James Mackler

Home again

I feel bad that I didnt get this note out sooner. I arrived back in the US on August 8th as part of the first group of soldiers to return. I was very glad to be "non-essential". I expect everyone else to arrive soon. It is good to be back. In many ways it is like I never left. Imagine someone hitting the "pause" button on your life for a year while everyone else continues on "play". That is close.

I dont know what the next several months will hold but I will continue to update everyone. Thank you all so very much for your support and emails and packages and letters and prayers during the deployment. You made the time much more bearable.

Temporary Fobbit

A fobbit (rhymes with hobbit) is a soldier who never leaves the FOB. They are usually the brunt of jokes by infantry soldiers and others who routinely go out on patrols and other missions off of the FOB. Pilots fall somewhere between Fobbits and the "hard-core" soldiers. After all, we leave the FOB all the time but its usually just to fly to another FOB. In any case, I have spent the last month as a Fobbit here at FOB Warrior in Kirkuk and have to say that the life is pretty good. Ive been tanning, hitting the gym, working regular hours, and keeping track of the increasing violence by seeing it on TV rather than flying above it. Sadly, my time as the LNO is coming to an end. I expect to return to Speicher shortly. On the positive side, I will get back to flying.

I had a memorable dinner a few nights ago that I thought Id share with you all. The ODA invited some of us planners to come to dinner at their compound as a thank you for the support we have provided. ODA stands for Operational Detachment Alpha. If that sounds cryptic its because its meant to. These are the American soldiers who dont wear uniforms, have long hair and beards, and live on their own in a walled compound. I walked over to the compound and immediately saw the screened-in porch filled with people. Dinner was great. The ODA guys have the opportunity to do thier food shopping off of the FOB so they prepared a middle eastern feast of chicken, lamb, rice, kabobs, hummus, and chai tea. I hung out for a while with the ODA and the planners with whom I have been working. I gorged myself on the only fresh and authentic food I have had the opportunity to eat here in Iraq.

Back to work (sort of)

My two-weeks of R&R ended at 1300 (EST) on the 28th but I am not yet at Speicher. If Iraq is hell than Kuwait is purgatory. I am in Kuwait waiting for a flight to Speicher. More specifically, I am at a small Army airfield living in a tent using the dwindling supplies in my very compact carry-on bag. I bought a towel and shower shoes today so I could get cleaned up a little. The temperature easily got to 110 so, needless to say, I got a little sweaty.

My time back in the States was wonderful. I took a three night carribean cruise with my girlfriend, Pam, as soon as I arrived. I spent the rest of the two weeks in Chattanooga dividing my time as best I could between friends and family. I indulged in such luxuries as indoor plumbing, civilian clothes, fresh cooked meals, a wonderfully comfortable bed, and the company of the people I love. I didn't realize quite how much I missed these otherwise routine pleasures until I had them back. Their absence is hitting me hard here in Kuwait. I will, of course, get used to their absence once again.

I expect to be back at Speicher tomorrow. I will probably be given a few days to get over the jet lag and then get thrown back into the mix. I am due for my annual flight evaluation this month (because June is my birth month). I guess I will have to take some time away from working out and sun bathing to do some studying. Oh the sacrifices of being a pilot! Returning to the war is a little bit easier knowing that we are definately on the downhill part of the deployment. No dates are ever certain but, assuming we stay a year, I will be done with this deployment before Sepetember ends. That is less than four months remaining. Yeah!

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.

Happy Passover/Happy Easter

I have flown on every major holiday since being deployed. I flew on Thanksgiving, flew and got stuck due to weather on Christmas, and flew today (Easter Sunday and Passover). These flights make for memorable holidays.

Our mission today was to fly a catholic chaplin to several remote bases to lead Easter Mass. The weather started out stormy and we had some concerns about not being able to get the chaplin everywhere he needed to go. The weather, however, cleared and we had beautiful flying.

One of our stops was at FOB McHenry. This is a small base populated mainly by infantry soldiers. For some reason they had cowboy hats for sale at the tiny PX on base. Larry, the Pilot-in-Command of my bird, liked the hats so much that he bought one. As you will see from the photos we had a lot of phone posing with the hat on.

Another stop was at a prison way up North in the Kurdish region of the country. It is used to hold the worst detainees and is manned by American soldiers teaching Iraqis how to run a prison. The area is very remote and very beautiful. We shut down the helicopters while the chaplin went to give mass. This gave us the chance to eat Easter lunch with the soldiers in the prison. We ate in an open air courtyard in the center of the dentention facility. They grilled steaks, hot dogs and hamburgers. There were jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, potato salad, cake, and lemonade. The detainees in their cells probably could see us eating and surely could smell the food but none of us gave that fact very much thought. We thoroughly enjoyed the cool mountain air, talking with new people, and eating freshly grilled food.


I got promoted today to CW2 (Chief Warrant Officer 2). This is an automatic promotion that occurs two years after becoming a WO1 (warrant officer 1). CW3 will not come along for another 5 years. The cool thing about the CW2 rank is that no can tell if I am brand new or have 4+ years service.

The promotion ceremony was memorable - to say the least. The company commander pinned my new rank on. Then the fun began. I was the last WO1 in the company so the other warrants decided to have some fun. Five or six of them tackled me, held me down, bound me with duct tape, cargo straps, and zip ties, carried me outside, tied me to a post and soaked me with water. It took all six because I put up a lot more of a fight than I think they expected. After all, it wouldnt be any fun if I just gave up. We were all worn out by the end. It was a good initiation into the more senior warrant officer ranks and I think I put up a fight that couldnt help but earn me some respect.

There were cameras clicking away the entire time so I am attaching just a few photos.


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