Archive: Al Taqaddum, Iraq

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...

By Bert Stover | February 12, 2007; 05:02 AM ET | Comments (26)

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....

By Bert Stover | February 9, 2007; 08:16 AM ET | Comments (3)

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...

By Bert Stover | February 5, 2007; 06:25 AM ET | Comments (22)

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...

By Bert Stover | January 31, 2007; 07:59 AM ET | Comments (9)

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....

By Bert Stover | January 16, 2007; 07:14 AM ET | Comments (20)

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....

By Bert Stover | December 29, 2006; 08:03 PM ET | Comments (4)

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....

By Bert Stover | December 14, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (12)

Celebrating the Marine Corps Birthday

(written while observing the 'cease' order) On November 10, the U.S. Marine Corps celebrated its 231st birthday. Since we work directly with Marines, we were included in the celebration, which included ceremonies and even an Iraq version of the Marine Corps Marathon, held at Al Asad. Additionally, the Marine Corps allowed two beers for each member in the command, but as an aviation unit we had to defer the beer until a later date (more on the that in a coming post). Though we were employed throughout the birthday, a result of falling under the Marine Corps chain of command, we were able to celebrate our brethren....

By Bert Stover | December 10, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (5)

Leave Rotations End

Most in the unit have returned to Iraq after their two-week leave, a hiatus granted to each soldier, spread out over the year to maximize productivity. Some chose to go home to family, while others vacationed in foreign countries. All agreed that the leave provided a needed break from the conditions here in Iraq. Most also thought they were the shortest two weeks of this deployment -- they wished their lives away in anticipation of leave, and prayed time would stop during it....

By Bert Stover | December 8, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (7)

Thanksgiving Deployed

On the eve of Thanksgiving, some of us decided we should gather together for dinner. Normally, we eat in day and night shifts, but we wanted to try to combine both for the holiday. Getting everyone to feast on turkey with stuffing at the same hour was virtually impossible, but we set a time anyway -- 14:15 -- recognizing that some would still have to work. It would be a late meal for the day crew and an early one for the night crew. It promised to be better than foregoing the meal altogether: At least we were doing something to celebrate....

By Bert Stover | December 4, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

I'm Back

It's been a month since I last published, and I can now explain my online absence. Briefly, I was following an order to cease blogging -- an order that is no longer in effect. To my command, thank you for your time and your backing for reinstating this blog. I assure you that it is not remotely similar to the blogs coming from theater that use minimal, if any, judgment in respecting the demands of operational security. To those of you who have followed what I have written, thank you for your patience. During the month when I was offline, many things have happened here and at home that should make this forum an interesting one for some time to come. If you'd like to know more about the issues that arose around my blogging, here's the text of a letter I was prepared to send to friends if I'd...

By Bert Stover | November 20, 2006; 12:49 PM ET | Comments (31)

Things Forgotten

The other night I was doing my job, as we do 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when it hit me: Memories of home were eluding me. I could no longer recall details I once took for granted, such as the subtlety of a scent. The sensation blindsided me and the rest of the crew as we flew over Iraq. We all reflected on what we've forgotten for having been away so long....

By Bert Stover | October 12, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (56)

O'er the Land of the Free

We've built a tradition -- I'm not sure who started it -- of hanging the Stars and Stripes aboard Operation Iraqi Freedom aircraft. Once the flags complete their missions, many of us like to send them to loved ones at home. I have given them to people who have sent me care packages or given me support during the seven months I've been in Iraq. It is reminiscent of the program that allows citizens to procure an American flag that once flew over the Capitol in Washington. We do it to say, "We're thinking of you while we're over here!"...

By Bert Stover | September 28, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (47)

"Thank you" and "Meow!"

On their way home and out of TQ, the Marine Corps Reserve unit running the passenger terminal here, known to us as the Arrival/Departure Airfield Control Group or ADACG, stopped by to say, "thank you" to the TQ Punisher detachment....

By Bert Stover | September 12, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (8)

Summer Ends; the Weather Changes

I awoke and began my ritual of gathering toiletries and a towel for my morning shave and tooth-brushing. En route to the trailer bathrooms, sweating from the staggering heat, I looked up and noticed clouds. A sandstorm blasts into Al Taqaddum, Iraq during late afternoon of August 21, 2006. (Higginbotham -- Unit Photo) View Enlarged Photo...

By Bert Stover | August 26, 2006; 08:19 AM ET | Comments (8)

Alpha Company Sponsors Unit in Ramadi

In the months we've been here, we've flown to all corners of Iraq. Places with varying degrees of available services, from installations with a PX, coffee shop and even traffic court, to remote locations where a radio call is required several minutes prior to landing so the landing zone can be secured and marked. The latter are lucky to have a bathroom....

By Bert Stover | August 22, 2006; 08:55 AM ET | Comments (13)

'Hump Day' Is Upon Us

When I think of "hump day" in this country, I consider what's done versus what's left to do. For those that need some help understanding what we do, this post will give you an idea....

By Bert Stover | August 10, 2006; 07:08 AM ET | Comments (7)

I'm a Pilot in Command, Let the Learning Begin

After surviving the first day of the PC check ride, day two would end with my realizing I had blown through a scheduled day off. Over-tired and over-tasked, I'd forgotten to look at a schedule. Days two, three and four lasted just as long and ended with my feeling exhausted and drained, yet surprised at my progress. Just six months ago, I was unsure of my ability to start an aircraft. Now I talked to instructor pilots about cockpit environment and policing mistakes before they got the chance to matriculate into my enemy....

