CAMP TAJI, Iraq -- An Army Black Hawk helicopter company flying out of Camp Taji, Iraq, is charged with moving military and civilian VIPs between U.S. bases here.

Since March, the aviators of A Company, 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment have flown nearly 6,000 flight hours in support of several military commands around Baghdad.

In addition to countless general officers, the company's passengers have included Sen. John McCain, State Department officials and other U.S. dignitaries. The company also transports celebrities, comedians and performers visiting troops here.

"We provide safe and professional transportation for senior leaders and distinguished visitors," said Capt. Richard Polen, the company's commander.

Polen is serving his second tour in Iraq. The country is less hostile than on his first tour, but safety is still one of his company's primary considerations, he said.

"If any of these generals were to get hurt traveling on the ground, that could be used as a huge propaganda campaign by the enemy," said Polen. "Our mission keeps people off the ground, away from the improvised explosive devices (IEDs)."

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Anthony Pringle is new to the VIP mission as a pilot. Pringle deployed to Iraq in 2005 as a Black Hawk door gunner with the 101st Airborne Division, where many of his missions involved combat air assaults, he said.

The VIP missions Pringle flies now are the "flip-side of the coin, but just as important," he said.

"It's maybe not as glamorous as doing an air assault, but the guys we fly now are the ones planning this operation, the drawdown and other things of that nature," said Pringle.

The end of combat operations does not mean less work for the crews, said Spc. Richard Stevens, one of the company's crew chiefs. The crews fly as much in Operation New Dawn as they did during the height of the war, said Stevens.

Often the crews fly daily for several weeks before getting time off, he said. Stevens is on his second Iraq deployment. He has flown around 600 flight hours since March, an average amount for most crew members, he said.

"It's a busy mission," he said. "We may be lucky to grab something to eat on our way out sometimes."

"We take the generals wherever they want to go," said Stevens. "That involves a lot of early arrivals and being flexible to their schedules."

The company will stay busy until it returns to Fort Riley, Kan., sometime this spring.

What they do until then "all depends on where the VIPs need to go," said Stevens.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16