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Chief Warrant Officer 4 Eric Hamm flies UH-60 Black Hawks for an aviation detachment assigned to Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto, the 42nd Infantry Division commander.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Eric Hamm flies UH-60 Black Hawks for an aviation detachment assigned to Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto, the 42nd Infantry Division commander. (Kevin Dougherty / S&S)

TIKRIT, Iraq — The prestige of flying a commanding general around in a war zone is tempered by the pressure of knowing he’s a high-value target.

“We’re not out looking for the enemy,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Eric Hamm. “We’re looking to get him (the general) from one point to the next.”

Hamm flies UH-60 Black Hawks for an aviation detachment assigned to Maj. Gen. Joseph J. Taluto, the 42nd Infantry Division commander. The 42nd ID’s area of responsibility encompasses north-central Iraq, a section that begins just above Baghdad and stretches north toward Mosul and east to the Iran-Iraq border.

Hamm, 38, may not be looking for the enemy, but the enemy is sure looking for a big score. On May 19, insurgents came close to knocking out the division’s senior enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Major Richard Fearnside, when a roadside bomb exploded about 20 feet behind his vehicle.

There have been “a couple of close calls,” Hamm said, though its clear “close” is a relative term to him. Hamm wouldn’t go into detail for security reasons.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we haven’t been engaged or felt really threatened,” Hamm said.

Helicopter pilots who fly high-ranking U.S. officials — military as well as civilian — keep abreast of the latest tactics and tendencies of anti-coalition forces. They review intelligence reports, compare notes, and tweak their routes and tactics. Whether to fly low or high is one example of a tactical decision, but others he mentioned are too sensitive to note, given the stakes.

Hamm, of Odessa, Del., serves as the instructor pilot for the 13-member flight detachment. While he has flown Taluto on numerous occasions, he’s not the general’s primary pilot. A chief warrant officer, who preferred to remain anonymous for security reasons, fills that job.

“It’s an honor, but it’s also a big responsibility,” the pilot said.

“You always try to make the flight you’re on the best one you’ve done so far. There are a lot of things you have to take in consideration. It’s not like dropping off a regular passenger.”

In his civilian life, Hamm is a helicopter pilot for the Delaware State Police. He served on active-duty for 10 years before joining the 1st Battalion, 150th Aviation Regiment. While in the regular Army, he participated in Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti and was a member of an aviation assault battalion in South Korea.

Before he left for Iraq, Hamm spoke to his daughter, Alexis, now 3, and told her he had to leave for a while. She wanted to accompany her daddy, but, like he does with the general, he let her down gently.

“I told her every time she sees a helicopter she should wave to it,” Hamm said. “By seeing a helicopter, she is seeing me, too.”


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