Through Darkest Iraq with Gun and Cobra

A month of war through the night-vision goggles of a Marine AH-1W SuperCobra pilot.

CH-46Es glow in a view through night-vision goggles aboard the flight deck of the USS Saipan. (James Cox)
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After a quick trip to refuel and re-arm, we returned to the complex and I resumed directing the jets. As I hovered the aircraft, Kujo pumped more missiles into the remaining bunkers. In a Cobra next to me, Wally was engaging bunkers with his missiles. Friar was orbiting behind us in the Huey to provide security. After we had lased targets for approximately 25 bombs and missiles, Friar reported that we were taking fire; an Iraqi artillery unit had zeroed in on us. As we moved to escape, another Iraqi unit began to shoot missiles at us. The enlisted crew chiefs in Friar’s Huey returned fire with their door guns. As we pulled out of the area, geysers of fire were still erupting from the bunkers. We turned south, toward our base. I was ready to go home.

As I reflect on the month that I spent in Iraq, I’m amazed at what we accomplished. On a personal level, I’m astonished to be alive. This was my baptism of fire, and given some of the extreme flying conditions that we had to endure, my survival made me appreciate life more. It’s obvious to me now that I lived through some miracles—and that at times my fate rested in the hands of a higher power.

On a different level, I’m overwhelmed at what my squadron achieved. Although the vast majority of people in the squadron had no combat experience, the pilots and enlisted aircrew flew 2,023 combat sorties. And the maintainers kept us in the air, repairing combat damage to our aircraft that they had never seen in peacetime.

We did not lose a single Marine to an accident or to the Iraqis. I survived and my unit survived, and the individual men and women in the squadron performed heroically.

I’m also astounded at the intensity with which the Marine Corps fought. Assigned to defeat experienced Republican Army and Republican Guard units, the Marines showed a tenacity that made it possible for U.S. Army units to move into Baghdad within days of the initiation of hostilities.

For almost 15 years, I had trained to perfect my trade, and this was the ultimate test.

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