Story by: Sgt. Beth Gorenc
JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq, - While C Company, 3rd Battalion, 158 Aviation Regiment, which flew UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for Task Force 38, was deployed here from Katterbach, Germany, some of its Soldiers volunteered as Black Hawk door gunners for a different experience instead of working in their regular duty positions.
Spc. Matthew Gribble, a C Company door gunner, said it was a chance to do something he wouldn't usually get to do as a wheel vehicle mechanic.
"I volunteered to be a door gunner because I wanted to get outside of the wire and see Iraq," said Gribble, Canon City, Colo. "It was an opportunity to do something new and see something new."
Gribble and his fellow active-duty Soldiers volunteered for their new positions before deploying, and continue to train as door gunners while serving in Iraq.
Door gunner training consisted of aerial and ground gunnery training, emergency evacuation and first aid procedures, training using night vision goggles and flying in air traffic patterns to develop effective communication skills between the crew and pilots.
"We learn what to look for, how to react, what to say and when to say it," said Gribble.
Previously an aircraft hydraulic repairer, Pfc. Marcos Amaya, a C Company door gunner, said communication between each crew member on the helicopter was a vital part of flying throughout Iraq.
"Everyone has their own view from their point in the bird," said Amaya, Tucson, Ariz., of the different viewpoints in a Black Hawk. "We report things that aren't supposed to happen, and as long as we are telling everyone what's out there, we will be alright."
To perfect their gunnery skills, the Soldiers kept training throughout their deployment.
Spc. Edgar DeJesus, a C Company door gunner, said the training missions and traffic pattern flights he has flown in Iraq helped him prepare for his air surveillance duty as a Black Hawk door gunner.
"We make sure no aircraft or obstacles are out there than can hurt us or vice versa," said DeJesus, who was in training after switching from a truck driver to door gunner for the unit's Iraq deployment.
"It's a different experience," said DeJesus, of Patillas, Puerto Rico. "You get to see the surrounding area."
When the door gunners were not ensuring safety of the pilots and other personnel on board the helicopter, they worked various jobs on the ground. One job required of door gunners was to paint the rotor blades with a protective coating to preserve them in the desert environment. Gunners also assisted transporting equipment and weapons between the birds and storage areas and cleaning the aircraft in between flights.
Gribble said whether on ground or in the air, his newly acquired job skills and duties gave him a since of pride.
"I'm proud I can assist in the protection of the crew and help bring them back safe," said Gribble.