Thursday, February 8, 2007

Waiting for a helicopter

Washington Army Heliport, Green Zone, Baghdad, Iraq - This was the point where our little journalistic band of brothers separated, with CPT Lappegaard and I going one way, and the Fayetteville reporters and the cartoonist that I have been traveling with since Amsterdam going some others.

Our ride to the heliport was with CPT Kunkel, who showed up half way through lunch, and radiated a strong unspoken sense that we shouldn't keep her waiting. We threw the rest of lunch in the trash and scrambled into our body armor, and loaded our gear in her SUV for a short ride across the Green Zone to the heliport.

Once again we are low priority, space available, passengers. Fighting the war is more important that giving rides to journalists...

There are rarely direct helicopter flights from the Green Zone to Fallujah, and so our plan was to catch a ride to Al Asad Air Base, and then catch another flight from there to Fallujah. As it turns out there is direct flight to Fallujah tonight leaving at 9:30 pm. We're manifested for it, and hopefully we won't get bumped. CPT Lappegaard thinks this flight has a better chance of getting us all the way to Fallujah today than the Al Asad route.

Waiting for this flight means we have 9 hours to kill at this heliport which is really just a couple of hard wooden benches under a camouflage net, with a lot of really loud helicopters coming an going. Fortunately the main PX is just across the street, and so we have a good supply of snacks (aka "pogie bait"), and I bought some souvenirs including some stickers to put on my hard camera cases.

The stickers are smaller versions of the big red and white Arabic and English signs that appear on the back of US military vehicles at the ends of convoys, and at the front gates of military installations here.

The first one says:


And the second one says:


There were other signs with phrases that included things like: "DANGER EXPLOSIVES" and "DEADLY FORCE AUTHORIZED", but I decided I should avoid stickers that could be misconstrued to be referring to the contents of my Pelican cases.

Sitting here is good people watching, just like any other airport. I've seen well dressed Iraq civilians (Iraqi government officials presumably). There are Peruvian (yes you read that correctly) soldiers pulling security around the heliport, and checking ID's when you enter the area. There was a group of Australian soldiers earlier. And there is a steady flow of civilian contractors, mostly slightly overwieght American men in their 40's with long hair or beards.

The US soldiers have been heavy on colonels and command sergeant majors over the last hour, although all ranks have been represented. Surprisingly, (to me) it has been almost an even 50/50 split between males and females.

With 6 hours to go, there will probably be more to this story before we catch our flight...

The flight has been moved up to 6:30 pm (good), but there are more people trying to get on it (bad). If we don't make this flight it could mean an extra unproductive day. I'm hoping for the best.

We just had a flight of British Puma helicopters come in and drop of a bunch of British troops. I used to ride on British Pumas occasionally when I was on active duty in Europe in the 80's, but I haven't seen one since. Peacetime Puma rides were a lot more fun than peace time American Blackhawk rides. The British forces were strong believers in "train like you fight", and Puma rides were always VERY low and VERY fast.

We just had annother gaggle of American colonels (various branches of service) come through, all catching a helicopter to BIAP, to catch a flight to Qatar on a 4 day pass.


Anonymous said...

Karen Francis here. Please tell Capt Lappegaard hello from his stateside ghost editor. and thanks for the picture of one of my favourite NPR reporters, John McChesney. LOVE that voice!

As I tell the guys I bake for (Mark, you are going to be included from now on) keep your helmet on, and your ass down.


Anonymous said...

Enjoying every written word.

Day by Day, by Chris Muir (updated daily)

Chris Muir is the cartoonist that I met in Kuwait. He spent two weeks in Iraq at the same time I was there in February 2007, and so thought it would relevant to showcase his work on my site. Here is a link to Chris' humorous travelogue of this Iraq trip: