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.

The crew chiefs knew this was our ticket home, and we were going to leave -- albeit a few minutes later than planned. Just as they've done all year, they got us back on track, fixing the APU, allowing us to start the aircraft.

About 45 minutes late, we conducted weapons checks over the open desert and returned to the airfield to refuel. My aircraft was the lead aircraft of a flight of four, which meant I was given the distinct pleasure of calling our friends in the TQ control tower the last time, on our way out of town. Once finished refueling, I called TQ tower requesting permission to line up on the runway for departure -- permission granted. We all ground taxied out, making a staggered right formation. I got the "ready" call from Punisher 63, 64, and 65, respectively and made the radio call to tower we all yearned to hear.

TQ Tower, Punisher 62, a flight of four H-60s request departure to the Southeast ---- NEGATIVE ETR (Expected Time of Return)

While tower read back our clearance, I made a split second decision to change our planned departure. From where we were on the runway, the TQ control tower was to our left at the 10 o'clock position, across the airfield. I requested the following:

TQ Tower, Punisher 62, requests immediate left turn out, for a low pass, flyby over your tower.

As we began to lift off the ground, tower took a few seconds longer than normal to reply, eventually granting us permission for the overfly. There were no other aircraft operating at the airfield, indicated by my voice being the only one talking to TQ tower. Only the tower operators and our aircraft would see this unique departure.

With permission from tower, the company commander, on the flight controls in my aircraft, made a gradual left bank, aligning the formation of four aircraft on course to pass directly over the tower. Four Black Hawk helicopters, each about one rotor disc away from the helicopter in front and silhouetted against one quarter of the sun above the horizon behind us, we passed within 100 feet, directly over TQ tower. As my aircraft passed over the tower, I called to pay our respects.

TQ Tower, Punisher 62, It's been a pleasure working with you this year, Thank You!

With that we were on our way southeast to Kuwait, flying into the rising sun and a latent fog rising off the ground. For many of us, this was the first day flight we've been on in a while. Me specifically, this was the first daytime flight in nearly seven months. As we made our way closer to the border the terrain became more desolate, eventually flying over nothing but desert and former battle positions and burned out vehicles from the Gulf War. In an anticlimactic moment we crossed the border from Iraq into Kuwait, where suddenly we were in friendly territory. We landed at Udairi Army Airfield, where we disassembled the aircraft, to wash them clean of the Iraqi dirt, in preparation to fly them to port, where they would be placed on a ship. Our daily schedule of fly, eat, sleep, was over.

By Bert Stover |  February 12, 2007; 5:02 AM ET  | Category:  Al Taqaddum, Iraq
Previous: Transitions | Next: Recovering in Kuwait


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Welcome home and thank you!

Posted by: Judy Omessi | February 12, 2007 07:50 AM

Welcome home my brothers, welcome home.

Posted by: LTC Tom Smith, USA, Ret. | February 12, 2007 08:05 AM

Thank God you are out!! I remember my son's feeling when he arrived in Kuwait headed home...he was overwhelmed!! Thank you for your hard work and dedication!! I know you will have a lot to do when you first arrive in the USA,....then, enjoy your time with your family!! Thank you for taking the time to write about your experience...I will miss your blogs!! I will continue to pray for you/your Unit!! Welcome HOME and THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!!

Posted by: Mechanic's Mom | February 12, 2007 09:23 AM

May God Speed bring you home to your family. Thank you to all of you for your service to your country and the time you've given. We'll miss hearing from you.

Posted by: Carolyn | February 12, 2007 09:31 AM

fuera de Irak, entrando a Iran. enjustaperspectiva.blogspot.

Posted by: jose de PR | February 12, 2007 09:31 AM

Your postings have been much appreciated as I await the return of my Marine pilot son. Thank you and best wishes.

Posted by: Sandy Roberson | February 12, 2007 09:39 AM

I do thank you for your risking your lives on missions planned by those in power in D.C., but there is another type of bravery
I wish many of you would do, and that is refuse to participate in this carnage in Iraq. If enough of you would say "Hell no, we won't go" our government could not penalize you and would have to wake up to the fact that there are other ways to settle world differences than with ammunition.

Posted by: Helen | February 12, 2007 10:30 AM

I have enjoyed reading your blog, welcome home! Thank You for your service to this great country & for sharing your experience with us all.