By Bert Stover | August 5, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (8)

PC Training Begins

The first day of PC (pilot-in-command) training lasted all day. We, of course, flew during the hottest part of the day and began our work on refining my instrument flight skills. Before the flight, we had an hours-long "table talk," in which an instructor pilot imparted his knowledge on green pilots, a laborious but necessary part of flight instruction....

By Bert Stover | August 4, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

Getting the Nod

Almost two months have passed since I got the PC (pilot in command) talk. In the meantime, I have spent hours preparing; answering personal questions about the importance of being a PC and studying to ensure I could pass the test. My plan was to get to a point where I would be ready for the job about half way through the deployment. It seems things have come together as planned....

By Bert Stover | August 2, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (9)

Should I Become a Pilot in Command?

One hot morning back in June, just before my pass to Qatar, an instructor pilot approached me as I was getting off work for the day. He asked if we could talk outside -- in a tone that indicated I had violated a regulation or acted insubordinate in some way. I followed him with my mind racing, wondering what he wanted to discuss. He began with a disclaimer that I needed to hear him out....

By Bert Stover | August 1, 2006; 07:33 AM ET | Comments (12)

TQ Internet Is Up!

TQ Internet is up! We finally have installed the satellite Internet system we purchased two months ago. Not everyone is participating, but those who are have the opportunity to communicate with loved ones on a regular basis, without time limits or having to stand in line. The first night I noticed several people sitting in front of Web cams chatting with their families. I am sure this service will save at least one relationship in our unit, hopefully more. It's allowing me to call home more often. The biggest difference: Now my parents and brother can call me here in Iraq. I am sure there are several other families that have come to enjoy this new, reverse flow of communication, especially the ability for those at home to dial up their soldier when they have had a tough day. We all owe the command a big "thank you" for allowing...

By Bert Stover | July 29, 2006; 01:04 PM ET | Comments (3)

Moving into "the Cans"

Over the last few days we've added moving to our daily tasks. It's the eighth or ninth time we've moved since deployment, but this time it was into semi-permanent quarters -- "the cans." The cans are cargo containers rebuilt as living spaces. They're small, at 140 square feet for two people, with two bunks, two wardrobes, and a night stand. The cans are air-conditioned and sealed tight from the dusty weather. They also block out all light, providing better sleeping condition for night crews. Some have a can to themselves: As the cliche goes, "rank has its privileges." After several days of moving and rearranging, many of us are happier and are now awaiting our Internet connections. Of course, there has been some grumbling about the tighter living quarters, but you can't please everyone. Morale should improve, now that we'll be getting some quality sleep and a bit of privacy....

By Bert Stover | July 20, 2006; 07:44 AM ET | Comments (73)

Shopping at the New Exchange

The Exchange, run by AAFES (Army and Air Force Exchange Service), closed down for a couple of days as it moved. Marines and soldiers with tobacco habits had to suffer a few days if they hadn't stocked up on cigarettes....

By Bert Stover | July 19, 2006; 07:33 AM ET | Email a Comment

Scorpions and Spiders and Snakes, Oh My

With the heat has come an invasion of local wildlife. Scorpions, camel spiders and sand flies are the most common, with an occasional snake. Most sightings occur at night. Fortunately none of us have been caught completely off-guard -- e.g. stung by a scorpion while pulling on a boot....

By Bert Stover | July 12, 2006; 07:30 AM ET | Comments (18)

Getting Internet

Through some negotiations, the battalion was granted a waiver allowing the purchase of commercial Internet access. The largest concession made was for the battalion to observe the electronic blackout periods required to maintain Operational Security (OPSEC). We are now allowed to purchase a system for use in our personal living space....

By Bert Stover | June 15, 2006; 08:05 AM ET | Comments (56)

The Heat Rises

I've finally rotated to the day shift for the first time while at TQ. Though it is almost over and I am about to return to the night shift, the day shift adds a bit of relief to the hectic schedule....

By Bert Stover | June 1, 2006; 07:56 PM ET | Comments (18)

TQ Upgrades

We are now living in the middle of a dump, or more accurately a construction site. Bulldozers are working daily to tear down the tent city that was pitched beside our wooden huts. Huge piles of sandbags, tent canvas, plywood, cheap steel bunk beds, and dirty mattresses surround us. They're a small price to pay for the new housing on its way. All the demolition has of course stirred up the base's powdery dust. Since the showers and bathrooms are on the other side of this project, we have to wade ankle deep through the dirt/dust to return to our huts -- and then wash our feet a second time. Removal of the tents has led to the insertion of what we call cans. They are tractor trailer/ship containers made to live in for short periods of time. Some in the unit are hoping we can move to the cans,...

By Bert Stover | May 29, 2006; 05:00 AM ET | Comments (69)

Cheating Death

Only five days after I wrote the last entry about our real enemies in Iraq, we faced one of them -- poor weather conditions -- and risked the lives of all of those aboard four of our aircraft....

By Bert Stover | May 22, 2006; 02:00 AM ET | Comments (107)

The Number One Threat in Iraq: Ourselves

I have flown several times over sections of Iraq labeled dangerous by the Dpartment of Defense. I've flown through tracer fire and what I believe was small arms fire. I've flown over a huge explosion, one that sent a fireball well above our altitude when it detonated about 2 miles (or 30 to 45 seconds) behind us. It generated enough light to make up for the fact there was no moon shining that night. But I believe the threats I faced in those encounters were trivial compared to three other threats that routinely confront aviation units in Iraq -- and these other, greater threats aren't thrown at us by the insurgents. Number three on my personal threat list, but still nothing to laugh at, is the desert environment and the loose soil that causes the feared "brown out" landing. As a helicopter gets close to a landing here, the wind...

By Bert Stover | May 19, 2006; 02:00 AM ET | Comments (44)

 

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