A Day in the Life of a C.A.B. Driver
It is 03:13. It that even legal? Why is there a crate of bottled water in the middle of my room? Why is there another person sleeping in my room?? What the fuck is that smell!? Then reality sets in like a cold stone. Oh yeah, the contract I signed back in 2003. My obligation, the commitment, it is not over yet. Where is my Beretta?
Six minutes later and I am ready for the day. Hygiene, clothes, notes for the day and a song in my head from last night’s conversation. Six minutes sounds impressive for getting ready by civilian standards. I assure you that all of us over here have perfected the art of this hasty morning ritual. As I don my “pimp-tacular” Ray Ban’s that resemble something out of a 70s Ron Jeremy porno atop my head and careful close the door to the room as not to awaken Nick, my roommate. I hear a mumble from his side of our 15 ft by 10ft room, “Be safe man…”. “You too” I whisper as I close and lock the door to the ½ single wide trailer that I call home for now; but its not. Not even close.
Parked out front of my CHU (or combat housing unit, perhaps awarded this abbreviation because it sounds like a half of a sneeze which is about all the credit it deserves for fulfilling its purpose) lies a rusty old bike with one good brake on the back tire, no gear shift and a wire basket tied to the front with thin rope called "550 chord" by the army. As I ride this beautiful Betty across the dark, dirt flats and gravel yards a smile begins to form. Yesterday is over, today is already 3 ½ hours complete and everyone I love is safe.
I think Lance Armstrong would’ve been proud of my commute time today. I hope he would have graded on a curve given the equipment I am using. I also hope that he would respect me even though I am over 30 and still use emoticons and take bubble baths [ :>) lmao ].
Our command post is built mostly from plywood and scrap tile, but it had a good architect. The designer, no doubt, never went to an accredited engineering university or pitched the sale to a board of directors for a cost analysis review. They just grabbed whatever they could get their hands on and went to town. Donald Trump would never survive here. He’d be too worried about his power suit and $547.89 haircut (he talked the hairdresser down $2.11 because he is a self-described elite negotiator) to realize that this group of unaccredited men and women would put him out of business in 2 months if they had his wealth and positional authority. While his team of engineers and interior designers were busy pitching an action item review we would have just built it and moved in. I would love to fire that douchebag!
After discussing the plan of action for the day, ensuring everything is ready and consume 2 cups of coffee it is time for the last part of my morning ritual.
Finding a suitable crapper in Iraq is like shopping for a watermelon at a fruit stand. The first time you buy one you just grab the first one off the pile and take it home. Just like the first time you used the restroom, choice didn’t seem to matter so you just stepped in the nearest port-o-potty. After that first encounter you realize that this part of the day is particularly important. Just like selecting fruit, you have your favorite “vendors”. Mine, in particular, is the trailer next to the helicopter passenger terminal. “Cadillac toilets”, as they are coined by the soldiers here for their luxury porcelain bowl and ability to flush are an important part of deployed life. However, the proper selection does not finish at the door. Just like any fruit stand certain ones have unattractive marks and stains on them, some are covered in “mud” and need to be washed while others have just been touched too many times. So after opening 4 toilet doors and carefully inspecting the contents I tactfully choose one. Mission complete. Now let’s get to the flight line and work.
One thing you should know about flying in a combat zone before I get into the whole meat and potatoes is that there are certain guidelines, rules to live by if you will. Some are spelled out very carefully, others are lessons learned from near death experiences and mistakes you only do once. Here are a few of my favorites.
If the guy who fixed it refuses to fly on it, you shouldn’t either.
Sounds like common sense but you’d be surprised what you would buy when time is of the essence and you don’t want to let your buddy down. However, you are not doing anybody any favors if your helicopter splits an engine or loses its navigation package in the clouds at 6000 feet.
With 25-30 lbs worth of protective body armor, a full coverage flight suit, boots, helmet, a flight vest and no air conditioning 80 degrees F feels like 100 and 122F feels like the surface of the Sun! Drink water or pee mustard, win a free trip to the E.R. and get to stand in front of an array of beautiful nurses while imbibing liter after liter of infant’s Pedialyte formula to replace your electrolytes. Trust me, Pedialyte tastes like shit and those pretty nurses look at you like you got an ASVAB* waiver to get in the army.
the only time you have too much fuel onboard is when you are on fire
Enough said. Fill er‘ up and never pass up an opportunity to get gas.
