Richard Koch
CPT, AV
US Army

Army Aviators: "Above the Best"

Here are a few pictures of Richard in training prior to being deployed.  He is flying a chopper in each of these pics:

Here is Richard's address while on mission in Iraq:

CPT Richard Koch, A Company 4-101 AVN REG, APO AE 09391

15 OCTOBER 2005

This was the date that I initially arrived in Kuwait.

1 NOVEMBER 2005 THRU 19 JANUARY 2006

This is the HAS (hardened air shelter). The place I called "work" from Nov. 1, our first day in Iraq, until I left Delta Company (maintenance company) to go to Alpha Company (flght company) on 19 January.

This is me with some of the guys from my platoon on top of the HAS, the background is overlooking the airfield, notice all the other HAS's in the background. This was a major airfield in Saddam's prime, as indicated by the 30+ HAS's that surround the runways. From left to right is SPC Lopez, PFC Scott (standing), SFC Mihalko (my platoon sergeant), myself, and SPC Chapman (affectionately known as Chappy).

This is me working with my guys. Here I was prosealing a window after replacement. It is most easily done with your fingers and is very similar to tar. I enjoyed working with my guys whenever possible.

I always told my guys that if you work hard you can play hard. I always stressed to do your job above the standard but to have a good time while you do. To ensure spirits were high, I led the fun known as "Shenanigans". "Shenanigans" is a term used to describe the pranks, that were in no way harmful or demeaning, that we pulled on the Maintenance Platoon and Headquarters personnel within our company (D Co., the maintenance company, you have a Maintenance Platoon, which are the general mechanics, and Shops Platoon, which was my platoon, made up of guys with skill sets specialized for different parts of the aircraft, i.e. avionics, prop and rotor, sheet metal, engines, and tech. supply). I ensured all work was completed ahead of schedule, but the guys had an enjoyable atmosphere to work in as they worked unimaginable hours (the first 30 days we had zero days off and worked 12-14 hours per day).  We maintained an Operational Readiness rate of no less than 90% while deployed during my Platoon Leadership time, this as we were maintaining a pace to set a theatre record for hours flown by a unit in a single year, we are currently over 25,000 hours as a battalion.

This is SFC Mihalko (in the bacalava) and myself (in the Haji headdress).  We have in our possession the commanders radio.  She left it for my guys to pack in their container when we were getting ready to deploy. While unpacking the container, she wasn't around, they handed it to me...it was missing for the first two months of the deployment for obvious reasons.  We took pictures with the radio in different places, always wearing our cover. Then we would cut letters, ransom style, out of magazines and newspapers.  After the letter was complete, we would tape it to the door of her trailer.

This is a picture of some of the guys in my platoon as we painted the Maintenance Platoon Leader's office pink. We took this picture and put it on his desktop, for him to find when he came in the next morning (the majority of Shops Platoon worked nights, while the majority of maintenance platoon worked days). No surface was left untouched, from the door handle, the ceiling fan, to the switches that had sunflowers drawn on them to match the sunflowers that were drawn on the walls after the paint dried.

This picture was taken at my "going away" formation, when I left D Co. If you notice all the guys have smirks on their faces and now that I look at it SSG Lemieux (bottom right, kneeling) is about to jump on me. Immediately following this picture I was gang tackled, hog tied (we used to hog tie unsuspecting Maintenance Platoon members at night and leave them for their fellow maintenance workers to find), soaked with water and covered in cat liter (I once covered the maintenance platoon sergeant in water and cat litter as he did push-ups...this was a payback I helped out with, because he locked the company commander in the port-a-john with a tractor), doused with liquid soap (this was the soap that we used to wash our hands prior to going into the chow hall, it was very thick and if you had to much on your hands it would take a while to get out...I routinely would squeeze the better part of a bottle on my guys hands when they weren't paying attention as we were washing up prior to chow) and delivered to "the flight companies".  It was great to lead these soldiers, they all gave everything they had to ensure the aircraft would be ready for the next days missions, working in single digit temperatures, in the rain, and of course while temperatures exceeded 100*.

