COMPILED BY KNOWLEDGE STAFF
In September 2006, I arrived for another deployment to Iraq. I was in an H-60 medevac company attached to the Marines in the western sector and assigned to operate out of Al-Taqaddum (TQ), which covered areas such as Ramadi and Fallujah. During the “handoff,” the outbound unit created a flight schedule that mixed crew members from our company with members of their unit as a mechanism for accomplishing local area orientations. At the time, the medevac mission was only covered during the night, and the Marines elected to cover daytime missions in a CASEVAC capacity. The Marines did provide either a Cobra or Super Huey as gunship support.
I was on the roster for one of the initial mixed crews and received a mission not long after starting that night’s duty cycle. It called for us to simply transfer a patient from TQ to a higher level of care in Balad. I considered to this to be a good first mission because it seemed quite routine and would likely be uneventful.
Unlike my experience during my first deployment to Iraq, there had been a list of standard reporting points that were to be used to assist traffic and air traffic control in tracking everyone’s position. Based on our destination, and the location of our point of departure, there were limited options as far as routes/reporting points. This resulted in flying similar routes repeatedly because a hostile environment is dangerous. Needless to say, I was allowing the other pilot in command to travel the way he felt was most appropriate to and from Balad since he had been operating there for the past year.
As expected, the flight was really quite routine and uneventful as we picked up and dropped off the patient at the requested destination. For the flight home, we flew a fairly direct route, which was very close to, if not the same as, the route going to Balad.
Shortly after reporting one of the points, we started seeing tracer rounds off the right quartering side.
As the pilot on the controls, I banked to the left to avoid contact. As soon as I did, we started receiving additional rounds from the left side. At this time I turned back to the right, only to see that in addition to the two weapons still firing from what was now quartering left and right aft, gunmen were firing at us from both the left and right at our 2 and 10 o’clock positions.
The Marine Cobra made a call that they were receiving rounds and were diving to engage the targets. Based on that information, and the fact that at that moment we started receiving rounds directly off the nose, my next (natural) reaction was to begin an abrupt climb. It felt like we remained in this nose-up attitude for a long time, with tracers flying by us in every direction. At some point, probably five seconds later, the pilot in command (not on controls) called for me to nose it over. He then announced he had the controls and went into an abrupt nose-low attitude. During the dive, we also performed more evasive maneuvers and eventually the rounds ceased.
We attempted contacting the Cobra element, who did not respond. We could not locate the other aircraft visually either. After a few more attempts, though, we were able to make radio contact and learned they were performing emergency procedures because they had taken rounds during the engagement. Once back on the ground, we found out the Cobra had received multiple rounds, some of which penetrated or passed through their fuel cells. Fortunately, no one in either aircraft were injured.
During the investigation process, I learned there had been an area just west of Baghdad that was designated as dangerous and should be avoided. Additionally, we learned the military intelligence was tracking a new system being used by the enemy to which we fell victim. They would place vehicles or men in the shape of a large triangle (a mile or so apart) in aircraft high-traffic areas. They would wait for an aircraft to enter the open end of the triangle and start firing in such a fashion as to push it toward other fields of fire.
I learned a valuable lesson that night regarding being unpredictable and the importance of frequently changing your route of flight. We should also use caution when creating reporting points in a combat environment. If this system needs to be used, inform the pilots they should avoid flying directly to/over them, but just report them when in the general area. Provide enough points to give crews multiple route options as well. We flew into a trap and got out of it unharmed. I don’t want to make it a habit.