Who’s Your Baghdaddy…?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.