“Hope they are on our side…”
Going to try to do two articles this week, tall order but I do miss the war stories. It may be hard to tell from the outside but the college football series has been getting a lot of traffic over here. Seems that people love their football and I want to take a moment to welcome all the new folks. For the past couple of years, I have been writing an on-going series documenting 2003-2006, when I was flying for the military over in Iraq. This series is for all of us but specifically it will be for my kids to know who dad was before they were born. They love me to tell them stories of when I was a kid and one day I hope they will appreciate this series. But until then, it is a good way to take the trip down memory lane.
When we last left off, it was February 2004. Saddam had been captured and the Insurgency was in full effect. From the kick off to the war until late summer 2003, I can count on one hand the number of times we were shot at by a missile or small arms fire. The fall of 2003, the incidents were rapidly increasing and going back in February, it had turned into a no joke shooting match. Making three or four trips into Iraq within a single day, we could expect to be shot at least one or twice for each take-off or landing. But the “Insurgents” were getting better at their tactics and using the proper weapons to make things more difficult. I would like to fully explain what they were doing, but some of it would be considered secret because it would get into our tactics and missile defense system. Let’s just say that it was no joke and leave the hand gestures and back patting to the fighter pilots.
I don’t know if all pilots are like me or if I am special. I did lick the windows on the short bus when I was in elementary school, but I am sure that has no bearing on my current intelligence capabilities. Anyway, for me flying is a perishable skill. If I take a few weeks off from work for vacation, it takes a few flights to figure everything out so that I feel comfortable again. We were doing 60 day rotations during this period so we left in early December and when we came back in February, I felt like a monkey trying to make love to a football. Sometimes it is just tough to watch. Since the attacks had dramatically increased, I wanted to accelerate my warm-up period for both myself and my co-pilot, Carlos. We did some type of tactical arrival and departure at every airport, even if they were not in the combat zone. We both felt that we would rather mess it up at Kuwait City International as opposed to messing it up in Baghdad. I am sure I don’t have to mention, that it was also fun.
One of our first flights was to Basrah. Located in southern Iraq, it was controlled by the British and while nowhere was really safe, it was as safe as anywhere not named Fallujah. Carlos must have done the landing because I did the take-off. I still felt like that monkey and a football but it must have looked ok because about twenty miles away from the field, we were still at about 75 feet above the ground and 300 knots. Richie, the Flight Engineer finally broke the silence on the intercom when he said that I looked like I was feeling the love again. Anytime, a seasoned flight engineer gives out a compliment, it is special and I was always happy to have Rich on the crew. I started to agree, when we crossed the major road going from Basrah to Kuwait City. I don’t know the official name of the road, but it was called the highway of death in the first Gulf War. We crossed it at a 90 degree angle, and it was packed with Army Trucks, Humvees, tractor-trailers, and all kids of other vehicles heading north. The convoy went from horizon to horizon, since we were so low we couldn’t see either end. They were rolling and the guys that we flew over all were waving. We waved back.
75 feet is low, and it wasn’t hard to see expressions on their face. It was a marvelous sight. After we passed them, Bobby the Navigator quipped. “Hope they were on our side.” You can imagine the howls of laughter and sarcastic comments that followed. In many ways it became the punchline of the rotation. Passing an airplane in the air, “Hope they are on our side.” Driving past the security guard at the front gate, “Hope he is on our side.” Getting a grilled cheese sandwich at the chow hall, “Hope the cook is on our side.” It was one of the gifts that kept giving.
Until next time, keep on rockin.
From → military