Sunday, August 26, 2007

Riding with 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division (The Fourth Rail)

Wesley Morgan, embedded in Iraq.

For my last embed, I went back to the unit I’d visited with Gen. Petraeus: Col. Jon Lehr’s 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, based at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad. After waiting around at the landing zone for a couple of hours, the sergeant coordinating the flights finally barked out that the First Team Express –- the Black Hawk shuttle that circulates to the various Forward Operating Bases of the 1st Cavalry Division –- was arriving, and as a pair of birds descended onto the tarmac the other passengers and I filed out to board them.

Two soldiers, three female KBR workers, and I climbed into one helicopter, and a moment later came the familiar feeling of liftoff as the wheels left the ground. I had a good seat on this ride: the rear left one, which doesn’t have too much wind (in the rear right, for some reason, the rotorwash is so strong that it squashes your glasses back across your face and can easily take your helmet off if it’s not buckled) and from which you can see ahead along the flight path. I love night flights, and from this seat it was even better – all I could see out the door, all the way to the horizon, was the twinkling white lights of Baghdad, so beautiful and at odds with the scorching, chaotic reality down below, and the lines of little orange lights that marked the perimeters of US bases. One strange but comforting thing about Black Hawks is that when they’re blacked out and flying at night, you can hear the roar of their rotors, obviously, but you genuinely cannot see them from the ground; they appear suddenly out of complete blackness, making night flights basically safe from insurgent fire. Fifteen or 20 minutes later the birds landed at Taji.

Rest is here.