Iraq: Helicopter by night…
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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.