The crew chief looked like a beetle-headed man in a tan flightsuit, what with his weird-shaped crewmember helmet and oversized smoked visor that covered most of his face. He gestured for me to get on the bird, and helped me strap into the four-point harness. He closed the door, took up the M60D machinegun at the window, and the thrum of the rotor accelerated to a steady howl. The Black Hawk sprang into the air, confidently, and tore away from Camp Liberty.
Destination: Butler Range.
I was on a one-man mission to deliver new crypto keys to The Pontiff at the range, his place of baleful exile under the very shadow of the Enemy, B Company’s Osgiliath to Iraq’s Mordor.
Contrary to my experience on the C-130 flights to and from Kuwait, riding in a Black Hawk was pleasant and exciting (as opposed to gut-wrenching and miserable). Unlike the ponderous take-off roll of a fixed wing aircraft, a Black Hawk surges into the sky with no preface, its rotor blades threshing the air violently; yet once cruising, the ride is no more bumpy than that of a Humvee on a dirt road.
The pair of Black Hawks cruised over Baghdad, banking hard at times, giving me an incredible view of the city. It was all tan buildings, some new and some old, six lane blacktops running amidst Third World warrens of garbage and debris-strewn streets, empty playgrounds next to bomb-shattered structures, burnt out husks of old cars on roads where shiny new ones passed. From the air, much of it looked like any other city – with billboards, traffic, clothes lines, people walking, birds flying below. And a realization, borne of my first trip outside the wire since coming to Liberty: most Iraqis just want to live, as the rest of us.
Further out, the city gave way to scattered date farms and arid scrubland, where shepherds marshaled their herds, searching for green among the gray-brown dirt and scrub. Some of them waved at us as we passed; I wondered what they thought of us, roaring overhead in our olive-black birds, no insignia visible but none necessary.
I arrived at the Range at about 0950, which was supposed to be my return time to Liberty. I didn’t know when the next flight would arrive, and as it turned out, I was re-manifested on a flight at 1500. Little did I know what peril awaited me…
(to be continued)