Posted by: Mitchell | February 12, 2007 10:36 AM

My son-in-law of the 2-224th also flew one of the Blackhawks out of Al Asad to Kuwait. What a feeling that must have been for you and the other pilots! We are so happy that within mere hours the families will be united again. What joy!!
Well done, 2-224th!!!!

A Mom Who Cares

Posted by: | February 12, 2007 11:29 AM

I will miss your day to days, Godspeed you home, Amen. We are not perfect, no one is. We don't have all the answers, no one does. We try to do what is right and just. No matter the cost. Peace and Freedom to all. Thank you all for your service. WELCOME HOME!!!

Posted by: sobadbob | February 12, 2007 11:44 AM

Thank you for your service on behalf of myself, my family and my friends. You have been in our prayers and I am thankful that you are able to return home to family and friends. Thank you sharing your experiences through your blog, I have enjoyed reading them. Best wishes.

Posted by: A Grateful American | February 12, 2007 11:58 AM

Thank you, Bert. Thanks for all you posting and for coming home in one piece. You'll stay in my prayers, man.


Posted by: Miki from Spain | February 12, 2007 01:59 PM

Thank you for a job well done and MANY thanks for your blog site. You have kept many of us here at home advised of what its like. God Bless you and grant you and all the rest of your squadron a safe homecoming.

Posted by: Bill Johnson | February 12, 2007 03:23 PM

Both Betsy and I are very proud of you Bert - Godspeed on a safe journey home!


Posted by: Chris & Betsy from William & Mary | February 12, 2007 03:26 PM

God speed and safe travel on your way back to the US of A, and a heartfelt thank you to you and your buddies for a job well done.

You are all true American heros.

Posted by: | February 12, 2007 04:06 PM

As I always I am very proud of you. Please give me a ring at you convenience.

Posted by: docadam | February 12, 2007 04:28 PM

Thanks a lot my man. I have been reading your posts ever since you went over to the big sand box...hoping and praying you would make it out safe n sound. You did! I am thankful for that.
I remember the feeling of wheels up one last time and the wonderful feeling that comes with it.
Great job. I appreciate what you guys did with all my heart.
Semper Fi
Bill M.

Posted by: Bill M | February 12, 2007 04:54 PM

Welcome Home!!! Thank you for your service.

Posted by: Linda | February 12, 2007 05:36 PM

I am very proud of you all. Come home, we left the lights on for you.

Posted by: CW2 Hill | February 12, 2007 05:42 PM

Welcome home patriots! Thank you for your service. Military Sealift Command will get your birds home safely from the desert ports. God Speed!

Posted by: CDR Jeffrey Hirsch, USN | February 12, 2007 10:47 PM

Tears fill my eyes when Thumper talks of you coming home. Just as soon as you reach the facility, our lights will be turned off. They have been on since the deployment started. Thanks God above that you guys are safe and headed home. Thank you for your courage and bravery and service. Thumper and I have kept you in our prayers. And God answered them. THumper has missed you all so much and wishes he could have returned to be with you. I'm thankful he will be with you again soon. God Bless everyone in the 224th

Posted by: barbi | February 13, 2007 01:16 AM

Welcome home Bert!
We are so very proud of you and are so glad you will be home soon. I know your parents so have been reading faithfully. You had a job to do and you did it well. I hope you don't have to return to that awful war! Take care of yourself. Susan

Posted by: Susan Foxhall | February 13, 2007 10:12 AM

Welcome home, thank you and vaya con dios.
You guys are the ones that protected my SF son on his last trip over. I owe you a debt of undying gratitude for your bravery, your sacrifice and your service to all of us back home and to our guys on the ground.. Thank you, A amillion times thank you.
special forces mom

Posted by: 'bella | February 13, 2007 11:06 AM

very proud and thankful for your service.
see you later this week, apparently...

Molly & "E"

Posted by: Molly & "E" | February 13, 2007 11:33 AM

CWO Stover: Welcome back to the "Land of the Big BX" as we used to say--and you should be APOD in CONUS by the time you read this! I've enjoyed reading your blogs in the Washington Post and glad you and your crew members made it back. Flying a helicopter is challenging enough and add in ground fire and wow!

Very Respectfully,

Phil Henning, Lt Col, USAF (Ret)

Posted by: Phil Henning | February 14, 2007 06:10 PM

I want to thank all of you men and women for all you do for the safety of me and my family. God Bless all

Posted by: some one who cares for all | February 21, 2007 06:32 PM

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