Flying is the second greatest thrill known to man, landing is the first.
Never takeoff without being absolutely sure you can land somewhere safely. Again, sounds elementary but the weather here is designed to kill pilots and break aircraft. Like I said, this is a mistake you only do once and luck has blessed me with a mulligan.
#5 Once you cross the wire, drive it like you stole it.
Just like a fugitive in a downtown Los Angeles police chase, once you cross the safety of the compound you have no friends and most of them want to kill you. I am sorry if Rashed’s grandma is outside picking weeds underneath my intended flight path but I am coming through, like it or not. We can discuss it later after I am clear of the 12 year old with the cell phone connected to a slew of improvised rocket propelled grenades pointed at me.
Knowing these rules well and carefully repeating them in my head I strap into this machine of aluminum and JP8 jet fuel, the candles are lit and I must get these people to their destination on time. Computers need fixing, meetings need attending, loved ones need their parental unit and bad guys need a dirt nap. This why I am here, to get people from A to B. That is it. This time around I am a cab driver, responsible for my crew’s safety as well as the safety and timeliness of the passengers on board.
Half way into Baghdad the flares in the rear of the aircraft ignite, sending a slew of hot magnesium flares in front of us and downward. This is an automatic decoy designed to fool a self-guided missile into steering toward the light and heat of the flare, and away from us. Most passengers do not notice, two of them do, a crew chief behind me manning the belt-fed machine gun assures them it is just precautionary.
Over this magnificent city we fly past the "crossed saber" statues that once signified Saddam’s rule over Iraq, now it is a reminder of things past. Out my right door I spy the Perfume Palace, a building in Baghdad named so because Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qasay, sent their cohorts to the local universities to kidnap only the most beautiful Iraqi women and imprison them as sex slaves in this elaborate palace.
We are now very close to landing in the middle of downtown Iraq. Are game faces are on, guns pointed outward as we waste little time descending past bad guy territory and into the neutral zone or Green Zone if you will. The Green Zone is home to various embassies plus an entire array of inspectors, generals, elected officials and a plethora of delegates. Often an important figure head will show up for a ride bringing with him twenty or more delegates and other followers. Some of these entourages resemble M.C. Hammer in the 90s with all of his fake friends who want to score a ride in a helicopter.
I sigh as a general is 25 minutes late for his pickup. There goes 60 gallons of fuel we will never get back, rotors are still spinning.
Finally a black Tahoe appears with bulletproof windshield and armor as well as various anti-explosive gadgets and toys sticking up all around it. Damn that would have come in useful during Nashville rush hour with my old job. But something is amiss. Ok, now 3 delegates are looking around for where and which aircraft best suits them as a person. “The temperature gauge reads 50C (122F) outside! “Geez.” I think to myself, “This is not Furniture Gallery, you don’t have to live for 10 years with this decision. Just get in, shut up, strap in and hold on.” Ten minutes later after shopping around for the best seat between 2 Blackhawks everyone is ready and we lift off for the other side of Baghdad.
We steer clear of restricted zones, talk to controlling agencies, send pilot reports and get people where they need to go. As the sun makes its way up and over the horizon, peaks in the sky like a jet hot flame and slowly sinks into the city’s landscape this beautiful machine and its crew make stop after stop, complete the mission and land safely back to base. Stories are told, gear is put away and after work reviews are conducted.
After work we all take advantage of the 3-4 hours we cherish to read, talk to love ones, go to the gym or just cool off. The soldiers of the United States of America need very little to make them happy. A little time on the phone, a cold drink of water, a letter from a pretty girl and some words of encouragement are all we require. Today was good and tomorrow is another day. What a fantastic fucking job!
* C.A.B-combat aviation brigade
*ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery)
a bare bones test given to all military service members to make sure that you can spell your name correctly and do 2nd grade math unassisted
Written by Kirk Terhune 12.07.10