LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA ANACONDA, Balad, Iraq -- Traveling in a convoy
in Iraq can be dangerous, time-consuming and just an all-around inconvenience. Flying
can be a quicker and less dangerous method of travel, but not all bases in the country
have large enough runways.
Another option that has become popular among
military and civilians on Logistical Support Area
Anaconda is "Catfish Air."
Catfish Air is a helicopter passenger service that
coordinates rotary-wing flights for personnel
traveling throughout Iraq, operated by Soldiers
from Task Force XII, led by U.S. Army Europe's
12th Combat Aviation Brigade.
"The name 'Catfish Air' came from a Mississippi
National Guard unit operating the terminal during
Operation Iraqi Freedom II," said Capt. Mackie
Brownell, the Task Force XII's officer-in-charge of
Catfish Air and aviation advisory tower.
Task Force XII picked up the mission started by
that National Guard unit more than three years ago.
The majority of the helicopters used to accomplish
this mission are UH-60 Black Hawks, but CH-47
Chinooks fly about 10 percent of their flights as
"Since we took over, we have improved what we
could to make passenger travel run smoother," said
Staff Sgt. John Santoro, the Task Force XII NCO-in-charge of Catfish Air. "The Soldiers
and civilians here are doing a great job making sure people get to where they need to go."
"In August alone, we moved nearly 11,000 personnel in more than 1,500 helicopters
designated for passenger transport," said Brownell. "This service isn't just for military;
we also fly civilian contractors, AAFES employees and members of the Iraqi security
Members of other coalition forces also use the service.
"We have to fly as part of our force protection (mission), and it's also a lot safer," said
Sgt. Dave Pickles, an Australian Army Soldier and Catfish passenger. "I think the people
that work here are very helpful, and they have a good facility with plenty of cool water to
Transporting Soldiers to conduct combat operations is also a big part of Catfish Air's job.
"When we have to move Soldiers on missions, we can have up to 1,000 people in the
terminal a day," said Brownell. "The noise level can be unbelievable when you have that
many people and up to 10 helicopters trying to fly out all at once. It can really create an
It takes a concerted effort to ensure passengers are manifested for seats for a flight, get
their bags on the aircraft, get safely on board and managed by the aircraft's crew chief,
and get off to their destinations.
"We work pretty smoothly together," said Staff Sgt. Mike Gunderson, a crew chief from
A Company, 2nd Battalion, 147th Aviation, a Minnesota National Guard battalion that is
part of Task Force XII. "If this is what we need to do to support the war fighter, then I'm
all for it."
"A lot of things people need to do can't happen without us," said Spc. Billy Robinson Jr.,
a Catfish Air radio and telephone operator. "Whether it's flying a Soldier to Rest and
Relaxation leave or flying troops to conduct missions, we get the job done."
The Catfish Air team's efforts and support have made the service a popular choice when
it comes to traveling in Iraq.
"In the morning, you can fly down to Baghdad to do what you have to do, and be back on
LSA Anaconda by dinner," said Brownell. "We give great flexibility for people to
conduct operations outside of their work area."