20 JANUARY THRU 11 MARCH 2006

This picture was taken after our combat patch ceremony. We are on the side of a hardened air shelter (HAS). A soldier from another battalion painted this on the side. You see it every time you come in for an approach into Balad.

12 MARCH 2006

..."my town".  I think that's how the song goes.  It's fitting, because today I flew the Theater (all of the Middle East Theater) MWR Director into Balad, who happened to have coordinated this evenings Montgomery-Gentry concert.  So I was able to get a quick picture with T-Roy Gentry after the concert.


  "Downtown Baghdad"- Continuing with the weekly pictures, this is just a general picture I snapped quickly of downtown Baghdad to give you an idea of what the place, "my town", looks like.  This is right out of an LZ (landing zone) in central downtown.  In the distance you see a mosque.  It's top, which was probably very nice at one time, has been blown up.  I'll try to snap some pictures of in tact mosques for comparison later (gold or colorful tile domes, very ornate).  Other than the general slum standard of living held by the majority of Iraqis (this country is similar in economic standing as the middle ages with their few wealthy kings, knights, etc. and the many poor peasant-type peoples), the place is like a normal city.  Many of the high-rises are still bombed out.  You see that everywhere.  The houses are made of what looks like clay or some sort of mortar/cement.  What you see would be considered a relatively nice looking part of town...the Brentwood of Baghdad.


I'm not sure what the purpose of the tall tower thing is, we just call it the "space needle" while we're flying around.
  For more reference, if you notice the walls/barriers in the left/bottom left corner of the picture...near my wiper blade, these are the barriers that separate the "Green Zone" (as you hear on the news) from the civilian population.  I think those vehicles are actually going/coming from an entry point.
  "Speicher PX"-Last but not least, an example of a PX.. not much, but all the essentials. This thing is actually a tractor trailer...ummm trailer, converted into a store. Fortunately, the one at Balad is a little more accommodating, and very nice compared to this one.  Still at best, I'd consider it similar the one at Balad), at best, to a Kwiki Mart back home with a few military type items.

19 MARCH 2006

"Saddam's Parade Field"-  The building on the left hand side of the picture...Saddam was standing on that balcony when he was videotaped firing the rifle into the air.  This is where he would rally his troops and have his soldiers march for review.  The crossed swords you see on the right are made from the rifles of his soldiers that died in the Iran/Iraq War, melted down and remolded of course.  The hands that hold the swords (there is another set out of the picture to the left, at the end of the road) were supposedly molded from his own.  The road between the two sets of swords has Iranian helmets set into the concrete from one end to the other.  They were taken from dead Iranians and is symbolic, as the Iraqi Army would march over them.  Remember showing the bottom of the shoe is very bad in this culture.

Saddam's Ceiling-  This is a picture of the ceiling I described in earlier emails.  This is actually in his bedroom in his Presidential Palace in downtown Baghdad.  I'm not sure if cameras are allowed so I snapped a few quick pictures...notice the dome shape, the ornate attention to detail, the chandeliers, etc.  This guy should be ashamed, the majority of "his people" live in mud huts.

"Missile Picture"-  This is on the wall of his bedroom...no WMDs????  Hmmmm, quite an interesting mural to have on the wall of your bedroom.  This bedroom is so big, I'd be pushing it to throw a football from one end to the other.  You could play two full court basketball games back to back in it, easily.

This is a picture taken in a central part of the palace, notice the marble and chandelier.  Marble, gold plating, and chandeliers can be found everywhere, from the hallways to the bathrooms.

This is the pool that is behind the palace.  The picture was taken back in February, but now that it is summer, coalition forces are doing cannonballs into it and sunbathing on its edges.

These are the heads that were mounted at the entrance to the "driveway" to the palace, they are now sitting where no one pays them any attention in an abandoned lot.


 

27 MARCH 2006

"Goggles"-  This is a picture taken by one of my crew chiefs of the aircraft in front of us in the formation through his NVGs (night vision goggles).  This is what it looks like when we fly at night over the city.

"Flight of four"-  another picture taken by one of my crew chiefs as we are on short final to an LZ (landing zone) on the outskirts of Baghdad.  Notice the tight formation as we prepare to land.

