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.
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