Iraq: Helicopter by night…

July 10, 2007 | By Chris Hondros | Creative


Chris Hondros/Getty Images

A few evenings ago, I rode in a Blackhawk helicopter over Baghdad in the dead of night. The Army flies dozens of loosely scheduled Blackhawk runs here every day, ferrying troops and sometimes civilians around Baghdad. Sometimes the trips are just a few miles, but they save soldiers from the dangerous convoys down bomb-studded roads.

The side door of the helicopter was open as we flew; I stared out into the hot darkness, lost in thought as the rotors beat and the motor whined and I was whipped by the wind. How many helicopters have I been on in Iraq? Hundreds? On how many trips? Ten?

Is that right? Ten trips to Iraq? I worked it out…the first was the invasion itself, March 2003, an ill-fated jaunt into Iraq in the middle of a war, in a rented SUV that got shot out from under me and that I had to abandon under fire on the side of an Iraqi highway; second was in November 2003, when things in Baghdad were safe enough to go out for dinner and drinks every night at local restaurants; third was June of 2004, a trip strategically timed to miss everything important that happened in Iraq that year; fourth was January 2005, when I covered the elections and a horrible checkpoint shooting accident; fifth was June 2005, a hot summer with the Marines in Anbar province; sixth in February 2006, another, less sweaty trip with the Marines; seventh, a stint at a US Army hospital straight out of MASH; eighth, a stay in west Baghdad with a brilliant young colonel, and two weeks covering the Saddam trial, ninth, in February of this year, hopping between small firebases around Baghdad, covering the “surge,” and then, finally, now, trip number ten. Ten trips to Iraq! And for what?

We now flew over a Baghdad neighborhood, high in the sky. Baghdad doesn’t have street lights, but instead uses regular fluorescent tubes, mounted vertically on the sides of poles and houses, to light neighborhoods. These all shone beneath me like a field of cold blue stars, spread out as far as I could see, the enormous city sprawling forever. It was a rare moment of real beauty in this land of heartbreak and pain.

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  • Kelly Hopkin

    I have read all your posts since you told me you had a blog. And I am, not at all surprisingly, extremely proud to call you my friend after reading every post. Thank you so much for these real and true and honest accounts of these places and their people. It is hard to put into words what it means to those of us that crave these totally unfiltered glimpses of life there. Thank you.

  • Mark Zanzig

    Chris, you *really* sound frustrated when you write “Ten trips to Iraq! And for what?”. In my view, the answer to this crucial question can only be given by yourself (and I would love to read about your motivation to go to Iraq). I guess that one of the reasons is that you believe to improve the world by being there, shooting photos for Getty. Otherwise you would not go there in the first place. Given the fact that your pictures are published along editorial stories around the world, you might have a good chance to reach this goal. Then again, how many *decisions* are really being influenced by your work, and by the cumulative work of countless others? Is yet-another-photo-of-a-bombing really making a difference? All this is very hard to quantify, certainly. And so, yes, I understand your pain quite well.

  • jeff swensen

    i know you’re tired. be safe. look for good light…and get home soon so we can go fishing. good writing here though. time to start work on that first book.

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