad in May. The Republican National Guard building is in the background. It became the cargo distribution headquarters or ATOC in late April. My father has a brick from this building that I liberated encased on his deck.

 

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From → military

13 Comments
  1. Always interesting and enlightening to read your accounts, Rob. They are sobering in their glimpse of the reality and yet remind me of reading about a bunch of frat boys at the same time.

    • Oh how wrong you are, young lady.

      We were nothing like a bunch of frat boys. Frat boys have beer, chicks, parties. We had none of that. If anything we were like a bunch of criminals. We had the barbed wire, no TV, bad food, and community living conditions. But criminals had it much better, the get air conditioning, a safe yard to walk, and all the sex they want.

      But the Air Force did trust us enough to give us a 30 million dollar machine which to terrorize the local populace often from 50 feet above the ground. In many ways it was the wild west, and I loved it. In others, it was the most oppressive environment ever and I hated ever second of it.

      Thank you for your constant support.

  2. Great post. Love the pilot’s perspective of Baghdad.

  3. It’s great reading about your experiences and I LOVE seeing your personal photos.

  4. Thanks Doc,

    I have been remiss in writing about the life of 10 years ago. I will endeavor to do more of this.

  5. I really enjoy stories from soldiers….the good, bad and the ugly. A slice of history told from the guy on the ground….or the air in your case. 🙂

    • Thank Abby,

      It is a story. Mostly good but there was some bad and a couple of ugly events. Fortunately for me the ugly didn’t happen directly to me, but I have not been given permission to tell those stories. I am going to be out of town for a few days but maybe on Monday, I will tell a story about the extravaganza departure.

      • War always has ugly stories and I think that if you pretend it doesn’t you don’t understand war. But, I’m not in anyway pushing you to tell those parts. You have to honor and respect the other people involved.
        I’m going to be gone for about a week on vacation too, so I’ll make sure to catch up when I get back!

  6. Great post and story. I am wondering whether your enthusiasm for the Baghdad and terminal tour was tongue-in-cheek. Or was the tour just that much more appealing than spending all those hours waiting for cargo? Thanks for the flashes of insight into the war. I know so little about the reality of war. Also, thanks for visiting my blog and for your thoughtful comments. Your comments made my day.

    • WS,

      It is a pleasure to read your thoughts. Always insightful and thought provoking.

      I have found there are two types of air crew. You have the guy who just wants to get the day over with. They are always pushing, staying on the schedule, do their job with minimal interference from the outside world.

      The other type of air crew might be called a fun seeker. This person wants to stop and experience the moment or smell the roses if you will. Some of those roses can be wondrous experiences like trolling through Saddam International Airport with a flashlight and a camera. Other times It is hanging out at a secret base in a country that wanted to hide the fact that the American military/CIA was doing things that the world really didn’t want to know about at the time, but today it hardly gets a mention in the news. Then there were those experiences that shape a person’s life, forever altering the course of lives.

      The crew I write about so far was full of fun seekers. There were other crews where the vibe was totally different. Mainly as the war went on, as the rotations continued, the faces changed but the threats never did. They were always there, coiled up in a mountain pass or hiding under a bridge. Just waiting to fire off a missile, and when it was in the air. a count of five would end the engagement. Five seconds from life or death. It kind of took all the fun out of it.

  7. Great one Rob!

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