"Scenery from the gun"- In keeping with the theme of my crew chiefs snapping pictures. I leave you with a picture from a mission that took us into the mountains of Iraq earlier in the week.  Yes, that's snow on the mountain in the distance.  Our aircraft has two 240H machine guns (in the picture) mounted one on each gunner's window.  Each crew chief carries at least 800 rounds for their 240H. All four crew members carry 9mm Berettas (pistols) with at least 45 rounds for this weapon, on their person. The pilots also carry an M4 (it replaced the M16), placed next to us between the seat, with at least 180 rounds a piece.

11 APRIL 2006

Sorry for the break in weekly reports, it's been busy the last couple weeks and I haven't had a chance to sit down and put one together.  It's starting to warm up now, last night while I was flying I looked up at the OAT (outside air temperature) gauge, it read 32 degrees Celsius...at midnight.
  The missions have varied within the past week from one that you all might be familiar with; the Secretary of State visit, to a raid in which we landed 6 BlackHawk's to three different landing zones (2 per LZ, one right in a guys back yard, the others about 30 yards from the front door) that netted 19 captured suspected terrorists captured. Imagine two BlackHawk's landing in your yard at 0200 in the morning and 22 of your closest friends (read, U.S. Army Infantrymen) kicking in your door. It's been fun, but I'm definitely looking forward to the upcoming leave.
   Now the good stuff, a couple pictures.  The first one "Cheese", is pretty self explanatory.  This is the SECRETARY OF STATE sitting in the back of one of our aircraft in Baghdad.  She sure does make that body armor look stylish.  I'm not sure who the guy is next to her is.  We were staged at Baghdad International Airport for three days to support her movement, as necessary, while she was here visiting Iraq. When this picture was taken I was in aircraft 6 of 7.  I had her personal security detail in my aircraft. Second is another picture of her "walking to the aircraft", you can get a good view of her security detail and various reporters/diplomats.
   In sticking with passengers that we move...we were picking up some South Koreans,  I had to jump out and grab a picture with one of them ("Steve's Brother").  Steve was in my wedding and is of Asian decent.  I sent him this picture, he got a good laugh.  There aren't many South Koreans in country, the base we landed at to get them is the only one they have in country I believe.

19 APRIL 2006

Things are going well over here, just getting hot.  Temperatures are already over the 100* mark.  Every time I mention, "Man it's hot" in the company of those that have been to Iraq before, they quickly remind me that we have another 30-40 degrees to go.  I'm looking forward to my much needed R/R.  I get on the plane to head stateside in 10 days, 20 hours, and 41 minutes (but whose counting), looking at my watch as I type this.  If all goes as planned, I should be landing in Nashville sometime around 3-5 May.  Missions in the last week have involved a lot of night flying for myself, with a mission well into the mountains last night.  There was a 15*C difference in temperature between where we initially took off and our LZ (landing zone), due to the elevation.  For the next several days I will be tying up loose ends around the company as I prepare for leave.  This week, I have some pictures with some people I met and an oasis I'm not sure really exists...yet.
  In the first picture, "me and milner 2":  When we initially take off from Balad we usually have passengers that want to fly to one of our first stops, flying space available.  That particular mornings first mission was to move a General from Balad to a helipad in downtown Baghdad.  The standard for flying a general is that you leave the lead aircraft empty, if possible, to accommodate the General as necessary (some fly all by themselves in the aircraft and put all their aides in the second aircraft).  As I was preflighting the aircraft, the bus with passengers pulls up, the pax-handler gets off and proceeds to walk over to me to confirm which mission I was on and to ask if we could accommodate X number of passengers.  Meanwhile, I had my sunglass on and the pax-handler couldn't see I was looking past him at his bus of people, something had caught my eye.  I let him know that we would have the General and the rest of the guys on the bus would have to get on chalk two (the second aircraft).  I continued to look at the bus, and one guy in particular was really getting on my nerves, he was eyeballing me, one of those looks that makes you say "What the heck are you looking at?"  I finally realized who it was and told the pax-handler he'd have to send all the guys to the second aircraft, except for the "fourth guy back against the glass, he would come with me".  One of my college roommates had joined the Air Force and just so happened to be one of the people catching a ride down to Baghdad.  We caught up on old times as I finished preflighting. It was nice to see a familiar face.

