Monday was a pretty exciting day. (See the Afghanistan Pics page for images from my Blackhawk flight and trip to Koh Band district.) We travelled by helicopter to Koh Band district to inspect some high schools.
I’ve flown in Chinook helicopters before, and have taken a ride in a Huey from time to time, mostly when I was in the Marine Corps. But this was my first ride in the famous Blackhawk aircraft.
We flew with the doors open … on both sides. Have you ever sat in the backseat of a car with no air conditioning while speeding fast on the highway? You have to roll the windows down to stay cool, but, when you do, your face gets pummeled by the wind entering the car.
It was kind of like that for me in the Blackhawk. I sat in the forward-facing seat, closest to the open door. Not only did the wind from the forward movement beat me, the wind created from the whirl of the propeller blades also attacked me. Except, this was at a force much harder and faster than the wind experienced in a car. I had to make sure I was strapped in, or else I would be sucked out one side.
The flesh on my face was being brutally massaged by the force of the wind. I had to fight to keep my face muscles tight, or else wind would get into my mouth and (I swear) come out my nose and ears! Anything that was loose was flapping and beating me about. (Particularly, I remember my camera strap slapping me in the face repeatedly.)
The noise was also unbearable. I had earplugs in, but the force of the wind took them right out. So, while flying, I had to find a way to take aerial photographs with one hand while keeping one finger in my ear (for fear of the wind busting my eardrum.)
That was the worst part. Other than that, it was an exciting day.
The chopper would touch down just long enough for the crew to kick us off and fly away. The longer the aircraft stays on the ground, the more of a target it becomes. So, they don’t like to be on the ground long. Each time we’re dropped into a landing zone, we immediately provide security until it gets away safely. (Everyone does this, no matter what their job is.) When I jumped out of the copter, I took my place, with camera and rifle in hand, around the perimeter of the zone, trying to shield my eyes from the dusting that followed when it flew away. At the same time, I was looking to make sure no one was zeroing in on us. Hard to do with all the dust flying around.
We then walked to our objectives (high schools under construction,) and helped the team’s engineers with their assessment. While the engineers talked with construction workers, I talked with local villagers, giving them radios and trying to convince them that they need to get involved in their communities and government processes. (They were more concerned with my giving them things than hearing anything I had to say.)
When our inspections were done, we walked back to our landing zone, got into a securing position (to make sure we had a safe place for the Blackhawk to land,) and waited until the chopper came. When it arrived, I closed my eyes as the dust flew about until I heard the security forces yell: “Go! Go! Go!.” Then I scrambled to get in the chopper as fast as I could.
The aircrew didn’t even wait for us to get our seat belts on. They just made sure they had all of us inside, then took off WITH THE DOORS OPEN! (They REALLY don’t like getting shot at.) I grabbed a piece of helicopter and held on for dear life, while the wind whipped me to death and the copter banked left and right.
I was wearing my shoulder-mounted video camera and was able to record my first helicopter drop in the ‘stan. See the video here. (You won’t see me, but you’ll see what I saw.) Or see the Afghanistan Pics page for images from my Blackhawk flight and trip to Koh Band district. We did this several times within the course of the day. It was the most fun I’ve had in Afghanistan.
And, so help me god, I hope I never have to do it again.