As a naval aviator, I never expected to be stationed in a place like Udairi. The rough terrain and flying conditions of the Middle East were barely on our radar in June 2006 when Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 21 (HSC-21), known as the "Blackjacks," received word we were heading to a desert base of operations. Detachment Five of HSC-21 and Detachment One of the HSC-23 "Wildcards" would launch as the third wave of Navy helicopters flying medical evacuation operations to augment Army units performing similar missions in Kuwait and southern Iraq. A year earlier, the Navy rogered up to the medevac challenge by establishing the 2515th Naval Air Ambulance Detachment (NAAD), which included units from HSC-25 and HS-15, as well as helicopter search and rescue corpsmen from units all over the world.
Life from Above: Perspectives of a Navy 'Blackjack' Pilot in Iraq
The sand in Kuwait and Iraq is like dry snow or powdery dust, not at all like the grainy terrain we flew over in Southern California, where our squadrons trained before deploying to Udairi Army Airfield in Kuwait in late October 2006. In the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq, brownout landings become routine. Since you can't see the ground, pilots must rely on an instrument scan, tactical approach landing profiles, and crewmen's drift and obstacle calls. No brownout landing is ever the same.
By Lieutenant Melissa A. Hawley, U.S. Navy