Across the Wire at Night
I crossed the wire for the first time. The wire is our term for the base perimeter, beyond which safety is definitely not assured. And just to keep things interesting, my first trip across the wire occured at night, even thought I'd had just three flights since flight school, all of them during the last three days of pre-deployment training Yuma, AZ. In other words my fourth night flight turned out to be a combat mission beyond the wire in Iraq.
I was completely lost during the pre-flight brief, but my pilot in command reassured me that he knew what was going on and all I really had to worry about was flying the aircraft. He had spent one of the previous nights riding along in one of the CH-46 helicopters operated by the Marine Corps unit we are replacing.
We began strapping up after the brief, body armor and all. I slid a full magazine of nine millimeter rounds into my pistol and a full magazine of 5.56 millimeter rounds into my rifle, and for the first time in my career I had to think about why we carry bullets.
I asked myself -- and realized that for the first time the question wasn't hypothetical -- if I would have the capacity to pull out my weapon, rack a round into the chamber and fire with the intent of killing another human being? If I am in the situation where I am firing my weapons, how did I get there? A crash? Or is there a landing zone where the enemy takes up a position in order to open fire on the aircraft while we are on the ground? I mentally rehearsed how I would manipulate my body in order to reach my weapon and use it.
We started up, took off and made our way off base, stopping by the test fire area to make sure our weapons worked. The CH-46 led the way firing first. As we looked through our night vision googles, we could see their rounds impacting the targets with large plumes of fire and smoke interrupted by the streak of an occasional tracer round. The power of the weapons gave me some reassurance that we would be able to defend ourselves pretty well.
Our schedule and execution was right on. I was able to fly all of trip thanks to coaching from the pilot in command and the crew chiefs. My posterior was killing me from the constant sitting over the six hour trip and my forehead was burning from the weight of the night vision goggles. My longest night flight before this had been two hours.
After we landed, packed our gear and made three or four trips to the hangar to put things away. We headed to the post flight brief, where I noticed my eyes were burning around the edges of the eye lids, at the point the lids meet the surface of the eyeballs. Exhausted, I had to stand up in order to make it through the brief. Overall, the first mission was a lot less stressful than I had expected. Now there are many more to come, and I hope for all of us that they are as uneventful as this one.
-- Written on 3/4/2006
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