Our Texas Air Force

Combat Notebook: Dispatches from the War on Terrorism
By P. T. Brent, 5/21/2004 1:39:22 AM

Ground control to U.S. Air Force Hercules C 130

Sir: Condition Red … the field is under attack again

Ground control: Advise taxi to bunker and evacuate the aircraft.

Captain: Request 14 right for take off

Tower: alfa, bravo, delta and fox trot sectors all under fire.

Co Pilot…. Sir, tracer rounds at delta end of field

Tower: Cannot comply sir unless you are declare take off critical

Captain: Run way 14 Right now

From the Tech Sergeant in hold with 36 passengers: Sir: rockets to rear of aircraft hitting

Tower: Can you lift off before intersection delta

Captain: affirmative your last

Tower: I am going to get a lot of s^#* over this …

Co Pilot: starts reading a take off check list … rapidly

Captain: Keep moving Liz

Pilot holding brakes then full power and a rapid accent to altitude.

Crew Chief: Sir: two rockets over our tail section… flares deploying

Captain: Tower need to avoid the search chopper in area

Tower: Chopper 17 stay under two hundred feet

Navigator: Have him at two o’clock

Finally, a dramatic lift off occurs under heavy fire at Balad Airfield Iraq. While this correspondent is riveted to the cockpit jump seat with his head set locked on to an intrepid and gripping real life radio show. His helmet bag has a note book, pen light and his hands buried deep noting the radio dialogue in a blacked out cockpit.

A Hail Mary in 2.9 seconds

As one Marine put it …. "I said many Hail Mary’s in 2.9 seconds….."

Departure was from Balad, the giant airfield and once Saddam’s pride is now called Anaconda by the U.S. army which runs from this besieged base an enormous supply and distribution base for the Iraq theater of war. For better than two weeks it has been struck hit by live fire, most of which has been highly inaccurate. Its convoys are returning with KIA’s and WIA’s. The highways belong to the Mahdi private army. They are controlled by mortars, RPG’s, IED(improvised explosive devices) and SAF (small arms fire).

The darkened C 130 climbs to 29,000 feet with only covert upper lights showing. The Hercules banks over the Tigris and Euphrates rivers on the edge of Baghdad and heads south safely with Marines, soldiers and national guardsmen heading home after a year in Iraq via the Kuwait relocation base.

Captain Ed Schindler on furlough from American Airlines in Dallas and his Texas National Guard crew have been in theater flying Marines and supplies in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan for thirteen months now.

And what a crew it is, Tom Clancy could not have created a more competent and take charge group of aviators. Lockheed-Martin builds these Hercules C 130s to perform combat take offs under adverse conditions and execute critical landing in zones under fire. They had just medivac some wounded Marines on last mission. The navigator Captain Gary Kerr spotted the chopper and kept them out of zones under fires all in unison with Anne Witcher Tech Sergeant and commercial pilot back in the USA. The cargo crew Tech Sergeants Blyane Leach and Ken Shartzer kept the passengers advised and spotted the incoming rockets.

President George W. Bush, another Texas national Guard aviator, would have been proud of this crew from Crome 22 Texas. (Perhaps they have more time in service than their commander-in-chief)

The C 130 banked with a moon light night filled with Arabian stars picked up a heading of 129 magnetic and flew over a string of wells brilliantly illuminated in oil rich southern Iraq and followed a bright Kuwait highway to a safe haven.

The joint team of USAF, Marines and other branches are all comprised from one common denominator. They are all American patriots who want to bring a better life to some people in a far away land.

P. T. Brent is a Hawaii business man and former US Marine infantry veteran. He has been embedded with the Marines in Iraq and other conflict areas for the past 60 days.

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