I returned yesterday from a three week stint at FOB Warrior near Kirkuk. My battalion has been taking turns sending pilots and helicopters to Warrior to support the commander up there. Warrior has OH-58 scout helicopters (Kiowas) but no Blackhawks so they rely on us for all passenger air transport. Four crews traveled to Kirkuk for this three week rotation. I shared the day shift with one crew and the other two crews were on the night shift.
I have mixed feelings about the deployment. On the positive side, we lived two per CHU and had a good dining facility, a modern gym, quick laundry turn-around, and flew a lot. On the flip side, when we were not flying we were required to remain on standy-by at the hanger for up to 12 hours at a time. Also, I flew with the same person every single day. This allowed me to learn a lot but also tends to get old. Finally, I actually missed Speicher, which I have begun to see as home.
The mission load was heavy, varied, and interesting. I flew about 60 hours in 3 weeks. By way of comparison I flew 100 hours in the preceding 16 weeks. We flew battlefield circulations just like at Speicher. We also flew "aerial snap traffic control points (TCPs). These involve loading the aircraft with infantry (and a bomb sniffing dog) and flying around the greater metropolitan Kirkuk area looking for suspicious vehicles or people. When something suspicious was spotted we swooped down, dropped off the ground forces, and provided aerial security while they conducted searches. This allowed me to get used to doing quick landings to fields and roads and to get comfortable flying around buildings, wires, towers, camels, cars, sheep, and other obstacles. It also allowed me to play with the dogs when they weren't working. It made me miss my pups but I couldn't have thought of a better way to spend my time than allowing a German Shepherd to practice attacking me.
We also flew into some beautiful mountainous areas north of Kirkuk. The peaks there reach 10,000 feet and are dusted with snow. I saw wonderful opportunities for motorcycle riding, climbing, and biking throughout Northern Iraq. Perhaps I'll return someday to a more peaceful, recreationally available Iraq - though I doubt it.
Sadly, I also saw the more brutal parts of this war. The oil refineries in Kirkuk suffered a serious attack during our first week there creating a fire that lasted for days. The area around Kirkuk has also been ravaged by roadside bombs. As many as 10 were discovered per day. Five soldiers were killed on our last day in Kirkuk by a massive bomb. We flew the Colonel to the scene. The vehicle was still burning when we arrived and the destruction was total. It was a sober reminder of the cost of this war.
My trip to Kirkuk and return to Speicher has put my time here in a more positive light. Speicher is relatively safe and comfortable. I have friends here and most of the luxuries of home. The Army provides for almost all of my needs and I get to fly helicopters to what are sometimes beautiful and remote areas. I still miss my friends and family terribly but I know that things could be far worse.
My flying has markedly improved as well. It is amazing what flying nearly every day for 3 weeks has done for my confidence and skill. I am more comfortable and proficient then ever before though, of course, I am still, by any measure, a new pilot. I hope that I can continue to have consistent flying here at Speicher so that I can continue to improve.
I apologize for not writing during my time at Warrior. The internet was unreliable and largely unavailable. I am attaching a variety of picture to help make up for the lack of communication.