In the second picture "mongolia":  We were down in one of the southern most LZs that we go to, near the town of Diwaniyah.  This base is actually run by the Polish.  Our mission on this particular day had us shut down through lunch.  Anytime you have to be shut down through a meal, you of course go hunting for food.  After some looking and asking (yes Darla, I asked for directions) we found the chow hall.  There was a little guy out guarding the entrance, checking IDs.  I hadn't seen anyone from Mongolia before, so I had to get a picture.

Finally, the oasis I mentioned above, "the pool 2":  I was on the other side of the base and had heard of this mystical place.  Not asking for directions this time, we went in search.  I'm told it's behind me in this picture...I have yet to confirm that it really exists (every time I have a day that I could run over and take a dip for a couple hours, there has been a sand storm).  Maybe on my next day off I can do a cannonball off of one of those platforms.  When the US first took over this base, it was full of trash.  The Iraqis had been using it a trash dump.  It just recently opened from what I understand.

05 JULY 2006

What's up?  I had a good flight today, flew 7.2 hours with three landings into Ramadi, one into Fallujah, and another into Abu Ghraib (to name some of the headline making towns).

  Yesterday I placed my order for my 2006 Harley Davidson Road King Classic.  It's Cobalt Blue Pearl over Brilliant Silver Pearl (two tone).  It will be waiting on me when I get back.

09 JULY 2006

Thanks for the webpage. I'll continue to send pictures home as I gather them, lately though, we've been terribly busy and the heat doesn't help the fatigue factor.  We have a raid tonight.  My LZ has me landing right next to someone's house.  I do my best to keep up foreign relations, by delivering visitors as close to people's front doors as possible.
The webpage looks great, but I still won't give you any hints on how to do better in StockCar Challenge.  I'm 13 sequence numbers out from being promoted to CPT, that should come on 01 Aug.

10 JULY 2006

I hope this email finds you well.  As for myself, I'm doing fine.  I've got a little less than three months to go and I'm counting down the days. 

This morning, I took part in an Air Assault (more like a Raid, when speaking in doctrinal terms).  It was in the vicinity of Baquba, the same town we got Al Zarqawi in a few weeks ago.  I'll give you an abridged version with more details and pictures after I get home.  The plan:  Four BlackHawks from my company were to insert 40 guys comprised of members of a US Armor Battalion (read: Army unit with tanks, Bradley's, gun trucks) and an Iraqi Army unit.  We were going to be followed by two Apaches for covering fire on the insertion.  Simultaneous with our touchdown, personnel/tanks/trucks/Bradley's from the Armor/Iraqi unit would enter the town (the town was comprised of 40-50 buildings) from all three roads leading in to the town.  Our surprise landings were to capture several high value targets that were members of the Insurgency and were infamous for making IEDs and committing atrocities.

 

Our four aircraft would fly a route to the south of the town, at a common release point we would break formation, with each aircraft landing at a separate LZ (landing zone) generally on each side of the town (the fourth side of the town was the edge of the Diyala river) at target houses holding some of the more wanted targets.  After dropping our passengers, all aircraft would pick up and chalks (chalk=aircraft) three and four would laager (orbit to stay on station) at a point two kilometers north of the objective city for 15 minutes or as needed for immediate extraction or casualty evacuation.

 

Intelligence and leading up:  After having our meeting with the ground forces commander, two days prior to the mission, our landing zones were selected and our plan refined.  We would hit at precisely 06:30:00 (just after sunrise here) for maximum surprise and to allow for the Iraqi Army to have the best ability to see.  We usually prefer to hit earlier (0200-0400) but the Iraqis we were supporting this time didn't have/know how to use night vision goggles.

