We took buses from Camp Buehring to Ali Al Salem air base in Kuwait, and from there we boarded a C-17. I’ve flown on C-17s before, but never like that. They had airline seats bolted to metal pallets, and the pallets were locked down into the floor. I’ve always been in cargo seats made of canvas and webbing or just lying on the floor. On my first deployment, I sat on a web bench with my head resting on the tire of a HMMWV. On that particular trip, something in the planes electrical system caught on fire, and we had to land in Tajikistan.
This flight was uneventful, but the landing was exciting. Really, it was typical for a combat zone, but it’s always fun to watch the guys who have never done it before.
You’re cruising along, and all of a sudden, the plane goes into a dive as the pilot tries to get down as quickly as possible. They bank hard a few times, you float above your seat only held in place by your lap belt, before being slammed into your seat and barely able to lift your head. It seems like you’ll crash, but the pilot pulls up, touches down, and stops. It always makes me think of the scene in the movie Armageddon, just after the nuke has blown up. The aircraft is shaking, everyone is tensed up and getting bounced around. It gets very fast and very rough. The corporal seated next to me had a white knuckle grip on the seat-back in front of him. I chuckled and went back to sleep.
We landed at the airport in Baghdad, and were told we’d have about 10 hours to kill. We really didn’t have anywhere to go, but there was a small PX near the terminal, and of course, a chow hall. We had lunch and dinner while we were there, and we all walked over to the PX to pick up a few things. Baghdad International Airport (BIAP) sure looked different from Kuwait. There are 10 to 12 foot high t-wall barriers around everything.
We did a hot load onto Chinooks late last night and flew here to Camp Taji. My adrenaline was going a bit. I was reminded of some of the air assaults I’ve done on Chinooks.
I’ll never forget one of our landings in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda. The pilot put one rear wheel down on the peak of a snowy mountain, and the crew chief dropped the ramp. Looking out all we saw behind the helicopter was sky, until we moved closer to the ramp and looked down at the snowy slope below.
There had been a Skedco sled full of mortar rounds sitting on the ramp, and it just slid out and took off down the hill when the crew chief lowered it. My buddy Jaye and I were the first ones out. Thinking back, we were both machine gunners, so I’m not sure why we were the first ones off. Regardless, it was so steep, we sat on the ramp and slid down it into the snow. Once we hit the snow, we kept sliding until we could grab onto a rock or a tree, or whatever else we ran into. Everyone else followed suit behind us. Our medic lost his bag over a cliff, and the Skedco hit a rock and mortar rounds scattered everywhere. That was a real mess.
On our flight from Kuwait to Iraq, Sergeant Bridges was sitting next to me and looking out of the ramp. He look at me and yelled, “That’s a shitload different from Afghanistan.”
I shook my head in agreement. We were flying over a major city, not barren desert or desolate mountains. There are traffic signals and a network of street lights. I could see traffic driving on the streets, and all of the lights of civilization. It was an odd feeling to be in a helicopter again, and to be looking down at the streets of Baghdad.
When the aircraft touched down, someone left a rucksack behind. I had my M4, assault pack, and rucksack, plus I was kicking another 60+ pound rucksack down the floor toward the ramp as I went. I was pissed. Who leaves their fucking gear behind on a bird? If that would have been an air assault mission, I would have kicked someone’s ass for sure.
Once we left the flight line, we waited around for what seemed like hours. Eventually, we got settled into billets. Leo and I have a room together. It’s small, but it’s not bad. The beds are worn out, and the cheap furniture is falling apart. I’m just excited to have a bed and a building. Home, sweet home! From what I’ve seen in the dark, there are Hesco barriers and sandbags all around these places. The Hescos around the outside of our little section are probably 10 to 12 feet high. The sandbags around each building are probably shoulder height.
Some of the other living areas have concrete covers standing over them. I guess we aren’t that important. Oh well.