You can read the previous part here.
OBJ Lynx, Haditha Dam, 2 March 2003 (Day 3 of the battle)
From where CWO4 Gregory “Gravy” Coker lay wrapped up in his camouflaged “woobie” under his AH-6J Little Bird attack helicopter he looked like a great big ol’ camouflaged… Chief! This was his usual grabbing of shut-eye posture when he wasn’t aloft making steel rain down on Iraqi Republican Gaurd and Fedayeen combatants dancing the Cotton-Eyed Joe on the desert floor below.
Chief was awakened by the distinct sound of E-Tool shovels chopping in hard soil — “tink, tink, tink.” Opening his eyes he saw two young Rangers just some ten feet away grinning sweet grins of victory.
“We saved ya, Chief!” grinned one Ranger, the other holding up the remains of a sizeable cobra snake they had just hacked to death with their E-Tools.
“He was heading straight for ya fixing to join you there in your woobie.”
Chief Coker took a quick squint at the reptilian remains and:
“Well, y’all sho-nuff did save me — thanks guys — Rangers Lead The Way!” and the Rangers headed off to display their trophy to their mates.
That was as fitting a way as any to wake up at Objective Serpent, Chief Greg figured as he stripped off his snivel gear. The temperature range was extreme in this western Iraqi desert, spreading from near-freezing cold at night to the usual summer roast at noon. Chief was going through his morning hygiene ritual as the news flash of breaking events filtered through to him: Rangers Rescue Rousted Ragamuffin from Rack-Attacking King Cobra — film at 11! There you had it; it was sure to make the Rangers’ Christmas skit that year.
Bigger news yet, some civic-minded engineer wannabees had busied themselves crafting “shitters” (toilets) for the camp out of some large sections of pipe and plywood; not quite Kohler porcelain classics but heartily welcomed by all measure of Objective Serpent standards. They would be sitting down that day — like men! Great ideas would once again flow during those five-to-seven-minute morning constitutionals.
Chief spied his platoon leader stepping merrily toward the new accommodations, shit-kit in hand consisting of a conservative fold of Charmin and baby wipes in a ziplock bag:
“Good day, noble Platoon Leader — what brings ye this way on such a morn, pray tell?”
“Good day to you, fine Gregory… by the Gods, there is rumor of ‘shitters in our midst’ now. Yea, tho I yet seek them out I should boast no early victory lest I find only gorillas in their place, my good man!”
(overly boisterous laughter)
That is probably how the conversation went between the two, though modest variation would not be considered an outrage. It was then that the world-renowned high-minded and sophisticated attack helicopter gunner found time from his heroics to secure his unauthorized camera and grab a compromising frame of his platoon leader’s noble post upon his pious perch of pipe and plank, a frame grab that remains in hiding to this day.
Chief engaged shortly thereafter in the saintly duty of incinerating human refuse with diesel fuel in metal receptacles, a detail that all the men of the camp shared and just referred to as “burning shit in barrels.” “They serve too, who stand and stir!” Greg thought as he swished the crackling concoction. “Hey, can someone get a picture of me?” he shouted out to anyone who might be listening.
It was hard to make light with the sobering realization that a Night Stalker MH-47 Chinook heavy transport helicopter was coming up from the south to pull the wounded Rangers off and resupply the besieged force on Objective Lynx — the Haditha dam. Well-passed the 50th hour of their originally projected 25-hour mission, the Rangers were getting mercilessly hammered by hundreds of 155mm howitzer rounds from a gun battery in an undisclosed firebase.
On the dam, the only thing to do was to hunker down and endure the savage pounding from the artillery. Regimental Command Sergeant Major Greg “Ironhead” Birch had charge of his Rangers after nearly a decade serving with the Delta Force. Ironhead ran the length of the dam back and forth stopping at each fighting position to offer encouragement, orange sodas, and Twizzlers snacks. He ran the length, again and again, all the while exposing himself to small arms fire and the howitzers’ barrage.
Seeing an opportunity, Ironhead grabbed an SR-25 sniper rifle and laid waste to an undetermined number of Iraqi soldiers trying to maneuver on his Rangers. Ironhead also exposed himself to small arms fire while crawling down a steep slope to rescue several wounded Iraqi soldiers. For that action Greg “Ironhead” Birch was awarded a Silver Star.
Bad weather over the dam and the surrounding area gave way to worse weather. The weather made it unwise for someone to being anywhere other than on the ground, and even there it wasn’t at all pleasant. Team Gravy was aloft just the same delivering the goods to the Rangers on the dam. When the CH-47 arrived Greg’s boys led the way to the damn despite Chinook’s sophistication of all-weather flight control technology. AH crews, like Greg’s, had basically a map, compass, clock and a Divinely-issued M1A1 eyeball, spherical in shape.
Greg’s decision to lead the way to Objective Lynx an hour after sunset was just because it was his territory and he knew it well. Gunship pilots joked with the Hookers — Chinook (Shithook) pilots — that all of them secretly had an AH-6 pilot inside them longing to get out. Halfway to the dam with the Hooker following, Greg braced for the report of the S-60 AAA battery that he was used to being fired at by… but nothing came on that day. That was just fine though, the Shithook was a much bigger target.
The Chinook, its massive size notwithstanding, was a remarkably responsive and agile machine in the hands of the amazing Night Stalker pilots; they flew it about like a jet fighter aircraft, skillfully maneuvering it in and out of the dam to pick up the wounded rangers and dump off a shit-ton of critical resupply.
Chief’s AHs ran ahead of the Chinook as they approached the dam. He marked a suggested landing spot for the Chinook with his laser pointer. The Chinook came in low above the lake below the north side of the dam where it was protected from enemy fire. He then swung his big bird around and placed its rear landing wheels on the top of the dam with the rest of the Chinook hanging out over the lake. The big helo offloaded and loaded all in just under three minutes.
With that, the Chinook dipped its nose low to accelerate and all helos raced off west for Objective Serpent. Deteriorating weather made for another spirited flight back to Serpent. Severe sinus infections afflicted both Greg and Pete adding misery to an already dogged crew. Typically a sinus infection will ground a pilot. But Greg used the pages governing flight restrictions, from his Flight Regulations Handbook, to blow his nose tying to clear his poor sinuses.
The worst flying experience of Chief Coker’s life was the flight back from the Lynx to the Serpent that night with the Chinook in tow.
Stay tuned for the next part.
By Almighty God and with honor,
P.S., The swagger cartoon that I made in honor of Chief Greg Coker was put onto T-Shirts for the SOFREP store — check it out here, it’s pretty slick!