TIKRIT, Iraq (American Forces Press Service, Feb. 5, 2007) - On Jan. 30, six CH-47 Chinook helicopters touched down outside two villages near Kirkuk, Iraq. Iraqi and coalition Soldiers poured from the back of the aircraft before the double-bladed machines lifted off again.

The sun was just beginning to break the horizon as the helicopters flew back to a nearby coalition base to stand by to pick the troops up again, but their aircrews had already been working for hours.

The pilots and crewmembers of the aircraft had been preparing their aircraft and examining maps of their routes and objectives since shortly after midnight that morning.

"(It was) pretty much a standard type air assault that we do in order to assist the Iraqi army (IA) in doing cordon and searches so that the local populations can see that the IA is empowered and can provide security for the local nationals in the area," said Capt. James Fisher, the commander of Company B, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade whose unit provided the Chinook helicopters for the mission.

The ground troops' mission was to establish a perimeter and search the two villages for weapons caches or improvised explosive device production facilities. For the air crew, the mission was to get the troops in and out as quickly and safely as possible.

This can be dangerous in itself, especially with so many aircraft involved, said Sgt. Jesse Anderson, a crew chief for one of the Chinook helicopters from Company B, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.

"There's a lot of stuff flying around," Anderson said, "so we got to keep alert, make sure we don't fly into each other and watch out for obstructions on the ground. Coming in under goggles, kicking up dust is probably the most risky part of the operation for us."

Flying under goggles is when the pilots and crew operate the aircraft in the dark using night-vision equipment to see.

Working with Iraqi soldiers presents some challenges for the air crew.

Before lifting off to take them to the villages, the crews and Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 6th Cavalry Regiment drill with Iraqi soldiers on loading and unloading the helicopters.

In the dark, just-above-freezing morning air, the troops practiced running onto the aircraft and taking their seats and then rushing out again.

"You have a communications barrier and the biggest thing you need to have is linguists," Fisher said.

With the Iraqi troops are interpreters who echo the coalition Soldiers' orders in Arabic while the troops trained.

Once the ground mission was completed, the Chinooks took to the skies again to retrieve the troops and bring them back to base.
The flights keep the aircrews very busy.

"We have to maintain the aircraft, make sure everything is good to go for the flights," Anderson said. "And then we get up, go out and fly, we have to man our guns and maintain airspace surveillance."

Despite the dangers and the challenges, the pilots and their crews say they enjoy their work.

"I enjoy the fact that I get out and I actually execute the mission," Fisher said. "I spent the last three years on staff so being back at the company command level, it's good to actually have job satisfaction and to know that you're out there helping people and you're getting the job done."

"For me, I enjoy just getting up and going out and flying around," Anderson said. "Sitting back on the ramp, it's like watching the world through a big screen TV. I love it."

Page last updated Tue February 6th, 2007 at 09:52