The Green Zone
I had a 0500 show time yesterday to serve as part of the day time "stand by" crew. There are two crews that have this duty every day. More often than not, the crews do not launch. I woke up at 0415. I was very tired but figured Id be able to rest all day once we did our pre-flight of the aircraft and confirmed that we did not have a mission. Much to my surprise, the battle captain told us to be ready to leave for Baghdad by 0700 for about four hours of "battlefield circulation." Apparantly a Colonel decided at the last minute that he needed to get from Baghdad to Speicher.
Washington helipad was our first scheduled stop. This pad, the busiest army helipad in the world, is in the heart of Baghdad's Green Zone. It is co-located with the US Embassy at Sadaam's former palace. I have flown there many times but have never gotten out to look around. We usually just land, pick up the passengers, and depart. I had heard that there is great shopping and sight seeing in the area so I hoped out loud that we would find an excuse to shut down.
About 10 minutes from landing at Washington pad, the second helicopter in our flight hit a bird. The bird broke the chin bubble. This is not a big deal except that it means that the aircraft could not be flown until it was checked out my a maintenance test pilot. We all had the same thought - we are spending the day in the Green Zone.
We spent about four hours touring the area. We did some souvenir shopping, checked out the palace (which now contains the embassy and other military offices), walked around the swimming pool, and ate at the chow hall (which was very nice). It was pretty strange walking around the palace area, passing civilian contractors, a variety of foreign soldiers, diplomats, soldiers, marines, and sailors. There were concrete barriers and barbed wire everywhere and, obviously, everyone was well armed. Even the $100,000.00 Mercedes SUVs were armored. This was all in stark contrast to the manicured lawns, crystal blue pool, elaborate chandeliers, and enormous murals of the palace. We walked by what I can only describe as a "statue graveyard" behind an iron fence. It contained several of the Sadaam efigies that used to decorate the grounds but were now discarded.
We finished touring the area just in time to meet up with the maintenance test pilot who had flown down from Speicher. After an inspection and some repairs we were on our way. I was really looking forward to getting back and getting some rest. We were delayed on the return trip, however, by a call to help apprehend a roadside bomber. Apparantly a convoy had been hit by a bomb and they wanted aircraft to do an aerial search of the location for any suspicious individuals. It is very difficult from the air to tell who looks suspicious. Nonetheless, the second aircraft in our flight pinpointed an indivdual who the ground forces then detained for questioning. I dont know how everything worked out. After that thirty minute delay we returned home.
It turned out to be a very eventful "stand-by"