 

The aircrews showed at our command post at 0200 this morning to put out any updates and to prepare for the mission and to review pictures and video footage taken days prior of our landing zones.  We would take off from our base at 04:30 to fly to the pick-up point and shut down.  We left with five BlackHawks, four mission birds and one spare in case one was to break en route for the pick-up or on start for departure.  We left in a flight of three and a flight of two separated by 13 minutes, so as not to arouse any suspicion with anyone watching our airfield.  This 13 minutes would facilitate refueling the aircraft without any delay for either set of aircraft, also. The shut down time would allow the soldiers we'd be carrying to do some dry runs getting on and off the aircraft and familiarizing themselves with the seat belts.  A significant point, my aircraft was comprised of three Americans (a CPT, a medic, and a translator) the other seven were Iraqis.  This would be the first objective this Iraqi unit would assault on its own.  Departure would be at exactly 06:06:00 for a 24 minute flight to our targets.

 

Inbound:  It's 0545 and I'm climbing into the aircraft, I'm in chalk four, preparing for our departure, my crew chiefs are loading the soldiers in the back.  At 05:55 a status call was given, stating all aircraft were good to go.  Our Apache support is with us at this time and would following behind us and at a slightly higher altitude for over watch.  06:05 the three aircraft in front of me are getting light (pulling in just enough power to extend their struts, I do the same).  06:06:00 all aircraft leave the ground at the precise second and assume a staggered left formation at 200' above the ground, 110 knots of ground speed.  The cabin doors are open to allow for easy exit for our troops in the back.

 

12 minutes into our route we come to our final turn point, all aircraft drop to 100' above the ground.  14 minutes into the route, we arrive at the release point, a 90* bend in the Diyala River.  The aircraft split, as planned, to arrive at their respective LZs simultaneously.  My LZ this morning was right next to a house.  (Imagery showed a row of trees, about 25-30' high, just to the south of the house, and then an open field right next to it.  There was some greener grass around the house with some brown farther out, our aim point was this greener grass in a position to allow my right gunner to maintain his weapon on the house and to facilitate the passengers rushing the house.)  I started to pick up my visual cues, we would parallel a dirt road that ran next to our LZ, "row of trees in sight", "target house in sight", were my calls.  As we observed the touchdown point, there were cows around the field.  My copilot instructed the gunners to take them out if they charged the aircraft (flashbacks from Ft. Rucker).  There was an opening in the trees that would allow me to shoot through for the landing, at about ten feet off the ground I flare the aircraft to touchdown.  A pink and purple blanket flies into the air near on the back porch of the house, a young girl, about 10 years old, jumps up...what a sight it must have been for her.  We land, 4 seconds early, the troops jump out, the grass was pretty tall and one of my crew chiefs said that as the first guy was exiting he stepped off the aircraft and fell about three feet to hard ground, he was ok.

 

On the radios, "Chalk 1 is out, Chalk two is out, Chalk three is out, Chalk four is out." We rejoin our formation.  Two minutes later three and four break formation to laager as planned.  The entire time we are monitoring the combined arms net (a shared frequency used for communication between air and ground forces and the commanders in the rear).  The vehicles that were approaching the town, as mentioned above, were hit with three IED's en route. We were circling listening to the developing situation.  Within one minute and 45 seconds our highest value targets were captured by soldiers that were in chalk one and two.  A call comes over the radio for a status report on all the vehicles hit, two were fine with damage and no injuries, a third had sustained a more direct impact, three tires were blown off, luckily no one was killed.  This vehicle had a soldier that sustained a severe concussion, we began to hear requests for evacuation, "Wings aircraft, CaseEvac (short for casualty evacuation on the radio, and different from MediVac, because we do not have medics on board and is used as a contingency for removal of injured personnel) requested at grid XXXX XXXX.  "Roger, Wings aircraft inbound for pick-up."  Chalk three landed into a field, we stayed at an orbit for cover.  We brought the guy to the hospital, he didn't have a clue where he was, but was otherwise fine.

 

We returned to base, to await for an extraction call...once called we went back and picked up all the soldiers we had dropped off.

 

The last reports I received were that six were detained and three caches (a caches is a store of weapons, usually buried or hidden that include explosives for IED making, ammunition, rockets, and all sorts of weaponry used by the insurgency) were uncovered.  It was definitely a good time...

