Tuesday, December 29, 2009
It's been an eventful few weeks since the last update, so first of all I hope everyone had a nice Christmas and are looking forward to a happy and safe New Years. We had a relatively trouble free trip over, staying in Kuwait only long enough to recover from the trip over, go to the range to test fire all the weapons and take our in briefing.
So after three days we loaded onto a C-17 and flew into FOB Delta, in Al Kut, southeast of Bagdad on the Tigris River.
FOB Delta is a relatively small FOB that is pretty well provisioned. The Army has gone with Containerized Housing Units (CHUs) to put people in, and since there are relatively few people here we're in one person CHU's. Kind of like a college dorm in a shipping container. Showers and facilities are in separate trailers nearby, and each "Pod" is surrounded by T- walls - concrete barriers designed to protect against shrapnel from rocket and mortar attacks. Right outside the door is a concrete and sandbag bunker should the need arise. The locals seem to like lobbing in an occasional rocket, although nothing has come close to anything valuable. Since a rocket or mortar draws a forceful response within minutes (sometime seconds) they're more interested in lighting the fuse and getting away than they are in accuracy.
The CHU's have 220v power and air conditioning and are almost embarrassingly comfortable. Other facilities include a tiny PX and some fast food places, barber shop, internet cafe, gym and chow hall and a free laundry service, nothing further than about 3/4 of a mile away. There is an infrequently running bus around the FOB, but I generally walk anywhere I need to go. Some people have bought bicycles for a faster trip.
Our work area is about half a mile away and consists of trailers with their own bunkers and T-walls and huge "clam shell" tents used as aircraft hangers. There are a couple of Sadaam era bunkers here as well.
The work day varies with mission requirements. Right now I'm assigned to the reserve mission which puts my shift from 3:00 am to 3:00 pm. We cover the early flights and act as an alert crew for any short notice morning missions. I'll be on this schedule likely for a couple weeks and then rotate on to days. My normal day consists of getting up at 2:00 to shower, shave, etc, walk down to the flight line and check the schedule to see which crew I'll be flying with and what aircraft is assigned. I'll check the logbook to make sure all of the inspections are in order and to see what outstanding problems exist, then go out and prep the helicopter - removing tie downs and covers, preflighting and getting my gear set up.
By this time the gunner has brought the weapons out so we mount those and stow all the gear that gets signed out before each flight. I'll hang around with the pilots to run up the APU (auxiliary power generator) and we'll make sure the proper codes are loaded in the radios, as well as doing the preflight and control checks up to the point where we start engines. At that point the aircraft is "cocked" and we go into the operations center for our mission brief. Normally we have two aircraft assigned per mission. Once the mission brief is complete we have a crew brief, then generally go to breakfast. We'll usually man the helicopter a half hour before scheduled launch so we have plenty of time in case there are any last minute delays. It's always easier to wait for your time hack than it is to try to catch up. A typical mission will have us fly a ring route to several different FOBs acting as kind of an airborne bus route. We'll pick up passengers and cargo that needs to move around southern Iraq and usually stop for lunch at one of the locations, not to mention two to three refueling stops. These flights usually last somewhere between 3 and 5 hours.
Once we're back we refuel and I'll do the daily inspection while the gunner returns the weapons and gear and the pilots debrief. If there are no new issues on the helicopter it usually takes about two hours to complete the inspections and logbook entries so the aircraft is ready to fly the next day. A daily inspection is good for 14 days if the aircraft doesn't fly, so we always make sure to do a daily after the last flight of the day. That way we find any problems that may come up, and the helicopter is ready to go for the next day's flight. At that point it's usually the end of the work day so it's time to go eat dinner and hit the internet cafe or PX for a bit. On days that I'm not scheduled to fly I'll do maintenance. We have Delta Company which is the maintenance company for the battalion located here, but their job is to handle major maintenance and phase inspections, much of the normal work the crew chiefs handle ourselves.