As the ground war continued to make huge gains in terms of defeating the remaining Republican Guard units of Saddam’s Army, we prepared to insert into Baghdad. As we sat on the tarmac of the desert airstrip, all I could think about was the fresh evening air and how it was all about to change.

It took about three hours after the huge C-17 cargo aircraft landed for us to finish loading everything onto it. We would be flying into Baghdad with two armored vehicles, a bunch of other gear and about 80 people. The plane landed around 10:30 at night and slowly taxied along the runway until it came to rest near a huge hangar on the airfield. We had all been waiting near the hangar for about two hours in advance of the flight’s arrival just in case the schedule changed.

I watched in awe as the aircrew guided the armored vehicles into the back of the aircraft and arranged them in alternating fashion to ensure their weight was balanced throughout the cargo hold. An army of about 15 people measured, double-checked, and finally chained the armored personnel carriers to the floor of the cargo hold. Each vehicle had eight chains on each side attaching it to the ramp via huge steel hooks.

It was a remarkable sight. I was not convinced the aircraft could take off with two armored personnel carriers the size of garbage trucks, 80+ people and about eight or nine huge military cargo boxes that were about ten feet in height stacked in rows at the back of the aircraft.