a few pages from my book. It will be out in July 09
///////////////////The B Company guys///////////////////
It’s one thing to be deployed with the guys you’ve known for years, but in the National Guard, you may be deployed with a unit from another state. Especially in aviation. This is what happened to me; and it was indeed my very good fortune to be sent to augment B Company of the 131st Av. Regiment, from Mobile, Alabama.
These are a great bunch of guys who know their jobs, love their country, work well together, and look out for one another; because they truly care about each other. Many of the pilots are full time National Guard Pilots, or work at Ft. Rucker, Alabama as full time instructor pilots. There has always been a stigma attached to “Ft. Rucker IPs”; that they only know how to teach what the book says, in the airspace allotted them in their little corner of the world, and aren’t real mission capable pilots. That they are more concerned about crossing all the Ts and dotting all the Is than real world flying, because it’s all they know. I’ve heard the term “Rucker IP” countless times in my career; always in a disparaging manner. I’m happy to report that this stigma is dead wrong. These guys are the consummate professionals, and lead the way when it came time to take the reigns and conduct our mission in Iraq.
I was very lucky to fall into a group of guys that knew how to be professional and be friendly at the same time. They made feel like part of their tight knit little group immediately, as southern boys from Alabama are prone to do, and treated me like one of their own. They were friendly, helpful, and gracious; and from the beginning I knew these were men I could count on for anything, and our country could count on to always do the right thing. The old guys were calm and collected, and always mentoring and steering the company, and the young guys were sharp, eager to learn, and respectful. It was a very good mix.
The pilot serving in the role of SIP, Brian Estall was possibly the most professional and technically proficient instructor pilot I have met. He really mentored and developed the young pilots and could be counted on as the go-to guy for anything aviation related. It was encouraging to me as I observed him become frustrated over his younger pilots when they made a mistake. He would teach and explain or painstakingly go over anything, anytime, to ensure the success and safety of these lesser experienced pilots. He would get frustrated, but never abusive, and never belittle them. He truly cared deeply about the direction and habits they were developing, and developing them as seasoned aviators.
The other Instructor that was a go to guy was Tony Mills; a full timer back at the flight facility in Mobile, and great instructor who has been around a long time. He also constantly mentored and monitored the progress of the younger pilots, and he and Brian together groomed their junior pilots to be competent, careful, mission capable pilots, and would collaborate on the proficiency and progress of all their aviators.
I always thought that these young guys maybe didn’t realize how lucky they were to have fallen in with this particular group of older pilots. More than once, usually while on night standby (DART) missions; if we weren’t flying I’ve seen both of these IPs present hip pocket type classes to the rest of their crews. They could each pick any system on the Black Hawk, and grab a dry erase board, and draw and explain every component, and its function; to include limitations, and emergency procedures, and answer any questions we may have about it. By flying with the other pilots, asking a few questions, and watching for trends they watched for weak areas in the pilot’s knowledge, and would give these impromptu classes whenever they found a little spare time. They also ran the mission board, and were careful about crew selection. Its guy like these that make sure a unit never loses anybody due to carelessness or stupidity. We never did. There were no accidents, and these guys were the reason why.
Doffis Daughtry- was another guy we were lucky to have with us. Doffis Works at Ft. Rucker as well. He is also an IP, but a maintenance test pilot as well. In fact, he teaches the guys who teach the guys how to be maintenance test pilots. I flew with him for the first time to get checked off on NVG dust landings in Kuwait. It was a real pleasure. He was so laid back I don’t think you could get him excited if you tried. He was just that good, and just that confident. He was also a great teacher. After I was done with my few dust landings, I rode in the back while Doffis gave instruction to a young lieutenant just out of flight school. To make a long story short. That lieutenant was just about to kill us, when Doffis took the controls, pulled it out of the dust, placed it gently on the ground, and very calmly said “Now lieutenant, I want you to tell me your reasoning for pulling that collective and placing the aircraft out of trim just then”. Mind you, Doffis was not the least bit excited, but just wanted to find out what the lieutenant was thinking, so he could fix it. And he did just that. After a few more go-arounds, he had that young aviator making smooth, confident dust landings with the rest of us. Myself and the other pilot riding in the back at the time talked about it later; and we were both impressed with Doffis’s ability to keep his calm, figure out what that kid was thinking, and fix it all in one flight. A lot of IPs would have been all over that LT for that. But Doffis didn’t work that way. He was calm and patient. He knew people would learn better if he kept his cool. Doffis had been doing this a long time.
Bubba Houser- was another “old guy” who worked at Rucker. He was a Huey IP during the week, and a Blackhawk pilot on the weekends. He was easy to fly with, and always there to help anybody. He also was very capable with the flight planning software, and worked part of the time at Brigade compiling the AMRs. (Air Mission Requests) He didn’t get to fly as much as he wanted after getting tagged with the brigade job, but he did his job at brigade and flew with us when he could. I always enjoyed flying with Bubba. He was a good pilot and a big hearted guy.