16 JULY 2006

It's been a while since I last sent out an email. I assure you it has been for good reason. I'm nearing 250 combat hours now and have worked 30 of the last 32 days. This non-stopped flying in addition to the upcoming redeployment and the administrative tasks that go along with it, have provided me with little free time. I flew 4.2 hours yesterday, less than 10 hours later (got in at 0200 am, had to be back at 1130 am) I flew 5.0 hours. I'm on the flight schedule for the next three days. I love to fly, but the heat and short duration between end and show times takes its toll.

Enough complaining, on to the pictures. The first picture you will see is the trailer I live in. It is 40' long and about 12' wide.  It is split in half and two of us share each half.  It has the basic amenities, a floor, roof, four walls, a/c, and sand bags.  It's not much, but it's definitely better than living in a tent.  Your choices for restroom facilities are many...there are port-a-johns about 200 meters to the south, or if you want to spoil yourself, you can walk to porcelain about 250 meters away to the north. The bathroom trailer, with porcelain and a/c, is right next to the shower trailer.  Again, no complaints, it's great to be able to shower everyday.

The next picture you might view is that of the "Grand Mosque", it was in the background of a picture I sent out earlier.  This is supposedly the largest mosque in the world and was trashed pretty well during the initial war.  When we initially took Baghdad it was a work in progress, still several years from completion.  It has since been a center of hope for rebuilding the country and I see improvements in it every time we fly by.  It is in the heart of downtown Baghdad, if you are looking at a map online, it is precisely 7.0 miles northeast of Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). This picture was taken only 4 hours ago as we were en route to BIAP by my right door gunner.

Finally, no matter how hot it gets and as bad as I'd like to get home...it's all good. I enjoy my job and wouldn't trade it for the world. Allowing people at home to sleep peacefully in their beds by reassuring any terrorist that we can/will land in their backyard (literally and physically) makes it well worth it. This picture was taken minutes after the mosque picture, after landing at BIAP, at about 1730 my time, 1030 for you guys back home .

21 JULY 2006

The pictures included were taken at BIAP back in April during the Condoleezza Rice visit.

Here are some pictures of the aircraft that I fly and a brief description:

This is the UH-60L Black Hawk.  It has two turbine engines that are rated at about 1200 shaft horsepower each.  Its maximum gross weight is 22,500 lbs.  Max airspeed is 193 knots indicated.  We usually cruise at about 125 KIA (Knots Indicated Airspeed).  With seats in, you can carry up to 14 people in the cabin area.  Weaponry on board are the two (one on each side) 240H machine guns, firing 7.62 rounds, each manned by a gunner or crew chief.  Additionally, without going into much detail due to its sensitive nature, there is survivability equipment on the aircraft protecting the crew from most anything the enemy can fire at us.  It is 64' 10" from the forward tip of the blade to the end of the stabilator in length.  The rotor blades are 53' 8" in diameter.  It's an extremely reliable/survivable aircraft and can take a beating, contrary to the negative publicity featured in "Black Hawk Down". 

The fixed wing aircraft in the background is a C-17, for comparison.

The cockpit picture was taken from the first row of forward facing seats to give you somewhat of an idea of all the radios/electronics/gauges we're looking at while flying. There are more switches out of the picture that sit above our head.

28 JULY 2006

All is well.  I flew yesterday for 5.1 hours with a little excitement.  We landed at the LZ that is close to Saddam's Palace in downtown Baghdad at 0923 my time.  We had time for a short shutdown.  As I climbed from the cockpit, I heard a boom (mortar rounds), then a plume of smoke, followed by small arms fire (AK-47s).  This happened about four to six times just on the other side of the river from where we had landed. After the last mortar, a huge BOOM...a large amount of black smoke rose into the air about 1 mile to the southwest of where I was standing ( a car bomb at a gas station).  When we took off and flew over the area about twenty minutes later, there were three burning cars, a trashed building on fire, and my crew chief saw people laying in the streets.  What pointless carnage...Fox News reported 31 dead and 153 wounded (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,205854,00.html).  Seeing it was just ridiculous, no particular target, just trying to kill/hurt as many as possible.  This isn't the first time I've seen the aftermath of a car bomb, but it's the first time in such a short duration following.

