Crew chiefs stuck with scenery near Balad
Stars and Stripes March 1, 2008
Related article: Combat aviation brigade provides ground support across Iraq
BALAD, Iraq — “Sheer boredom.”
That’s how Spc. Cole Killion describes life here in Balad, and the 22-year-old’s observations are hardly unique. They echo those of his fellow Apache crew chiefs, most of whom have hardly left the base since they arrived nine months ago.
“It’s like ‘Goundhog Day.’ Every day is the same,” said one crew chief.
“Just being on one base confined, it takes its toll,” said another.
Crew chiefs, in general, are a happy bunch. On their part of the airstrip, you’ll find pinup photos, iPods and, inevitably, personal tools engraved to ensure they don’t wander off with lesser mechanics. They tell tales of an ill-advised shopping spree through a Craftsman catalog and tell dirty jokes funny enough to leave a chaplain in stitches.
But while pilots with 2nd Battalion, 159th Aviation Regiment out of Illesheim, Germany, are seeing more of Iraq than their peers, their crew chiefs are seeing less of it. Most of them will be stuck in Balad for the entirety of their 15-month tour.
That’s because Apache crew chiefs don’t get to fly on the helicopter they spend so much time working on, unlike their counterparts on Black Hawks and Chinooks. The attack helicopter has just two seats, one for each pilot. No room for a door gunner. No room for a flight engineer. And no room for a crew chief.
True, one person can fly the helicopter alone, leaving enough room for a crew chief. Pilots have even talked about rewarding their crew chiefs with rides.
But so far, no dice. Apache pilots need approval from a major command to let someone without a pilot’s license ride along, said 1st Lt. Christopher Gerbas, a 24-year-old pilot and platoon leader with the unit. That means Gerbas would need CENTCOM approval to bring his crew chief along on a flight, even just a short lap around Balad.
“I’d love to go fly. I think every crew chief would love to go flying,” said Spc. Nicholas Johnston, 24, of Excelsior, Minn.
Well, not exactly all crew chiefs. Some of the older ones saw plenty of excitement during the initial invasion. Some of the younger ones simply think life on the base is just fine.
“Personally, I’d rather stay here,” said Spc. Tim Villa, a 23-year-old crew chief from Phoenix. “I don’t need to go out there, you know. I don’t need to see other stuff.”
Yet restlessness is the prevailing sentiment.
“I get tired of seeing this flight line every day,” Killion said. “It drags it out, seeing the same thing every day.”