Brush with history…
This morning I was sitting in the Charlotte-Douglass Airport waiting for the next flight to Knoxville, Tennessee where I will be working this week. Days like today are not my favorite as I dozed off last night about 2:00 AM only to wake at 3:10 AM to make my way to the airport. It is a long night followed by a short day followed by another long night. Oh the joys of being a professional vampire. Since I have time, we might as well get a short story in.
When we last left off it was late November 2003, Kuwait. I had just returned from Germany because of a minor medical issue. My good friend, Kyle A. had taken over my crew and when I returned, we spoke and I suggested that he continue to fly in my spot and I would tag along as an extra crew member. Our deployed Commander, Sleepy thought it was a good idea so we pressed on. I assumed the role of Load Master and spent my time working in the back with Ron B. We had a good time and he was glad to have some help although I was more trouble than I was worth.
We only had two flights like this before we were scheduled to return home. I don’t remember anything from the first flight so I assume it went without incident. The second flight we were doing troop rotations back to the states. At this time, the Army folks had been in Iraq since early February and were approaching their rotation dates but since Iraq was turning into a long term commitment, they had long since earned the right to go home for some rest and relaxation. They were given three weeks off and the C-130 was the first step on their journey. All smiles and giggles, these men and women were ready to get on board and head out. We configured for 60 passengers and a couple of baggage pallets. We were going from Kuwait City to Baghdad and back three times in a single day. I remember Kyle asked me if I wanted one of the legs. I knew he was joking but I also knew how tired he was because a 20 hour day is still long. Of course I said no. I was kind of digging the Load Master job, working hard on the ground and napping in the air. It was nice to be on the other side of the phrase, “Gear Up, Feet Up.”
On every stop, we surveyed the troops looking for two lucky souls to sit up front. The crew bunks were better than any bed in the Army and it was nice to have some leg room up front. Plus it was kind of cool to get a couple of 20 year old kids and find out what was really going on in the war from their perspective. We always looked for soldiers from West Virginia first, then females for Kevin the Co-pilot and Gummy Bear the Flight Engineer, and if we couldn’t find someone then we picked the two lowest ranking people. I made more than one Colonel mad when I told them there were no seats up front and then walked two Privates up front. Standing on the dark ramp with the Army guys, I was running my mouth while Ron was working and I came across the “home run” of all troops. A female, Private First Class from West Virginia; I was talking to some guy asking if anyone was from WV and he just pointed and said “She is from West Virginia.”
I did a double take to just to make sure this person was a female. He assured me she was so I asked her name and sure enough. She was a girl. I can be a practical joker so I took her with me and we went to Ron. The sweat was pouring off of his head when I interrupted his work. We were a very informal crew and didn’t use rank when we spoke to each other. It was all first names or nick names. They called me Rob. I’m sure this person wasn’t sure how to react when a Master Sergeant rebuffed a Captain for not helping him work, but I probably earned his attitude.
I said. “RB, this is Lynndie and she is going to sit up front with the boys.”
He literally looked at me like I was stupid and looked at her for what seemed a lifetime. Then he broke into a huge smile. He told her where to stand then ordered me to help him strap down the luggage. Rarely have I seen someone work so hard while laughing. He knew what I knew and he liked it. He told her to be the last one on the airplane and waited until the lights were out before he escorted her up front. He got her up front, on headset and buckled in. I was outside monitoring the engine start. When they were running, I closed the crew door and he waived me to the back with him.
He said. “Dude, that is one ugly girl. I thought she was a dude but I couldn’t figure out why his mom gave him a girl’s name.” Up front, the two pilots could not see her, they just heard her voice. Harry the Nav and Gummy Bear could see her and they were in on the joke. Everyone started making comments about how Kevin was single, blah, blah, blah. Kevin is too smart and too professional to be crude but there were a few moments of not so innocent flirting between the two but it didn’t last long. Of course, RB and I were literally crying listening to the conversation. Once she started talking and all innocence was lost.
We learned that Lynndie worked in a chicken processing plant across the WV border in Maryland. She took great pains to describe how they treated the chickens before they were processed (killed). I will not describe the details of what they did, but to describe it as inhumane is generous. Ten minutes into the flight, Lynndie had managed to make six aircrew guys sit in silence. Trying to change the subject someone asked what she did in Iraq. She was a guard at the former Iraqi prison called Abu Ghraib. For the next ten or so minutes she very graphically described how they treated the detainees. Honestly, the chickens under her care had it better than the prisoners. After she finished speaking, the only responses from us were checklist items only. No one said a word for the last hour of the flight. No one wanted to give her a chance to tell us something we didn’t want to hear.
After we landed, cleared the airplane and unloaded the pallets. We held an impromptu huddle under the tail of the airplane. We were all in shock, it is hard to shock a bunch of aircrew guys but this woman did it. The rest of the night all we asked ourselves was could it be true? Two days later, we rotated out and went home. None of us forgot about what we heard. We spoke about it with the other crews, they asked the same questions we did and we all came to the conclusion that the things she described could not happen in a US military prison. The USA does not treat prisoners of war like she described. We knew the rules, no pictures of POWs, give them water, keep them safe, and protect them because they can’t protect themselves.
It couldn’t have been true, therefore she was lying. That was the only thing that made sense. The morning after we returned, Saddam was captured in his spider hole. Things were looking up. A few weeks later there was a new story. A story about prisoner abuse, shocking to say the least. Since Kyle was technically in command of the crew, he was the one who reported the event to our people back home. We were told to stand by but they didn’t need our testimony. She was found to be guilty of being the most disgusting human I have ever met.
Until next time, keep on rockin.