'Witch Doctors' begin journey home
October 29, 2007
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - For the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division's medical evacuation unit, the horrors of war are all too real. But, those missions of transporting hurt and dying patients are over for a few troopers.
About a dozen Soldiers from Company C, 2nd "Lobo" Battalion, 227th Aviation Regiment, loaded up onto non-MEDEVAC UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for a change, and began their journey home, Oct. 25. They are the first group of Soldiers from the 1st ACB to redeploy.
"It feels good to be going home after 15 months," said Rochester, N.Y., native, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Bryan Sills, a MEDEVAC pilot for the Co. C "Witch Doctors."
Like most units in Iraq, when the final orders came down, Co. C. was extended to 15 months. This made the deployment more difficult, said Orchard Park, N.Y., native, Sgt. 1st Class Jon Spiller, a flight medic for Co. C and the brigade's senior medical noncommissioned officer.
"This was my third deployment and it was probably the roughest one I've been through; mainly because of the extension," Spiller said
Even after they knew the extension was going to affect them, it didn't really hit the Witch Doctors until the 12-month mark, Spiller said.
"Once we heard about it, we all prepared for it, but when you hit that 12-month mark and you know you should be going home, you kind of feel a little different about it," he said.
The extension aside, Spiller felt the Witch Doctors did some good while they flew over Iraq.
"I really think we made a difference over here. We helped out the best we could. I'll be happy when everybody gets home," Spiller said.
Day in and day out for 15 months the troops from Co. C saw the horrors of war, but they made it a point to be a part of the change taking place in Iraq - even if that meant making amends with those who seek to kill Coalition Forces, said Spiller.
One patient in particular was an insurgent who had a gun shot wound to the leg, said Spiller.
"We seemed to kind of connect. We couldn't really talk because we were in a helicopter and plus he didn't speak English," he said "I just kind of did some hand gestures and helped him out."
Spiller, as a sign of kindness, tried to give the wounded enemy fighter a bracelet he was wearing at the time, but the man only gestured as if he didn't deserve such a gift, said Spiller.
"I know a lot of our medics are doing things like that, where they want to make sure these people understand we're here to help them whether they like us or not," he said.
But those times are now memories with which to tell stories to their friends and families - for the most part.
Spiller can't wait to see his wife and three kids, he said.
After three long deployments, another shorter deployment and basic noncommissioned officer school, he estimates that he has been gone from home almost five years straight, said Spiller.
Although he just got done saving lives in Iraq, Spiller heralds his wife, Kris, as a hero for keeping it together through all of his deployments.
"She's tried to keep her sanity. She's definitely kept the household together with me gone. I'm just looking forward to being back at home with my kids and make our family whole again," he said.
Spiller plans to spend lots of time with his wife; his son Tyler, 15; and his two daughters, Victorya, 13, and McKellen, 8, when he gets home. That doesn't mean his mind isn't on good 'ole American sustenance.
He is already thinking about the steak he'll eat if he arrives in the evening or that quaint little coffee shop if he arrives in the morning, he said.
"If it's dinner, steaks; if it's around breakfast time, we have a couple little places we like to go. I'll have a nice coffee cappuccino, sit down, enjoy the view and be glad to be home," said Spiller.
For some of the Witch Doctors, arriving home means time with the family, for others it's that and the start of a new life altogether.
Bay City, Mich., native, Sgt. Robert Witbrodt, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief for Co. C, will be joining the civilian ranks soon after his arrival home, he said.
With three tours in Iraq complete, Witbrodt will be heading to school to study engineering, he said.
Still, he is proud of what he and his unit accomplished while in Iraq, said Witbrodt.
"I like the mission here. Saving lives is pretty (darn) great. Sometimes it's hard on you, but it's rewarding," he said.
Other than school, Witbrodt is fairly laid back about what he'll do once stateside.
"I don't really have any big plans other than just spending time with my wife and maybe a little snowboarding, but that's about it," he said.
Although each Soldier's plans are varied, all that really matters to them is that they're headed home.
The rest of Co. C will soon follow their fellow Witch Doctors, but will first hand over their mission to another MEDEVAC unit taking their place.