MISSION TO AFGHANISTAN: The rustic beauty of a country

Day 6 - Flying with Bravo Company

FOB Shank -- Many of today's Nevada Guard aviators represent a new generation of pilots and flight crew. Many are Nevada high school graduates having received their diplomas sometime within the last 15 years.

Of course, the veteran pilots have been in control of the huge Chinooks, CH47Ds, for years. Several pilots have deployed to either Afghanistan or Iraq before this deployment, which began during the spring.

One veteran pilot is Dan Walters, for example, a longtime resident of Genoa. He flew in Afghanistan in 2005-2006. One of the "new kids" on the block graduated from Fernley High School in the 1990s, but already Casey Akins has flown missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan.Akins and Vania Apodaca are two female pilots who have gained the respect of their fellow aviators. Both enjoy being behind the controls of the Chinooks, and each has her reasons for wanting to fly.

Apodaca and unit commander Capt. Mike Bordallo glided the Chinook from point to point with the ease of veteran pilots who have flown hundreds of hours over here.

In addition to the Nevada pilots, the 189th also has a company from Montana here at Shank, and their expertise and friendship with their Nevada brothers and sisters are very apparent to the neutral observer. The Guard is also a small world. A gunner on yesterday's flight lives in Helena, but he knows a handful of educators who relocated to my hometown of Fallon to teach school.

During its stay here at Forward Operation Base Shank, Bravo Company of the 189th GSB Aviation has been flying mission in support of war-time requirements handed down by a higher headquarters. Most missions are general support, meaning the crews deliver passengers or supplies or sling-life heavy equipment. Sometimes, a mission requires the crews to ferry soldiers to a classified location. Operations occur around the clock, and many missions take place during the evening, some as late as 1 or 2 a.m. Several pilots told me they enjoy flying under the clear Afghanistan night with the million of starts sparkling over this forbidden land.

The mission on Thursday was one of general support, and I had my first flight over a part of Afghanistan. While the details of the mission's specific locations can't be discussed at this time, it required a sling load of a heavy item from one FOB to another, and the crew had to pick up passengers and take them to another FOB.

The sling road requires skill to maneuver the CH47 over a large object and then have soldiers below hook up the object. A flight crew member opens a hatch to ensure the sling load has been attached properly and during the transit, he monitors the hook-up and load.

For those who have lived in Nevada a considerable amount of time, they are in awe of the scenery that reminds them of the Silver State. Majestic mountain peaks, sparse outcrops of green valleys, high desert ruggedness all define Afghanistan. The haze that hugged the landscape, though, was the only blight to a good day of flying. While the beauty of the terrain below the chopper was spectacular, the crew was still vigilant to any situation that could have arisen during our hours in the air.

This was my first flight aboard the CH47 since I retired from the service three years ago, and I am ready to hop on another flight. Time, though, may be against me. I am scheduled to depart Shank in a day or two and head toward Kabul to hook up with more Nevadans from the 593rd Transportation Company.

During my journey to the war zone last year to embed with a Nevada signal battalion and to visit the MPs, one cannot help develop a bond to the unit and its members. Such has been the case this year with the 189th. The guardsmen have welcomed me warmly and included me in their day to day activities here. That's when it becomes hard to leave and head elsewhere, knowing that faces now associated with names will be in my thoughts and prayers until they return home safely next year.

Out from Shank.

Steve Ranson is the editor of the LVN and a retired guardsmen. He is currently in Afghanistan visiting Nevada's soldiers.


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