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Great article about choppers in Afghanistan.

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Here's the first part of the article:


FORWARD OPERATING BASE SALERNO, Afghanistan — Chief Warrant Officers Keith Lacy and David Fleckenstein were hunting an insurgent mortar team from the sky when news came over the radio: troops under fire.


Two men, posing as maintenance workers for a mountaintop cell tower outside the Afghan village of Musa Khel, had shaken hands and shared a meal with the First Platoon of Charlie Company, 1/26th Infantry. But as the soldiers began winding their way downhill the night of Aug. 1, the repairmen started tossing grenades down the mountain after them. At least four troops were wounded. One U.S. staff sergeant, Lani Abalama, was riddled with shrapnel in one arm and both his legs. The Americans were pinned to the side of a ridge with a bad angle for return fire. They needed air support. Now.


Lacy and Fleckenstein, flying a pair of OH-58 Kiowa Warriors, small armed-reconnaissance helicopters, raced to the site of the attack. It wasn’t hard to find — they already had a nearby observation post mapped out, and the tower was “isolated on a hilltop,” explained Lacy. “There are no other villages or qalats [residential compounds] around it, and we would have been able to [see] anybody else outside that compound really easily.”


Fleckenstein quickly shot two rockets at the south side of the cellphone tower to suppress the insurgents. The platoon on the ground was “danger close” to the helicopter’s fire. The soldiers were hunkered down on the north side of the ridge, only about 150 feet down the slope and another 50 feet to the side of the crest.


This proximity called for especially careful aim from the pilots. But the soldiers were being pelted with grenades. Fleckenstein had to attack.


“I was a little bit nervous,” explained Fleckenstein, a youthful-looking 28-year-old with a sober demeanor. “But the strobes [markers visible with night-vision gear] that we had them put down immediately to identify their position helped, as well as having been in that area numerous times and just knowing the aircraft, knowing where you can put rounds.”


Lacy called back to his headquarters at Forward Operating Base Salerno, about 15 miles to the southeast, in the heart of Khost province: time to “spool up” medevac helicopters for the wounded. After Fleckenstein’s rocket pass, Lacy swooped in from the north side of the ridge, unleashing a spray of bullets from his .50-caliber machine gun.


With their night-vision goggles, pilots could see ghostly green infrared-targeting beams — emanating from the weapons of the soldiers on the ground — crisscross the structure, as well as the spark and twinkle of bullets bouncing off of the cellphone tower’s walls.


The pair of helicopters took turns shooting at the insurgents. One aircraft would fire as the other maneuvered for a weapons run on opposite direction of approach to the ridge.


When Fleckenstein was out of position for a rocket shot, his “left seater,” Bravo Troop commander Capt. Joshua Simpson, fired his M-4 rifle out of the open side of the aircraft to maintain suppression. As soon as they cleared the target, Lacy swooped in and fired more .50-caliber machine-gun rounds, followed by another two rockets from Fleckenstein.


The flurry of explosions and bullets had the intended effect. First Platoon was no longer taking contact from the two insurgents, and the medevac helicopters had some breathing room to fly in and get the wounded.


The recent downing of a Chinook helicopter in Wardak province that killed 38 Afghan and American troops, including 19 Navy SEALs, has refocused attention on the danger of flying helicopters in Afghanistan. Recently, I got a chance to see those dangers close-up: not just the Taliban, but eastern Afghanistan’s unforgiving climate and terrain, which many pilots argue are their greatest opponents.


I also got to experience firsthand just how crucial the copters are to the war effort here. The helo crews of Task Force Tigershark didn’t just come to the rescue of those wounded soldiers on that mountaintop outside of Musa Khel. A few days later, they saved my neck, too.


Click the link for the rest of it.

Edited by SBuzzkill
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