Cpt. Aaron Wentworth, 1st Lt. Jeremy Alaniz and Maj. Merv Brott on board a C-130 cargo plane to Iraq. They would land in Baghdad before boarding a CH-47 Chinook helicopter that carried them further into Iraq.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Greg Murrell, http://murrellmitt.blogspot.com/
Team Jedi: Combat Advisor Journal
(Editor's Note: Merv Brott and Kevin Connaughton, former Sulphur Springs residents, are part of a 10-man team tasked with training hundreds of Iraqi soldiers how to do the job of protecting their country. Maj. Brott, the team leader, has graciously offered to write about the experiences of "Team Jedi" for the News-Telegram. These dispatches can also be foun on the "Team Jedi" blog.)
Episode 4: North, And Over The Berm
19 Aug 08, Camp Phoenix, Iraq
August 24, 2008 - "Sir! Sir! It's 4 a.m., we've got to get going!"
I slowly open my eyes to see my NCOIC, SFC Parker, at my bunk.
"Sir, are you awake?"
"Yeah, I'm up." I look at my watch. It's 0355; my alarm had been set for 0400. SFC Parker is an early riser, even by Army standards, and he was just itching to get out of Kuwait.
Our last two flights had been canceled for various reasons and we were all getting tired of doing the duffle bag-drag hundreds of meters -- with over 150 pounds of gear per person -- from our transient tent to the manifest tent. "Please let this flight go through," I thought.
We all made it to the manifest tent and waited patiently as we gathered around the TV screen that was airing the Olympics. Michael Phelps' final race for the record eighth gold was coming on soon.
Good news: the flight was a go. We replied with "Here!" as our names were yelled out. Next up was to palletize our bags for the aircraft. The timing was terrible: the big race with Michael Phelps was about to begin. We went outside to the staging area and palletized our ruck sacks and duffle bags on the standard Air Force cargo pallet. When we got back in the tent, the race was over. Phelps had won.
We got on a bus and were trucked out to the flight line. We pulled up to a C-130 and got off the bus. We were lucky -- this flight wasn't that crowded, and we would have a little room to spread out. But now the heat was rapidly climbing on the tarmac of this U. S. Air Base in the Kuwaiti desert. By the time we load the aircraft and are ready to go, the sweat is rolling down our faces. The heat is relentless.
The huge turbo prop engines increase their whine and the ramp closes as we begin to taxi. We rocket down the runway as the aircraft shakes and jostles us until liftoff. In just a couple of minutes we are over the berm and in Iraqi airspace. My iPod Touch is playing "Got My Mojo Working" by Muddy Waters. I look around to the other team members; everyone has their game face on.
As our flight gets under way, I think about the different ways I've entered Iraq.
In Desert Storm, as a sergeant in the 82nd Airborne Division, my platoon air-assaulted into Iraq via UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters. We flew in at 20 feet off the ground, under enemy radar, in complete darkness. Three years ago, as an Apache helicopter company commander, we flew our attack gunships right into Baghdad in broad daylight.
This sortie is somewhere in the middle.
Our flight to Baghdad is uneventful. We land and taxi to our "terminal" and exit the cargo plane with all of our gear. This is not our final destination. We get the "connecting flight" information and move to yet another set of transient tents. We have 12 hours until a CH-47 Chinook cargo helicopter takes us to our next location. We will move in the middle of the night.
After 10 hours we move back to the "terminal" and get into "PZ (Pickup Zone) Posture." We all get in one line with our bags right by us. When the Chinook lands, we will waddle out to the aircraft with our 150-plus pounds of gear, get in, stow our gear, and leave as quickly as possible. The idea is to minimize the time on the ground for the helicopter.
Through the darkness I hear that distinctive wop-wop that only a Chinook can make (I can name each U. S. helicopter just by their sound). After landing, the crew chief signals us to advance, and we begin our laden trek. I'm at the end of the line so I can be the first off to coordinate our movement once we land. The loading is going slow; we have to stack our ruck sacks neatly to get them to all fit in. Those at the end of the line are burning up under the intense jet engine exhaust. We have to stay in that line; it is the only acceptable entry line into the aircraft. Finally, we all get in.
It's dark and noisy inside the CH-47 Chinook that we've been shoe-horned into. We're on the tarmac at Baghdad International Airport. I can still make out the faces of the other team members by the red emergency lights inside the aircraft. We're groaning under the weight of our new and improved lightweight body armor, assault pack, assault rifle, M9 sidearm, full combat load of ammunition, camel-back max-capacity water supply, and advanced combat helmet. Once again, sweat is pouring off our faces, and our ACUs (uniforms) are soaked in sweat.
Amid the high-pitched whine and night-vision-friendly red lights, the team settles in. As the CH-47 takes off, we go to blackout mode -- no lights. The back ramp is lowered a little by the crew chief so he can better maneuver his machine gun, and I peer into Baghdad below and its dark horizon. We cross Baghdad in the middle of the night in complete darkness without saying a word.
We get to our destination and again do the DBD (Duffle Bag Drag) to our barracks that will be our home for the next week. We will be doing one final week of training here before we take the reins from the outgoing transition team.
It's just shy of 0300 when I put my head down on my tiny, combat-sized pillow. It's been another 23-hour day. Most Americans will remember this as the day that Michael Phelps won his record eighth gold medal at the Beijing Olympics. Team Jedi will remember it as the day we went north, and over the berm