8 AUGUST 2006

I hope this email finds you well. I've been busy as usual, but it's been interesting.  I'm approaching 275 combat hours now and have flown some interesting missions as of late.

   On 5 August I was a pilot in "Operation Air Marshall". This mission consisted of two BlackHawks loaded with 20 infantry Soldiers. The mission of the ground forces was to deny the use of roads by Anti-Iraqi Forces as high speed avenues and to disrupt the transport of weapons, etc. along these routes. In this highly volatile city, the insurgents would use radios and cell phones for advance warning of checkpoints that had been set-up and then use other routes. This advance warning made setting up traditional traffic control points (TCPs), with humvees, nearly worthless. What's the alternative??

    "Flash TTPs", as they were called in our mission brief. These TTPs would be set up by our two BlackHawks landing to highly traveled roads to drop off our passengers (think, landing on Murfreesboro Rd.). They would then set up their TCPs and search every vehicle. We would be escorted in by Apaches who then remained on station to cover the guys on the ground.

     The morning started out as normal, preflight, run-up, and repositioning to a remote base to conduct a final brief with the Infantry Soldiers we would support.  These Soldiers were a combination of US and Iraqi forces. When the final details were ironed out, cold load training was conducted to ensure all participants were comfortable with getting in and out of the BlackHawk as quickly as possible. Five Flash TCPs would be set up on this day, in sequential order. All preplanned, based on intelligence reports and volume of traffic.

      Our hit time for the first TCP was 08:05:00. As the time drew near, we suited up and prepared for take-off. We would drop the soldiers at each TCP and then return to pick them up on request. We would pick them up from one and then take them to the next TCP.

      We had aerial photographs of each landing zone (LZ). The first one would have us land with our front two wheels on the paved road with our tails toward the curb. This would allow our door gunners to cover the troops as they exited the aircraft. As we were coming in to land one of the door gunners noticed a motorcycle that had a guy on it with a radio on the other side of the road from which we approached.  As we departed the LZ we called the sighting up to the Apaches. They located the motorcycle and followed him, causing him to ditch his bike.  Members of the infantry captured him and confiscated the radio. We were called back in to exfil this detainee. The guys we were supporting kept the radio for the remainder of the day to exploit any enemy conversations that might be intercepted.

        Vehicles that tried to turn away were discouraged from doing so by the Apaches, who in some instances flew to interdict the vehicles who then turned back around and were forced into the checkpoint.

       Without going into to much detail about the next four LZs, know that at each traffic either had to come to a screeching halt or turned off into fields as we approached, one time I thought we were going to land on a station wagon. These landings involved touching down next to bridges, between sets of wires, and into farmers fields. Imagine two Army helicopters heading toward your car at rush hour and guys hopping out to check out the interior...good times.

       In other news, I was promoted to Captain on 1 August.  I delayed my pinning ceremony until 6 August to allow for maximum participation by my family, who viewed the pinning by way of video teleconference. It was nice to see them and I was happy they could be part of this military tradition. Seen in the picture is my Company Commander, CPT John Wilson, who pinned me (or on the new ACU's, velcroed) and our Battalion Commander in the foreground, LTC Charles Fish, and behind me 1LT Joe Rozycki who read my promotion orders.

 

       Did you ever think it would be neat to have a helicopter fly by your window as you were staying at the Sheraton?  The people at this one in downtown Baghdad know what it's like.

 

        The last picture is my, "Man, it's good to own the Lang's" pose, have you seen the racing scores lately?? We were about to load back up to conduct another leg of a mission. 

I'll be home soon, but not soon enough.

10 AUGUST 2006

As promised in an earlier email, here are some pictures of mosques that have been taken from around the country.  They are usually very ornate and contrast greatly from the surrounding area.  By this I mean, the area surrounding the mosques may be slums made of clay/sand, desolate desert, or areas with no color, but the mosques are very decorated, with great attention to detail and very bright colors.  Maybe this will put the news in perspective when they say, "a mosque was attacked/bombed today."

