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With the loudspeaker calling all personnel to the closest bunker fading away, quiet settled over the huddled crowd standing in the pitch dark outside the dining facility at Forward Operating Base Warrior. The warning of an indirect-fire attack had sent them all scrambling for concrete shelters.

“Aw, I just called my wife,” a soldier said in the dark. “I jinxed us.”

Though it was impossible to see faces, there are no strangers in a bunker, and people responded to the soldier’s lament with reassuring words.

“And she just took out all that insurance on me,” he said, his voice trailing off into laughter. The rest of the bunker, understanding they had been set up, joined him in the joke and also broke into laughter.

“That’s just so wrong,” someone said.

Bird vs. heloIn a fight between a Chinook helicopter and a bird, the aircraft would win, of course. But it’s a lot closer than you would think.

Members of the Hawaii-based Company B, 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment have been running into birds one out of every five flights, they estimated. And though the potentially dangerous collisions have not injured anyone, they have left more than a little mess to clean up.

“One bird went through the chin bubble and got stuck in the pedals,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 and pilot Jason Ford, 32, from Sand Springs, Okla.

A pilot on that flight was splattered in feathers and bird guts, Ford said. It is a fact he is reminded of quite often, he added.

Crews are constantly on the lookout for flocks. At times, however, the helicopters can be on top of a large group without knowing, said Sgt. 1st Class Geoff Hubbard, 38, from West Virginia.

“The birds turn in unison and then you see them when the light hits the silver in their wings,” Hubbard said.

That’s when the roughly 100-foot-long, multimillion-dollar aircraft will try to steer clear, Hubbard said.

“[Birds] can go right through the windshield,” he said. “It’s better to avoid them.”

Dance the night awaySgt. Christian Liriano, 29, of the Bronx, said that with the right music playing, he can close his eyes, put a “near-beer” to his lips and be back home at one of his favorite salsa clubs.

The music “is in my blood,” Liriano said. As an American of Dominican descent, he “was born dancing merengue and salsa,” Liriano said.

For those at Forward Operating Base Warrior who do not enjoy the same birthright, there’s always lessons. Liriano and several other Latin music fans teach the basics every Tuesday, followed later in the week by a party and an open dance floor.

Of course, the dancing shoes are Army issue. And the more risqué dance moves that are part and parcel of most Latin clubs are not allowed at the base. But revelers still have a good time and it’s a welcome respite from their lives off the dance floor.

“It takes a lot of the pressure and stress away,” said Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Wilson of Detroit. “And anyway, women love a man who can dance.”

The theme night is also held at many of the larger American bases in Iraq, Liriano said.

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