News: Arkansas Guardsmen respond to attack
Story by Spc. Andrew Ingram
CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – Most days, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Robert Linder and his UH-60 Black Hawk flight crew carry members of the U.S. Division – North command team throughout Iraq, often transporting additional passengers between trips with the division leadership.
During one seemingly routine mission, Linder and his crew, members of the Arkansas National Guard’s Company B, 1st Battalion, 185th Attack Helicopter Regiment, 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, found themselves under attack.
As passengers disembarked Linder’s helicopter at Contingency Operating Base Warhorse, June 13, he heard the voice of crew chief Sgt. Steven Guinn say, over the radio, “We’re taking indirect fire, I just saw one hit.”
When mortar rounds continued to explode across COB Warhorse, Linder said his first instinct was to take flight immediately to minimize possible damage to his helicopter.
“My hand was on the lever,” said Linder, who hails from Bella Vista, Ark. “I wanted to get off the ground, but we still had passengers and luggage on and around the aircraft. The rotors were so loud they could not hear the explosions so they didn’t realize what was going on.”
Guinn, who was helping the passengers offload their baggage when the attack began, said his first priority after reporting the attack to his flight team was clearing the passengers and luggage out of the aircraft and making them aware of the threat.
“I had to get everybody in and around the helicopter out of the way so we could take off,” said Guinn, who calls Hot Springs, Ark., home. “After that, it is all survival, protecting the aircraft, making sure my guys are all safe.”
With the passengers out of harm’s way, Linder and his wingman took to the sky and began conducting a battlefield damage assessment of the base. Within moments, COB Warhorse air controllers asked Linder and his team to conduct a reconnaissance mission to identify the point of origin for the attack.
“The point of origin was on one of the major roads with off ramps,” said Linder. “They told us to look for a man on a scooter with a metal tube. When we arrived on site, I saw a man on a scooter accelerating off the major road onto a dirt road and then under an overpass. A few more vehicles went under it so we were pretty sure we’d found our guys.”
The crews circled the area, maintaining overwatch of the bridge as the quick response force stationed at COB Warhorse mobilized.
To reduce the chance of getting hit by enemy fire, the Black Hawks stayed in constant motion a mere 150 feet above the bridge. As one aircraft passed over the bridge, its sister helicopter maintained a visual on the site to ensure constant coverage of the suspects, said Guinn.
“When we came around for a second pass, I could see them putting something in the trunk of a car,” Guinn said. “Then they scattered like cockroaches.”
“The car went one way, and the scooters went off in three other directions,” said Linder. “I stayed with the car and the other aircraft took the scooters. We kept on them until the AH-64 Apache attack helicopters arrived and took over the mission.”
By putting pressure on the suspects within minutes of the attack, the Company B flight team may have deterred further violence against U.S. forces on COB Warhorse, said Linder.
“I think we let them know that we are able to respond quickly and effectively to an attack like this,” he said. “It wasn’t something we expected, but as the air commander I have to think about things like; ‘If this happens, this is how I will respond?’”
Although the Company B soldiers usually fly passenger missions, the team responded well to the challenge, said Guinn.
“It was really exciting for about 30 minutes there,” Guinn said. “We are a Black Hawk unit; it’s kind of unprecedented to be asked to take on a mission like this, but we work well together as a team. Each of us instinctively knew what needed to be done. In the end we were just glad to be there, glad that we could help.”