An Army Chinook crew's mission over Afghanistan

Spec. Army Godboldt, a helicopter crew chief, surveys the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, from the air Oct. 20 while flying in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.


By DAN LAMOTHE | The Washington Post | Published: October 29, 2015

KABUL, Afghanistan — Flying over this country's capital city, Spec. Robert Godboldt squatted on the rear ramp of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. He spends hours like this most days, flying coalition service members and employees over a metropolis that is both reaching for the future and mired in its 14th year of war.

The helicopter, flying in tandem with another CH-47, touched down at numerous bases, including the military side of Kabul International Airport, the main headquarters for Operation Resolute Support and Camp Integrity, where Green Beret soldiers have been known to operate. Piloted by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Sylvia Grandstaff and 1st Lt. Rachelle Boucher, the CH-47 also soared east over Afghanistan's barren mountain peaks to bases like Jalalabad Airfield.

The job is one of the more thankless for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, often receiving attention only if something goes wrong. But it keeps troops off the roads, where they are vulnerable to improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers.

In an effort to demonstrate their mission, Grandstaff, the pilot in command, and her team invited me aboard last week to ride not as a typical passenger, but in a jump seat in the cockpit and on a tether that allows freedom of movement at the back of the aircraft.

The crew, which also included Sgt. 1st Class Alan Moody, a flight instructor, and Spec. Jonathon Cooper, a crew chief, is part of the 6th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, of Fort Campbell, Ky. It flies out of Bagram Airfield north of Kabul, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

The CH-47 and its twin in the formation lifted off from Bagram under sunny skies, maneuvering south toward the city. By wearing a headset, I learned that Grandstaff and Boucher paid significant care to steering clear of jagged mountain tops in the way.

Soldiers like these fly numerous missions a week, picking up equipment and people to ferry it around the battlefield. The view can be pretty breathtaking.

Before takeoff, Grandstaff said I might be surprised by how built up Kabul has become. That became clear in the ensuing minutes, as she and Boucher piloted their aircraft toward high-rise buildings that have popped up over the city in the last few years, especially in the more affluent sections of the city. That, too, poses challenges, including more power wires of which to be aware.

The crew appeared to relax just a bit as they left the city and the number of obstructions diminished. Using their headsets, the crew discussed their plans during planned leave as they soared over smaller structures, lush green fields, and barren mountains.