Dave Lingwood- was a Night Vision Google instructor at Ft. Rucker. That’s right, he teaches student pilots how to fly Night Vision Goggles. Now there’s a pretty handy guy to have in a combat theater. He’s also a safety officer, responsible for all aspects of unit safety. After I‘d been with the company for a few weeks, the possibility arose that I could be transferred to another unit. Dave said to me, “Deeter, your a good shit. I want you to know; once a B company guy, always a B company guy. If you have to go to the other company, and you ever need anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” Dave was equally as gracious when I visited him last summer in Dothan, Alabama. We played golf a couple of times, and he fixed us supper at his house in Dothan. I don’t think Dave would mind me saying that we’re both better pilots than we are golfers. It was also Dave Lingwood who was willing to fly back into the machine gun fire when he thought Mark and I were hit bad, and might be going down hard. I will never forget that.
Mike Goodman- (Goody) Goody is a short, stocky fellow who is pleasant to be around. This was Goody’s second war. He also flew helicopters in Vietnam. He always had a smile on his face and a joke or story to tell. He would fall asleep just about anytime he sat down. I used to tease him about it; telling him he had a switch in his behind, and anytime he sat on it, it turned out the lights.
He had been in the Guard for thirty seven years, but just as a part timer. He has worked for the U.S. postal service for his entire life, and and talked of retiring when he got home from this deployment. He wore his tight one piece flight suit with a pistol belt and his pistol slung low like a gun fighter. But if you give him a hard time about it he’d take it all in stride, and laugh with you. Everyone liked and revered Goody; and rightfully so.
Mark Polland- Mark was another seasoned aviator and instructor who’d been in combat before. He was an IP, in the Guard, and bought, sold, and managed real estate for a real job. He was a good guy and a capable pilot. He was also the guy I was sharing a cock-pit with when we were shot down in Baghdad.
Todd and Jerry - Jerry Sartin and Todd (Bradley T.) Sawyer:
I list these two together because everybody does. They are interchangeable. These two guys went to basic training together, their next duty station together, flew together with the Golden Knights, and now work together for Net Jets. They have been together their entire career, and even look somewhat alike. We often confused them, and call them by the other’s name. They were roommates, and lived in the same trailer that my roommate and I live in. They were my next door neighbors.
They were talking about buying a good sized boat together when we got back home. I still don’t know if they did or not. I have talked to Jerry a couple of times and forgot to ask him. Jerry was our company TacOps officer, and Todd, although a qualified Huey IP, was serving as a line pilot like me.
The thing that stands out about Jerry is his computer skills and technical abilities. He is the one that set up our internet, and he could access his home computer and turn on the music on his stereo, and dim the lights at his house for his wife from our hooch in Iraq. He set up our office computers and EDMs extremely well. He even built docking stations for our EDMs. (A real helpful touch) A really good TACOPS officer will make or break you as a unit in a tactical scenario. Todd made us. Thanks to him our flight planning, programming, and mapping equipment was the best in the Battalion.
Bradley T loves music. It’s in his blood. His uncle is Dr. Hook., of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show; the sixties / seventies rock and roll band. Bradley tells me his real name is John Sawyer. He tells stories of his father taking him to see Dr. Hook (his brother) at his concerts and going to his room after the shows.
Both of these guys were tremendous pilots and great to fly with. Jerry was awarded the silver star for his actions on Janurary 20th when one of our birds were destroyed and all aboard it killed.
Todd and Jerry (we sometimes called them Tom and Jerry) were both well liked and respected. They were also good neighbors.
Randy Kirkland- Randy was our maintenance officer. He worked all the time on the flight line keeping our birds air worthy, and maintaining the flow of scheduled maintenance. This is a HUGE deal. If you have ten aircraft, and a 500 flight hour inspection takes a few days to complete; what if they all came due at the same time? Think of it; you couldn’t complete your mission. He is the guy who maintains the maintenance flow charts, and assigns daily mission aircraft to bring them in line on that chart to make sure you always have aircraft available to do your job. He also did maintenance test flights day and night; in the heat and the cold to ensure our safety, and still made some time to fly on combat missions. He did an incredible job. He was a tireless guy and the consummate professional. He is also the nicest guy you’d ever want to know.
The crew chiefs- An entire book could be written about our crew chiefs and their antics. These guys worked extremely hard to take care of their birds, and also served as the crew chief / gunners on daily missions. They had to do it all, and I believe had less sleep time than the pilots. They didn’t complain; they all did their jobs like the professionals you would hope they were, and maintained great attitudes at the same time. I trusted these guys with my life every day with no reservations whatsoever. If the bird wasn’t right, it was their responsibility. If I needed some ground or traffic guidance while flying; it was their responsibility. If something broke or wasn’t working in flight; it was their responsibility. If the aircraft logbook wasn’t right; it was their responsibility. And if bad guys were engaging us and had to be shot; it was their responsibility. Nobody works any harder or takes more pride in their work than the B Company 1/131 crew dogs. These are really the guys that a pilot like me trusts with his life every day. Guys like:
Andy Buffkin- (Buffy) (Probably the most accurate shot with the 240 machine gun that I ever witnessed; especially at night).
Tim (Timaaaeee) Smith
Eddie Ray Jeselink
Murray Garris- Murray always carried an extra flak vest which he sat on to avoid getting shot in the ass.
