Dec. 22, 2004 11:30 a.m.
Al Asad Air Base, Western Iraq
The bulletproof vests helicopter pilots wear are different from those worn by ground forces. The pilots' vests are smaller, to allow easier movement, and the shell is made of cotton instead of nylon. That's so when you're on fire the vest won't melt into your body.
"It saved my life twice," Capt. Behm said, as he handed me his tiny green vest. He'd been shot down twice, on fire once. He was still flying.
If a piece of equipment saved my life twice I would not lend it out to someone I didn't know.
"I think after this is over a lot of us are just gonna get ice tea and sit on the porch," he said.
Marines at Al Asad fly either Super Cobras or Hueys. The Cobra is a tiny, thin two-seater with a gun out the nose, Hellfire missiles on one side and TOW missiles on the other. It is meant to destroy, that's it. When it turns towards you, it looks like an angry insect with a stinger. The TOW missiles have a small wire attached to them so the pilot can guide them after they are fired. One pilot said they have been on the shelf so long they work only about two-thirds of the time. He said he'd fire them only after the Hellfires, as a last resort.
The Hueys rely on side guns and have more room, which is important if you have to pick up wounded. When they fired the guns I'd heard sounds I'd only heard from the ground before. The big .50 caliber gun on one side with a thick thump thump thump, then the 762 gattling gun on the other side which sounded like an enormous whrrrr. It is a scary sound from the ground, in the dark, when you can't even see where it's coming from. It's like something is being unzipped in the heavens. The helicopters are not invulnerable, though. A pilot pointed out two bullet holes in the plexiglass that had been shut with duct tape.
[ed. note: Steve will be taking a much needed break in the next few weeks, but please check back in the New Year for new blogs.]
I remember a story I once read about a guy in prison in upstate New York. He spent all his time studying stocks and made a lot of money. He used some of it to have his father buy him a Viper. He was still in jail but he had a picture of the Viper in his cell. He probably thought about driving it a lot.
I want to thank everyone for reading the blog, especially the kind people who wrote in. I hope all your families come home safely. I'll leave you with one more line, overheard last night outside my can:
I look forward to your blogs & news reports — my husband has even called me from what I'm doing so that I may watch. Thank you for your honest reporting. As a mother & grandmother I really enjoyed when you told the soldier he needed to try harder to phone home. I, like many others pray for your safety & that of the soldiers & innocent in Iraq. I hope this Christmas you know the peace & love of our Heavenly Father.
God Bless & Keep you,
Teresa (Payson, AZ)
Good article. I flew Huey gunships (pre-Cobra stuff) in Nam. I remember the vest well, we called it “chicken plate.” Thanks again.
— Ron (Gales Ferry, CT)
Great piece on the vest used by Helios pilots. In the Nam we used to sit on our flak vest.
Have learned to appreciate your accurate, from-the-trenches news. One of the best field reporters in the business hands down. Stay safe on the front lines and please keep those reports coming.
— Larry (Wisconsin Dells, WI)
Just wanted to wish you a very Happy Holiday season, Merry Christmas to you. I am one of the Marine moms whose son is in the ""SandBox." I have so enjoyed your columns and will anxiously await additional articles after the new year.
Take care of yourself, we thank you whole-heartedly.
Hi, I have recently been reading your blog and I'm really enjoying it. I'm a veteran of Vietnam, so can kind of relate to some of what is going on. I admire your courage for covering this war and for the interesting stories in your blog. Today's topic about the Cobra and Huey brought back memories for me and I'm sure other vets and troops who read your blog. Thanks for being there and stay safe.
Steve Harrigan currently serves as a Miami-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.