- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

NASIRIYAH, Iraq The blades atop Col. Michael E. Moody's UH-60 Black Hawk whip at full speed and crew members complete final checks of the helicopter's exterior after a quick stop for fuel on the outskirts of this southern Iraqi city.

Inside the Black Hawk, the brightest of Col. Moody's advance unit to Baghdad are ready for takeoff. Chief Warrant Officer Duward C. Bean III, nicknamed "D.C." and one of the unit's most experienced instructor pilots, makes sure that the crew is executing proper procedures.

Strapped into metal seats in the back of the helicopter are Majs. Brian D. Bennett and Robert M. Cassidy, who sit calmly as they flip through pages of paperback books in their laps.

Maj. Bennett has a copy of "The Tower Commission Report," and Maj. Cassidy is underlining sentences from Carl von Clausowitz's "On War" with a black ballpoint pen.

"I've read it before," Maj. Cassidy says, "but now I'm going through it again to go over the points that really mean something to me."

Neither of the men seems fazed to be heading into Baghdad, the scene of intense fighting prior to the defeat this week of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The helicopter jerks into motion and swiftly rises to an altitude of about 50 feet.

Moments later, soaring at nearly 160 mph, the Black Hawk drops in altitude occasionally, hugging the ground en route to Baghdad International Airport.

Below is mostly desert, but as the helicopter approaches the fertile crescent, the valley of rich earth between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, thick patches of palm trees can be seen.

About 30 miles out of Baghdad, the landscape is sprinkled by villages of sand-colored houses, huts and several dust covered mosques topped by light-blue domes. Suddenly, farms stretch in every direction as far as the eye can see below.

Cutting along the edge of one row of farms is a road packed bumper to bumper with flatbed U.S. and British military trucks, making the long drive through the supply lines between Baghdad and the Kuwaiti desert.

The Black Hawk soars over rotting clumps of destroyed Iraqi military vehicles and craters left in the ground by artillery fired from coalition tanks.

Perhaps the most memorable scenes, however, are the crowds of Iraqi villagers who appear in fields and on roads below, waving up at the helicopter as it roars, suddenly, inconceivably over their heads.

The Black Hawk reaches Baghdad International Airport after another fuel stop outside the southern Iraqi city of Najaf. A runway behind the airport is ringed by Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles belonging to the 3rd Infantry Division, which seized the airport from Iraqi forces on April 4.

The advance party of 4th Infantry Division aviators climbs down onto the runway and scans the scene in awe.

Some soldiers snap photos of each other with the main terminal and the sign, Saddam International Airport, in the background. They say they never thought they would end up here.

Some of the troops expected something different, perhaps more threatening. "I didn't expect things to be this under control," says Sgt. James J. Reese, a helicopter crew chief, among the first from the 4th Infantry to reach the airport.

Standing, smoking a cigarette on the tarmac below terminal D-43, Sgt. Reese, from Bossier City, La., adds: "But, I never thought I'd be standing outside Saddam International Airport either."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide