As the rotor blades spun, sending hot, dry sand into our faces we ran for the Blackhawk. Ducking our heads and covering our noses against the onslaught of aircraft fuel and sand, sweat beaded under the helmets we wore.
As the four Helos slowly lifted from the ground we settled in the open sided aircraft, looking out over the tips of machine guns at the cityscape of Mosul beneath us. As the helo did rolling manuevers to prevent being an easy target our stomachs rolled as well. We alight higher in the heavy summer air, and the ride became smooth and calm. As the city got smaller the expanse the orange desert beneath us became all we could see. The only indication of movement were occasional mud huts with an exclamation of lush green grass showing the homes of the village elders.
The other three helos fell back, slowly separating to give less of a target to the unseen enemies below.
We see the mounds of dirt encircling our airbase like a childs sandcastle. One of the black bug like helicopters awaited us on the tarmac, its rotors slowly spinning to a stop.
Our eyes searched the horizon for the remaining two, a black dot appeared on the horizon.
Three. We waited. The smell of fuel once again burning our noses. The radio crackles to life. Frantic garbled transmissions pierced the dense air. My heart was racing.
“What’s going on?”
Three. That’s all that made it back. The last Helo was swallowed by the desert.
Twenty-four slightly nervous people left. Sixteen landed. Devastation and then guilt set in. Eight lost.
That could have been me.