Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Behind the Scenes of the Relief Effort

Well, I haven’t been forward in a few days. Sometimes I wonder how it is that I have found my way into the forefront so many high profile situations when it is the traditional lot of us logisticians to make camp in the rear echelons. For the past few days I have been working at the airfield where all the helicopters performing the relief missions are staged and it is taking on more and more of the flavor of what I imagined the Allied airfields in England to be during WWII.

Somewhere around 4:00 A.M., the chirping of watch alarms begin to echo through the cavernous hanger where all the flight crews, maintainers, and support personnel are housed. The lights are already on in one end of the hanger as the aircraft mechanics who work the night shift are just finishing up their duties. People begin shuffling from one end of the hanger to the other some hoping to get at least a warm shower before the water becomes either frigid or disappears all together. People pull on uniforms and flight suits, and make their way across the darkened flight line either to the briefing room in the headquarters building or to begin prepping their respective aircraft.

By 5:00 A.M., the briefing room is full of aviators grumbling for coffee and waiting to find out what their first mission for the day will be. They listen carefully to the weather and any other information that can be had before heading to the aircraft that crew members have already opened and begun loading with gear.

As the sun turns from crimson to orange over the numerous mosques and smaller white buildings to the east, APUs are fired, piercing the silence of the Islamabad suburb. Flight controls are checked and shortly after, main engines are brought on line but soon drowned out by the whir and thump of spinning rotor blades.

By 6:30 A.M, the first Chinooks lumber aloft followed minutes later by their partners, and then the smaller Blackhawks. Somewhere in the middle, the massive CH-53s have found time to churn their way out, with the tall grass along the runway swaying in the rotor wash leaving the silence to swallow this little airfield once more, broken only by the morning calls to prayer broadcast from the loudspeakers of nearby mosques.

The support personnel rise a bit later and start going about their daily tedium while the maintenance crews prepare for the return of the aircraft, then breakout cards, or settle in to watch movies. There’s usually a football being tossed around somewhere, and inside the headquarters, the progress of the missions are tracked by radio.

The lunchtime MREs are long since finished and the sun has begun to lose it’s brilliance in the western skies by the time the first thumping of rotor are heard returning the pilots and crews to their temporary home.

The aircraft make their ways to designated parking spots and as engines wind down and rotor blades slow to a stop, the maintenance crews day begins in earnest. Crew members tell of any maintenance issues, and pilots make their way in to the operations center for debriefing so priorities can be set for the next day.Now, as darkness settles, flight crews grab their dinner, and try to relax a bit before their unit commanders return from the nightly command briefing and huddle them around to tell them what to expect the next day. Big Windy 6, just finished briefing his folks across from me a few minutes ago, and soon the banks of lights will start clacking off leaving this cavernous hangar in darkness except for the far end where maintenance crews will work through the night making sure everything is ready to do this all again tomorrow.

Neither we, nor the Pakistanis, or the Brits who have just moved into the far side of the hangar know how long this routine will last, but we have all seen the devastation in the mountains and we all know winter is coming.


Wild Thing said...

I hope you know how wonderfully you write about things. I feel as though I am right there experiencing it.
You do so many things and on top of everything else to have this blog where we can come and somehow in some unique way be a part of something we are so supportive of. It truly means a lot, more then words can say really.
Stay Safe and thank you!

devildog6771 said...

Keep them comong Sir! As the MSM is so slack in its responsibility, you and those like you who share their daily ordeals keep us abreast of the truths out there whether they be war or a desperate rescue mission.

You have all shown the world the myth of soldiers as nothing but war-mongers is anything but true. You have given the world a view of the humanity of those who serve and protect that is quite frankly most often missing or seldom reported.

I feel honored to be a part of this if only by the power of the written word. Thank you and all your brothers and sisters for allowing us this honor and for all you sacrifice. Be safe and God Bless you all.

Beth* A. said...

I never thought I'd be worried about winter coming to our soldiers after such a long HOT summer, but I am now. God bless all of you out there who are doing this hard work, and stay warm and safe. You all are fine Americans and stellar human beings. We honor and appreciate you ALL very much. Take good care of yourselves and each other, and know you have great support out here. Thank you tons for writing these accounts; we need to hear them!