Posted at 07:41 AM ET, 02/23/2007

Home

We woke at 03:45 to prepare to leave Ft. Dix, NJ -- FINALLY. Though there was a winter storm the night before, we rose out of bed, turned in bed linens, received our DD 214's, and cleaned the barracks, determined to go home.

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Posted at 08:20 AM ET, 02/20/2007

Just Let Us Out

Our stay at Ft. Dix began with the reminder we were still to abide by the first general order -- specifically no alcohol. Even the leadership yearned to let their hair down, as evidenced by its reluctant reminder for compliance. From the beginning the commander worked the issue and brokered a deal allowing us to drink three beers per night at the installation club. The club welcomed the deal as it too suffered under the no alcohol policy - no demand. The deal worked out well for all involved, generating revenue and letting us ease back into civilian life.

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Posted at 04:43 AM ET, 02/16/2007

On US Soil

Our flight to the US arrived at McGuire AFB, around 05:00, temperatures in the teens, Fahrenheit, and snow was falling. Once in the United States and on the ground I imagined there would be a great relief, but getting off the plane and boarding the buses did not evoke any such feelings or emotions. We were back, but no where near home yet -- we had 10 days worth of demobilization yet to endure.

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Posted at 05:26 AM ET, 02/15/2007

Recovering in Kuwait

Camp Virginia, Kuwait is where we spent about nine or ten days just relaxing. The flight companies flew the aircraft down to port and waited for a ride to the United States. All of us had plenty of time to decompress, with a schedule that did not have any formal events on it. We went from a million and one things to do, to nothing to do at all -- quite a shock which left everybody weary. We were weary that we forgot to do something, an uneasy feeling, but in reality there was nothing to do-- but wait. Many of us slept in and got some much needed rest, recovering from the chronic fatigue all the aircrew members suffered during this tour.

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Posted at 05:02 AM ET, 02/12/2007

Out of Iraq

With nothing left to do but get to work by 4 am, review our plan out of Iraq one more time, and suit up, we were on our way. All aircrews broke out of the update briefing for their respective aircraft, like a football team breaking from a huddle. The air was crisp during the cold morning, about four degrees Celsius. I walked around my aircraft one more time, inspecting it for any open latches or damage not noticed during our preflight inspections. I found nothing out of the ordinary, threw on my body armor, latched on my survival vest, and jumped into the cockpit with the company commander as my pilot. We began reading the checklist, which details starting the Auxiliary Power Unit(APU), a smaller engine which provides AC power and pneumatic power to start the two main engines. I read the step as the commander flipped the APU switch to ON. We listened as a normal start sequence sounded, followed by a waning whine, indicating the APU failed to start. All four crew-members cursed the aircraft. Our trip out caught a snag.

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Posted at 08:16 AM ET, 02/ 9/2007

Transitions

Lacking necessary experience and training for a tour in Iraq, many pilots and crew chiefs of A 2-224th AVN, came here greener than the spring grass we left behind in the US, one year ago. Only time and events cured our novice ineptitude. The experienced staff wanted to test the freshly molded, challenging us to plan, present, and execute the trip from Iraq to Kuwait.

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Posted at 06:25 AM ET, 02/ 5/2007

Not Ours...Please, Not Ours

Through our intelligence channels, we received news of the US Army Black Hawk helicopter crash minutes after it happened, on January 20, 2007. Not much was known about the incident except it was not ours. All Punisher (our call sign) aircraft were safely accounted for and we would be going home soon, if only we could make it out of here without any casualties. Our missions continued at the regular fly, eat, sleep pace maintained the whole time we've been here. Many of us started to review the basics of our flight tactics, a result of the news. Our experienced pilots stood up and gave speeches about "making it to the end" and "don't let complacency come into our operations". Because the incident happened outside of the Marine Corps area of responsibility, our internet access was not turned off. This gave all of us the chance to communicate home, "We are OK. It was not a 224th aircraft."

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Posted at 07:59 AM ET, 01/31/2007

Busy as Hell, Trying to Get Out of Here

Over the last couple of weeks we've engaged in our normal mission along with preparing for our departure. As the unit movement officer I've been swamped with work, trying to motivate people to pack as much stuff as they can, as early as possible. Some were legitimately concerned of the possibility of our unit getting extended based on the president's troop increase plan, reluctant to pack until it is certain we will be going home -- on time. One additional duty for the new pilots was to do the planning to fly out of Iraq; the beginning of the end.

So if we weren't flying, we were packing, and if we weren't packing, we were planning the trip from Iraq to Kuwait. After all of that we find time to rest and eat, but there could be no greater motive than wanting to get out of Iraq to keep people hard at work.

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Posted at 07:14 AM ET, 01/16/2007

Anxiously Looking Home

2007 came without our even noticing, as we still fly, eat, sleep and repeat. A few changes have started to show in our routine; mainly the discussions of what we need to pack, when. Most of us are packed up and more than ready for 2007 to take us home, until we read the newspapers and see the hype of expanding the troop levels in this conflict. We are all anxious in one way or another about getting ready to leave or about the very faint possibility of our staying.

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Posted at 08:03 PM ET, 12/29/2006

Christmas Raises Spirits at TQ

Weary of Christmas woes, mostly a result of being away from family, I woke for an early Christmas dinner, expecting to be part of a few close knit people in the unit who agreed to eat dinner together. To my surprise when I emerged from the concrete castle-like fortress, known as home, I found almost all of the assigned unit assembled. Only a handful of were not in attendance, creating a scene as our herd of soldiers migrated to chow.

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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 12/14/2006

Two Beers and a Guitar

(written while observing the 'cease' order)
Due to my unit's schedule, we were unable to take advantage of the Marine Corps 231st Birthday, two-beer celebration until we had a down day, about a week and a half later. It happened to fall at the beginning of the end, as we were organizing our personal gear for shipment home. The two events could not have been better timed. We spent two hours packing up before drinking our celebratory beer, which honestly felt more like a celebration of our own milestone than that of the Marine Corps.

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