In the last picture, in the very center, you will see a steeple with a cross on it.  It is a Christian church.  They are few and far between, but to my knowledge have had no hostile acts against them since the outset of the war.

18 AUGUST 2006

It's getting very busy as redeployment nears. We sent 5 Soldiers from my company home on an advance party, to set up our area in preparation for our return. They landed at Ft. Campbell today. In the group sent home were three pilots, that means that those of us still here will have to pick up the slack. All the Comanchero pilots are on the flight schedule at least 4 times next week. My duties as the Unit Movement Officer are starting to increase with the impending redeployment.  Also as the Executive Officer of A Co. I have a lot of administrative duties to complete in preparation for our redeployment. I expect to be "boots on the ground" at Ft. Campbell between 15 and 20 days after Darla's birthday (spoken in this way to maintain the security of my unit's exact redeployment date).

   Missions lately have involved flying Chairman of the Joint Chief's of Staff, General Pace around Baghdad.  He is a very professional officer as noted from his communication with my flight crew while he was on the headset. Additionally, the way he walked around the aircraft and presented each crewmember with his coin was something I'll remember as I look at the coin many years down the road.  Flights into Ramadi, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib are still just as intense as they were when we first arrived, if not worse due to the "Battle for Baghdad",  as we call it in reference to the additional troops moving into Baghdad.

   There will be no pictures attached to this email, instead, I'd like to draw your attention to a website my Uncle Eddie Joe put together for me (http://www.edlang.us/richardiniraq.htm). He's been compiling all the pictures I have sent all of you and last week, on my day off, I sent him about 20 pictures with narrations. These pictures will encompass all the time from the day I arrived in Kuwait to the present. I'm very appreciative of his efforts and find the webpage allows all members of the family to view the pictures without overtaxing their email inbox.

    As it was while I was home for leave, I look forward to visiting with everyone...after taking a short period to unwind and enjoying some much desired time with my wife. Darla and I have already planned several weekend trips, including NASCAR races in Martinsville and Atlanta, additionally, we will attend Brian McCranie's (my best man) wedding in Ft. Meade. I'm at 284 combat hours right now and will be extremely vigilant as I eclipse 300 hours, and then some, prior to redeployment.

7 SEPTEMBER 2006

I hope this email finds you all well. It looks like I've flipped the calendar for the final time. I moved out of my room today and into transient housing.  Our replacements should be here within the next week or so.

   Everything is normal here, the temperature has mellowed out to a cool 110*. We actually were flying the other day, our travels took us south, it was near 130* down near Al Kut. When we arrived back at Anaconda, one of my crew members mentioned it had gotten cool really quick...I looked at the temperature gauge, it was only 108*.

    My guys are starting to see the end of the tunnel, most of us are living out of a duffle bag and we have begun to seal our containers for shipment home...these steps just remind you the end is almost here and before long I'll be handing candy out to little kids on Halloween.  Wait, better yet...and before long I'll be cruising on my new Harley (which arrived at the dealership on the 5th). 

I'll see you all soon

17 SEPTEMBER 2006

I'm currently sitting in Saddam's Palace waiting on our takeoff time.  This flight will conclude my last combat mission in Iraq.  Without looking at my logbook, I've flown over 60 missions, 320 hours in total.  Our mission of allowing commander's freedom of movement and command and control has definitely been achieved.  My battalion will eclipse 25,000 flight hours, a theatre record.  I've landed near/in palaces, on busy highways, in people's backyards, in fields, in the mountains, at remote LZ's, and too numerous Iraqi airfields.  I've been to every corner of this country; over desert, mountains, lakes, and rivers.  I've flown in 142*F and sat in a guard tower on Christmas night at 9*F.  This deployment has been fun, definitely exciting, and as you might expect, exhausting.

   I hope all is well on the home front, I'm counting down the days until I return.

The most beautiful aircraft in the world. Need I say more??

Comancheros: "Shoot 'em in the Face!"

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