When Pete told me he was moving from Taji to Baghdad, I asked how he would get there.
"Black Hawks, pop."
Visions of Vietnam and Mogadishu flashed thru my mind.
"Be careful, son."
Early in the morning, we awoke and were taken to a remote part of the airstrip at Joint Base Balad.
After a few minutes, two Black Hawk helicopters appeared out of thin air.
They are the meanest color of grey you have ever seen.
The power, noise and downdraft of the propellers is enought to scare you before you see the guns.
As soon as they touch ground, two door gunners exit the ships. They are wearing Darth Vader looking masks. They motion us towards the open passenger doors and begin ushering us in.
Helmet, body armor, and shoulder strapped into three bench seats, seventeen of us were loaded in seconds.
This was my first time in a helicopter for a reason. I'm claustrophobic and afraid of heights. I'm sweating like Bill Clinton when he had to face Hillary about Monica.
I want off. The only thing that kept me on was not pride. It was the troops. If they could, I could.
Off we go in a roar.
Two Black Hawks, each with two gunners right and left manning high caliber machine guns. This ain't Six Flags. We are over Iraqi countryside where the locals like to practice their RPG marksmanship.
About 30 seconds into flight, we begin to relax a tad. Then all four gunners start shooting. We're in friggin' Apocalypse Now.
They were test firing their guns into some body of water below. They don't forewarn the uninitiated. (I will miss those jeans.)
In 30 minutes, we are in Baghdad.
Land at a place that is like a bus stop for people moving around Iraq. Signs saying "Tikrit", "Balad" and other names we have read in the news are on 3 foot high wooden signs. The folks line up at the sign. When the helicopters come in, one group unloads and the next group loads up. The Greyhound station from hell.