Gary Smith (Gary was a back fill from California; and also a really good shot)
These guys had to be meticulous mechanics, (And all that that entails) and competent gunners; ready, willing and able to shoot people. They did it all and made it look easy. These are some of the finest citizen soldiers this country has to offer. Without these guys, there would be no aviation missions ever conducted.
Pat Flemming- (TOP) This was our ace in the hole. Pat Fleming was the reason our company ran so well. He was serving as our First Sergeant. But this was a different sort of first sergeant. He was a Major at one time. But when he entered the Alabama Guard, he wanted to live where he wanted to live. There were no Major positions. In fact, at the time there was only a Sergeant position. So Pat accepted a full time position as a Sergeant. But having been a Major; he knew more about how to get things done than any company level leader I’ve seen. To put it simply, Top did everything. He ran the unit. He was responsible for just about everything. (I won’t even try to list the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and responsibilities that land on the First Sergeants desk every day). With the exception of the pilots, Top could do, oversee, and teach everybody’s jobs. He knew the guns, soldier tasks, gear, and mission as well as anybody, and he also knew the logistics, paperwork, operations, personnel system, and everything it takes to run a company. But the thing that stood out the most about Pat Fleming was his selfless service. He was always helping someone with a problem or task, in addition to completing his own duties. Whatever we needed, we could count on Top to have the answer. I believe he worked more, and slept less than anybody else in the company.
Jeff Alston- My room mate. Like me, Jeff was a back fill. He was from Pennsylvania. I probably knew Jeff better than I knew anyone else, and yet he is the most difficult to describe. He had everyone fooled. He had a certain air about him that was almost unapproachable. The younger guys would ask me if I slept with a gun. It was too funny. They thought he was contentious to the point of being postal. What they didn’t know was he had outsmarted them. He had everybody fooled. He didn’t talk much around the TOC, but we would chat for hours at the trailer. This was not Jeff’s first deployment. Jeff has been around a while. I don’t believe I ever saw Jeff get excited. He was not easily impressed either. The truth was Jeff didn’t want to be bothered by anything that wasn’t a matter of life or death. He just wanted to complete the deployment and get back home. (And when it came time to go home, he wasn’t even excited about that). Around the TOC he seemed almost disinterested in the whole war. But back at the trailer, when we would talk, I could see that he was very up to date on every aspect of it tactically and politically. He was also very well read and knowledgeable in several areas. He is also a world class tinkerer. He built a huge table in his room, invented and manufactured cables for a certain piece of equipment we used daily, fixed my bike, fixed peoples helmets, headsets, and any other thing that he could find to tinker on. I still keep in touch with Jeff and as I write this, he is in another train up for yet another deployment. I wonder sometimes if maybe civilian life just isn’t exciting or interesting enough for him. He was (and is) a good friend, and it was my good fortune to have him as a room mate.
JR Pote. – JR was a tall, happy go luck guy, and another Ft. Rucker IP. He taught instruments at Rucker full time, until recently. He had also deployed at the first part of the war as a Chinook pilot and knew the ropes. He was probably the smoothest flying guy I flew with while I was there. (teaching instruments; go figure) JR could eat like a horse. And he had the largest dingiest coffee mug I’ve ever seen. He never went anywhere without it. It was always a pleasure to fly with JR and his coffee mug. He is now a full timer with 131st and serving as a maintenance officer. I saw him recently and he hasn’t changed a bit. He still has a loud infectious laugh and a great attitude. Whatever he does, he’ll be good at. He is a combination of happy go lucky, and professionalism that always brings cheer to the workplace. Even in a desert where everyone is trying to kill you.
The Battalion Commander—We were fortunate. As a battalion commander, we had a leader; and not a manager. Zac Maynard; is a lieutenant colonel, who in another life was a night stalker. (1/160) He’s a smart guy who listens to his older pilots. He never made knee jerk decisions, and he lead the battalion the way you’d hope a leader would, by being hands on, approachable, and technically proficient himself. He was friendly and personable, but not a guy whom you’d want to try to bullshit. The best thing was, he is a real pilot. He is as proficient as an aviator as you’ll find, and an instructor as well. He would get out of his office and fly missions with us whenever he could, and he knew what was going on with his aircraft and crews at all times. Leading a battalion in combat is a big job, and he was always on top of things. A battalion is made up of over four hundred people from all walks of life. I never heard any of his soldiers make any disparaging remarks about him. He had earned their trust and respect. He is another guy who rarely slept.
So these were the men I served with in Iraq. I could not have possibly been anymore fortunate. Serving in the military is often frustrating. The pain and frustration comes from the higher echelons who have forgotten what it’s like to soldier. The red tape, bureaucracy, and bull shit make it painful to serve these days. There are far too many leaders high up the chain who are simply boot licking, yes men; who don’t have the courage to make a decision because of their fear of how it might affect their next promotion or assignment. This will never change. But it’s down at the company and battalion levels, where bonds are created with men like these; that people still enjoy serving. Guys like these are the reason people stay in the Guard and continue to serve. I’d gladly deploy with these men anytime, anywhere. They were, simply put, the best bunch of guys I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.