I am sure that most, if not all of you, have seen the attention that operation swarmer is getting in the media. The term swarm implies a lot of activity and, in that regard it accurately reflects my role in the operation. In other words, I have been flying my butt off.
I was scheduled to do my two week rotation in the planning cell during this time. That planning job is night shift work and involves preparing all of the maps and gps data for the next day's flights. When swarmer came up, however, planning moved a lot higher than me and I got back involved in flying. I have been flying, under night vision goggles, three of the last four nights. My crew has been doing everything from transporting prisoners, to dropping off troops to conduct raids, to picking up cameras and film for use by the media, to flying reconnosance along various roads. I know this sounds exciting but it is not really. It is routine flying. Routine flying, however, makes for good experience and I have been happy to get it. I now have about 200 hours of combat flight time, almost half of which is google flight. That is less than average for our company but pretty good for a new pilot.
I know that a lot of you would like the "inside scoop" on Operation Swarmer to help you make sense of the media hype. Unfortunately I am not in a position to give much additional perspective. Even if I was, I wouldnt really be at liberty to write anything about the operation in this forum. It is very hard for me to see from my vantage point what, if any, long term effect this operation will have on the war in general or Iraq in particular. It seems to me that the media is making it out to be a lot more than it is but I suppose time will tell. All I know for sure is that it is giving me a break from "battlefield circulation" missions and that is a good thing.
I can tell you a couple of stories that I am sure will not compromise operational security. My crew got called in to help some special forces troops conduct a raid. It was really interesting to visit their compound (a nice two-story house) and watch them plan the raid. They dont really have to follow the same rules as the regular army in terms of day to day living. Their uniforms were a hodgepodge of styles as were the weapons. The house was far better than a CHU (and had 24 hour security). They even had two cute puppies they rescued and adopted. We dropped them (the soldiers, not the dogs) near the target's house and a few minutes later were back to pick up prisoners. I dont have any idea who they were. It was good flying.
Yesterday we were asked to conduct a recon of a road in the middle of desert to look for possible IED emplacements. The terrain was entirely flat and featureless, and there was no moon. We were flying with goggles and the scene must have been what it feels like to fly over the open ocean. There was no visible horizon and no ground references. When a sand storm began to roll in we had to abandon the mission. I can only imagine what it would be like to be stuck in a full blown storm. We have the equipment and training to deal with such situations but it would be stressful. Fortunately we left the area before the storm got bad and both aircraft had very very experienced pilots-in-command. Again, interesting flying and good experience.
I also got to visit the field headquarters for operation swarmer. It was simply a tent in the desert surrounded by humvees with 50 caliber machine guns. From the outisde, the tent could have been from WWII. The inside, however, was pure 21st century. Internet, sattellite, phones, computer tracking systems, the works. Pretty cool.