Sunday, April 4, 2010


My Special Forces A team was sitting on the tarmac waiting to infiltrate Northern Iraq on a MC130 which is the Special Ops version of the C130 cargo plane. This was the third day of the war in Iraq and we had caught a break. We had been told our sortie would be able to over fly Turkey on our planned flight route to Al Sulmeniyah Iraq. The previous two days the teams infiltrating into the north had to fly a route that came to be known as “the Ugly Baby” because it hugged the Syrian and Iraqi border. The anti aircraft fire along this route was so intense that I had seen one of the MC130’s arrive back at our departure airfield with two windows shot out.
As dusk started to settle in our MC130 taxied up and turned to face its tail towards our location. The hot wash of the propellers burned my face as I struggled to get my massive rucksack up on a shoulder. We had packed every square inch of our gear with the tools of war. Along with my rucksack which weighed upwards of 130 pounds I had my load bearing vest crammed with ammunition and fragmentation grenades that caused it to weigh about 60 pounds. I was also carrying an M4 rifle as my primary weapon and an M9 pistol as a secondary weapon. I was the Team Sergeant so I had the privilege of carrying a lot of the extra batteries for our communications gear. All and all though my load was about average, others had heavier stuff than I did. Along with my team there was some kind of hospital triage unit on board, their equipment, and a whole lot of ammunition pallets.
Once we started to load the aircraft I brought up the rear making sure no one had left any gear behind on the small grassy strip we had been sitting on for the last few hours. I got into the aircraft and noticed the majority of the customary red web seating had been removed to allow for max payload. I actually made the whole flight sitting on a box of hand grenades due to the lack of seating. As a seat belt I had a piece of one inch tubular webbing attached to my belt by a snap link with the other end snap linked to a cargo tie down on the aircraft floor. More like a leash really.
We took off and were totally blacked out. Once my eyes got adjusted I stood up to look out the window and could see the lights of towns below. Being a Military Freefall Jumpmaster I was used to identifying things on the map from high altitude but soon I ran out of known area and sat back down to wait out the flight, and as is customary for me on a military aircraft I fell asleep. After an undetermined amount of time the Air Force crew chief woke me up and said we were ten minutes out from Iraqi airspace, I relayed the message to my Team Leader and from then on every one on the aircraft was at a high state of alertness. Not really scared but just generally nervous and jumpy. I for one didn’t know what to expect having never infiltrated an enemy country in the dead of night by Air Force aircraft it was all new to me. I had been told our route would have less Anti-Aircraft fire but it only takes one ya know?
I also hate feeling out of control. Sitting in the back of a dark aircraft waiting for a surface to air missile to come through the ass end can make you feel like that. To try and get oriented I stood up again and looked out the small porthole type window in the side of the plane. We had lost plenty of altitude and we were flying 200-300 feet off the deck, so low I could actually judge our speed and see the lights in the villages as we flew over. In the distance I could see tracer bullets arcing into the sky but could not see what they were being fired at. Maybe the Iraqis were trying to set up some kind of wall of steel in the hopes one of our aircraft would fly though it. I could not see what was in front of us, which was probably a good thing, however our pilot could.
The pilot was doing things with that plane I had never seen a C130 do before, twisting and diving like it was a much smaller plane. I have thousands of flight hours in a C130 but this ride was unlike anything I had ever been on before. Time and time again as he banked and turned I was pulled off my feet and slammed to the deck by the web tether I had attached to the deck. Finally after I had enough I realized the absurdity of wearing a seat belt when we where being shot at. I took the safety line off and wrapped it around my waist. I kept struggling to look out the window catching red and green flashes as they flew in and out of my peripheral vision.
Suddenly we went into an even steeper dive and for a second I thought we had been hit. But when I heard the whine of hydraulics lowering the wheels I realized we were landing, time to put your tray table in the upright and locked position. The landing was surprisingly smooth and was followed immediately by a violent reversal of thrust as the pilot attempted to stop the aircraft and I once again lost my balance and fell down. I was about as ready to get out of this plane as any I had ever been in. At that point I didn’t care who was outside. I gave instructions to my team and told them to pull security in a semi circle as we unloaded the aircraft.
The ramp was lowered and we hauled ass out of the aircraft. Half of us pulled security while the rest started pulling rucksacks and equipment off the tailgate. Once our personal gear was out of the way a small forklift materialized and started pulling pallets of ammunition and the CONEX containing the field hospitals equipment off the plane. As my eyes adjusted to the outside I realized our small internal perimeter was within a much larger perimeter manned by Kurdish Peshmerga. They were ringing the entire airfield about every twenty feet. Our company SGM came up and yelled in my ear to grab our stuff and follow him. As we trudged down the airfield the plane we had come in on took off. It had taken about 5 minutes to unload and they were gone. I didn’t envy them the return trip back along the route we had just come. I gained a lot of respect for the Air Force during that little flight.
In a surreal turn of events we loaded all our gear onto a collection of civilian buses complete with little fuzzy dingle balls in the windows. We had stuff piled everywhere and were standing in the aisles as we took off. After about a fifteen minute drive we pulled into a driveway manned by some Kurdish guards, as they raised the bar that was blocking the road I noticed a sign in Kurdish and English declaring the compound the Headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). We pulled up to a large building and off loaded our gear. The SGM had me follow him inside where he showed me around. Our Company Commander was inside, he looked at me and said “Welcome to Iraq, find a place for your guys to rack out we will be leaving in the morning.” After determining we had no defensive duties for the night we each found a little place to call our own. After consuming an MRE and a bottle of water I ended up crashing out on the tile floor of a hall way.
I wasn’t sure what the morning would bring. I knew we would be getting vehicles and moving farther south into Iraqi controlled territory. At that point I was just happy to be in relative safety and fell asleep wondering where the hell we were at on the map. Welcome to Combat

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